Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in the provincial town of Taganrog, Ukraine, in 1860. In the mid-1880s, Chekhov became a physician, and shortly thereafter he began to write short stories. Chekhov started writing plays a few years later, mainly short comic sketches he called vaudvilles. The first collection of his humorous writings, Motley Stories, appeared in 1886, and his first play, Ivanov, was produced in Moscow the next year. In 1896, the Alexandrinsky Theater in St. Petersburg performed his first full- length drama, The Seagull. Some of Chekhov's most successful plays include The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya, and Three Sisters. Chekhov brought believable but complex personalizations to his characters, while exploring the conflict between the landed gentry and the oppressed peasant classes. Chekhov voiced a need for serious, even revolutionary, action, and the social stresses he described prefigured the Communist Revolution in Russia by twenty years. He is considered one of Russia's greatest playwrights. Chekhov contracted tuberculosis in 1884, and was certain he would die an early death. In 1901, he married Olga Knipper, an actress who had played leading roles in several of his plays. Chekhov died in 1904, spending his final years in Yalta.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, into a poor family, August Strindberg suffered a hard and unhappy childhood. He studied for a while at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, but left without a degree. Strindberg began to write while supporting himself at a variety of jobs, including journalist and librarian. The work that first brought him to public attention was the novel The Red Room (1879), a biting satire on Stockholm society that displayed his skill as both a literary stylist and a social commentator. Strindberg went on to write other novels, as well as stories and poems, but it is as a playwright that he is remembered. Sweden's greatest playwright, he ranks just behind Norway's playwright Henrik Ibsen as the leading Scandinavian dramatist. It is not easy to categorize Strindberg's plays. Many deal with social issues, but his own beliefs varied so often and so strongly that his works often contradict each other. Perhaps the only consistent theme in his plays is an abiding hatred of women, or more specifically, of women of strong will and character. The Father (1887), Miss Julie, (1888), and Creditors (1888) contain his severest attacks on women. Strindberg himself was married and divorced three times, and his women-hating plays may well reflect his own marital problems. Fascination with Strindberg has not decreased since his death. His enormous influence on European and world literature can hardly be exaggerated. In general, however, his novels and biographical writings have not been popular with English-speaking readers. His plays, on the other hand, continue to be widely read and produced throughout Europe and the United States. They helped introduce greater attention to individual psychological disturbances as a subject for theater, as well as a poetic and surreal approach to violence, pain, and suffering.
The French dramatist Moliere was born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin on January 15, 1622, in Paris. The son of a wealthy tapestry merchant, he had a penchant for the theater from childhood. In 1636, he was sent off to school at the Jesuit College of Claremont and in 1643, he embarked upon a 13-year career touring in provincial theater as a troupe member of Illustre Theatre, a group established by the family Bejarts. He married a daughter of the troupe, Armande Bejart, in 1662 and changed his name to Moliere. The French King Louis XIV, becoming entranced with the troupe after seeing a performance of The Would-Be Gentleman, lent his support and charged Moliere with the production of comedy ballets in which he often used real-life human qualities as backdrops rather than settings from church or state. Soon, Moliere secured a position at the Palais-Royal and committed himself to the comic theater as a dramatist, actor, producer, and director. Moliere is considered to be one of the preeminent French dramatists and writers of comedies; his work continues to delight audiences today. With L'Ecole des Femmes (The School for Wives) Moliere broke with the farce tradition, and the play, about the role played by women in society and their preparation for it, is regarded by many as the first great seriocomic work of French literature. In Tartuffe (1664), Moliere invented one of his famous comic types, that of a religious hypocrite, a character so realistic that the king forbade public performance of the play for five years. Moliere gave psychological depth to his characters, engaging them in facial antics and slapstick comedy, but with an underlying pathos. Jean Baptiste Moliere died in 1673.