Chekhov's gun

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Chekhov's gun (Chekhov's rifle, Russian: Чеховское ружьё) is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed. Elements should not appear to make "false promises" by never coming into play. The statement is recorded in letters by Anton Chekhov several times, with some variation; it was advice for young playwrights.[1][2][3][4] Donald Rayfield noted that Chekhov's play The Cherry Orchard, contrary to Chekhov's advice, has two loaded firearms that are not fired. The unfired rifles tie into the play's theme of lacking or incomplete action.[5][6]

The principle is carried out somewhat literally in many of the James Bond films, in which the spy is presented with new gadgets at the beginning of a mission – such as a concealed, wrist-activated dart gun[7] – and typically each device serves a vital role in the story.[8]

Ernest Hemingway mocked the principle in his essay "The Art of the Short Story", giving the example of two characters that are introduced and then never mentioned again in his short story "Fifty Grand". Hemingway valued inconsequential details, but conceded that readers will inevitably seek symbolism and significance in them.[9] Writer Andrea Phillips noted that assigning a single role for every detail makes a story predictable and leaves it "colorless".[10]


  • "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep." Chekhov, letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev (pseudonym of A. S. Gruzinsky), 1 November 1889.[11][12][13] Here the "gun" is a monologue that Chekhov deemed superfluous and unrelated to the rest of the play.
  • "Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." Sergius Shchukin, Memoirs, 1911.[3][14]
  • "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." From Gurlyand's Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No. 28, 11 July, p. 521.[15]

See also[edit]

  • Concision – the principle of brevity in writing
  • Foreshadowing – a plot device where what is to come is hinted at, to arouse interest or to guard against disappointment
  • MacGuffin – a plot motivator that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself
  • Occam's razor – the idea that explanatory mechanisms should not be posited without being necessary.
  • Red herring – drawing attention to a certain element to mislead
  • Shaggy dog story – a long-winded anecdote designed to lure the audience into a false sense of expectation, only to disappoint them with an anticlimactic ending or punchline


  1. ^ Petr Mikhailovich Bitsilli (1983), Chekhov's art, a stylistic analysis, Ardis, p. x
  2. ^ Daniel S. Burt (2008), The Literature 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Novelists, Playwrights, and Poets of All Time, Infobase Publishing
  3. ^ a b Valentine T. Bill (1987), Chekhov: The Silent Voice of Freedom, Philosophical Library
  4. ^ Delaney, Brian M. (1990). Duster, Troy (ed.). "Chekhov's Gun and Nietzsche's Hammer: The Biotechnological Revolution and the Sociology of Knowledge". Berkeley Journal of Sociology. 35: 167–174. ISSN 0067-5830. JSTOR 41035505.
  5. ^ Donald Rayfield (2000), Anton Chekhov: A Life, Northwestern University Press, p. 580
  6. ^ Donald Rayfield (1999), Understanding Chekhov: A Critical Study of Chekhov's Prose and Drama, University of Wisconsin Press, p. 251
  7. ^ Britt, Ryan (8 November 2012). "Pay Attention 007! 7 Bond Gadgets Which Defy Reason and Practicality".
  8. ^ Feature, Leon Hurley 2017-02-01T17:04:02 31Z. "Chekhov's Gun is the movie trope that'll ruin everything once you know about it". gamesradar.
  9. ^ Adrian c Hunter (1999), Complete with missing parts": modernist short fiction as interrogative text (PDF), pp. 126–127, 201–203, archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-12-09, retrieved 2019-05-29
  10. ^ "The Case Against Chekhov's Gun". Andrea Phillips. Retrieved 2021-09-24.
  11. ^ "Quotations by Berlin".
  12. ^ Чехов А. П. (1 November 1889), "Чехов — Лазареву (Грузинскому) А. С.", Чехов А. П. Полное собрание сочинений и писем, АН СССР. Ин-т мировой лит.
  13. ^ Leah Goldberg (1976), Russian Literature in the Nineteenth Century: Essays, Magnes Press, Hebrew University, p. 163
  14. ^ С.Н. Щукин [Sergius Shchukin] (1911). "Из воспоминаний об А.П. Чехове" [Memoirs]. Русская Мысль [Russian Thought]: 44.
  15. ^ In 1889, 24-year-old Ilia Gurliand noted these words down from Chekhov's conversation: "If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act". Donald Rayfield, Anton Chekhov: A Life, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997, ISBN 0-8050-5747-1, 203. Ernest. J. Simmons says that Chekhov repeated the point later (which may account for the variations). Ernest J. Simmons, Chekhov: A Biography, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962, ISBN 0-226-75805-2, 190.