Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was praised by many of his contemporary for including anti-heroic characters and for leaving his stories with a non-ending flavor. In The duel both characteristics are present and two main ideological positions confronted. Biologist Von Koren represents social Darwinism, the supremacy of the strong, XIXth century German philosophy of the will, and moral rigidness as a way to improve human race. Public officer Layévskii is more about laxity in life, aware of the imperfectness and the irrational in the human beings; he is a nihilist, disenchanted with society and recurring to literature to justify his pusillanimous and dissolute behavior. He trivializes moral ideals and Von Koren hates him for that.
Chekhov’s characters behave like and discuss about Hamlet, Anna Karenina, Fausto…They even fight a duel following the instructions they have read in Turgenev. They mix writers and characters in their fictional discourses themselves, and no one gets to know reading the novel what’s the real world and what’s the fictional one: maybe both are the same, cause literature drinks from “reality”, and “reality” is built through literature (or cinema or TV, think about The Sopranos, being imitated by the real Mafia).
Moscow Art Theater’s company came last week to Madrid to present a play based on the novella, using Chekhov’s text in a masterly literal way. The first act’s comical tone (provoking nonsensical laughs in the audience) and the main actor’s initial histrionics left me with some doubts, but in the second act, everything went back to the Chekhovian line, deep-thought and dramatic stories with a feeling of continuity. An original mise-en-scène composed by mooring lines around the stage, a boat in the middle, a table on the right, a bed on the left; music and lights correctly administered, and all actors’ impeccable performance, including attractive Natalia Rogozhkina. Поздравляю!