Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov

Categories: Sister

Irina Prozorov is the youngest of three sisters, herself, Olga and Masha, and much unlike her sisters in this act, she portrays a definitive characterisation of youth on her ‘name-day’- birthday. We join Irina and her sisters on her 20th birthday, an occasion which for all should be celebratory, however the mood in the room is far from so. Irina is made to almost feel guilty that she is so happy on her ‘name-day’ due to the constant reminiscent of Olga about her father’s death and what the weather was like, how the funeral was (p1).

To this, Irina replies ‘Why keep harking back? ‘ as if she is tired of the nostalgic aroma that surrounds her name day. Of course for Irina the pain of losing her father on her name-day would have been difficult; however she seems to have moved on a lot more successfully and quickly than her sisters. This point is stressed when Olga remarks that Irina is ‘back in white’, however the detailed stage directions tell us that Olga herself is wearing back.

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The fact that Olga says she is ‘back’ wearing white, tells us that Irina must have grieved for her father (in the appropriate way of the era – wearing black) but by being able to dress in white again tells us that she has come to terms with his death. In this Irina shows a lot of maturity for some-one so young. However, on page 21, Irina quickly stops herself from crying as she remarks ‘for me and my sisters, life hasn’t been beautiful’.

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This shows us that the losses have really affected her, and possibly she feels like she has to stay strong for her sisters.

Possibly she did not have as much time to know her father as Olga and Masha, but the fact remains that although she is the youngest sister, she has had to grow up quickly and in doing so becomes more mature than one of her age would otherwise be. Irina’s sisters seem to have many burdens weighing on them, and although Irina herself seems altogether care-free, I think this could be a burden of her own. Not being allowed to act her age, she seems a very together character, much more so than her sisters.

As a result, when playing Irina on stage, this would need to be portrayed to the audience, perhaps through periods of distant glances, as if her mind were preoccupied. Her maturity is highlighted later in the act when she shows how aware she is that Masha ‘got married at eighteen’ when she thought her husband to be ‘the cleverest man in the world’. She is aware of what is going on around her and practically scorns at Masha for being so nai?? ve. As an audience we would need to get the impression that she feels she would not be so foolish. This could be one of the reasons she ignores the many claims of love and admiration she receives.

However, Irina never in this act actually refuses the claims, which leads us to believe that perhaps she lavishes this attention laid on her as usually it has all been bestowed on her sisters. It is possible that as the youngest, Olga and Masha were always put before herself, leading her to feel disregarded, and as a result flattered by all the attention she receives. There are many reasons why this could be so, however it is ironic that she does disregard these declarations from Tusenbach and others, as she seems the ideal candidate for marriage, seeming to relish being involved in conversation and society.

The actress could show this by having plenty of eye contact and by perhaps leaning forward to listen to conversations. This hidden depth to Irina remains constant through the act which leaves the audience wandering about her real feelings. Is she truly over her father’s death? And many other questions are left unanswered. This depth is accentuated by the number of times Irina stands ‘lost in her own thoughts’. Her character as a whole seems rather pensive and wistful, a fact which would need to come across to an audience as it is an important aspect of her character.

It is possible to say that Irina becomes so wrapped in her own thoughts because her sisters have such strong opinions, and as a result hers are often shunned or patronised. A key example of this is when (p5) Irina talks of the only way to find happiness and the ‘sense and purpose of life’ is to ‘labour… and toil’. She states how ‘terrible’ it is to be a ‘young lady who rises at noon, then drinks her coffee in bed, then takes two hours to dress’. However, this is undercut by Olga who ‘laughs’ provoking Irina to an outburst; ‘You’re used to seeing me as a child, so then you find it odd when I look serious. I’m twenty!

This frustration is another aspect of Irina’s character, perhaps at the fact that she is always dragged along with her sister’s ideas, for example, going to Moscow and how fabulous it will be. It is not evident whether she looks up to her sister’s, however I feel that when she is played, it must be with naivety. Her youthful exuberance and ‘free-spirit’ would mean Irina would need to be acted more animatedly than the other characters. Her pace in speech I feel must be faster in this act than the other characters and her wistful imagination would be shown through many different facial expressions and gestures.

Like a young child excited about their own birthday, I would have her working around the stage in contained excitement waiting to escape. The fact that she is wearing white ads to the faraway sense of her character and therefore her character would almost be floating across the stage like a beam of light. Instead of her exuberance being mistaken for the arrogance of youth, Irina’s sweet and caring disposition which endears her so much to others would be necessary to portray. The most important aspect to Irina’s character, I feel, is her optimism.

She constantly is shown to be looking to the future with anticipation, for example, going to Moscow and comments on life’s natural beauty, such as the weather. Instead of becoming absorbed by work such as Olga, she prefers to admire life’s pure splendour rather than be filled with so much anxiety and exhaustion that she cannot live. Instead of reminiscing about her dead parents, which would cause her angst, Irina thinks of them with fond memories; ‘I remembered… when Mama was still alive. And I can’t tell you what thoughts I felt stirring, what wonderful thoughts.

‘ Perhaps she looks to the future a lot as she cannot wait to have parts of the lives that her sisters have e. g. marriage, work – as we already know she wants to in order to forget her woes (p21). There is a circumstance when the audience feel that she is not as strong as she seems to be, which even Irina herself highlights by saying ‘you say that life is beautiful. But supposing it only seems to be? ‘ This links to the hidden depth of her character and shows not only the vulnerable side to her character, but also the one that possesses extreme strength to keep going.

Irina’s character is more complex, I feel, than Masha and Olga’s, whose emotions are often displayed and not hidden as Irina’ are. Irina would need to be portrayed to the audience as a character with a free-spirit and exuberant love for life. This would effectively be done through gestural movements and speech at a quicker tempo than other characters’. The costume for Irina would be non-restrictive, with light, breezy colours. Irina truly is like a summer’s breeze and when reading the play you can see her flitting around the stage.

During conversation she would be intently listening, waiting to get her ideas in, despite being oppressed by her sisters. The other side to Irina’s character is much more pensive and a lot stronger than her physical appearance. As suggested, the pensive, ‘dreamy’ state would be portrayed by periods of quiet and faraway looks, such as when she is ‘looking out of the window’. These moments reflect her deep in thought perhaps about her parents, or the future. However, it is important that the actress does not make Irina seem to be anxious, as though something is troubling her during these periods.

Although she has her own, very different burdens from her sisters to carry, constant looks of anxiety would portray a different message to the audience. It is essential that the faraway looks are due to her imagination and not because she has other things on her mind. Perhaps when she is talking to Tusenbach, when she starts to cry, this scene would be played with intense emotions to show that sometimes, she does look to the past but has learnt to persevere for the sake of her sisters. As they have always had to mother her, she feels as if they should not have to all the time now, and in her own way wishes to protect them.

Another scene to highlight her strength and maturity is the first, when Olga is told to stop ‘harking back’. This would need to be played with an exasperated tone as the audience get the impression Olga is constantly recollecting about their dead parents and Irina only wants to look forward, instead of living in the past. The audience will feel that Irina has had to grow up quickly with the troubles she has experienced, and desperately wishes to place it all behind her and move on. That is the main portrayal of Irina to the audience that she wants to move on.

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Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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