The Real Inspector Hound
Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, which was written between 1961 and 1962 and premiered on June 17th 1968, is an absurd play that comments on the role of the critic in relation to the play he or she critiques and comments on the interdependent relationship that is formed between critic and actor. The Real Inspector Hound’s plot revolves around a couple of critics, Moon and Birdboot, who become embroiled in a murder mystery while watching a play about a murder mystery; in this sense, The Real Inspector Hound is a play-within-a-play.
Through the play’s plot and theme, Stoppard not only comments on the interdependent and mutually beneficial relationship critics have with the theatre, but also on how the theatre and critic must remain separate entities. The Real Inspector Hound is an absurdist play that is highly self-aware, or self-reflexive, of its premise and structure. For the purposes of this analysis, the play Moon and Birdboot are attending will be referred to as “the play,” whereas Stoddard’s play (in which “the play” is contained will be referred to as The Real Inspector Hound.
In establishing the play’s and The Real Inspector Hound’s general theme of a murder mystery, Stoppard not only comments on the absurdity of whodunit tales—in this case Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap—but provides a meta-critique of the genre through Moon and Birdboot who attempt to decipher the play they are watching’s plot. In the process, Stoppard also forces The Real Inspector Hound’s audience to attempt to decipher the events within the play—and within the play’s play—as they unfold, thus creating a tertiary level of meta-criticism.
Through this approach, Stoppard demonstrates that critics and criticism are not formal roles, but rather that assuming the role of a critic can be done by anybody and that people actively engage in criticism even if they are not aware of it. Through his criticism of theatre and the whodunit genre, Stoppard forces the reader, and consequently the critic, to recognize the interdependent and mutually beneficial relationship that is formed between the theatre and the critic.
One of the basic premises Stoppard comments on is how critics are dependent on the theatre and how it not only provides them with a source of income and allows them to attain some sort of fame, but also how it allows them to gain insight into some aspect of their lives. One of Moon’s most self-reflexive meta-comments allows the reader to understand Stoppard’s personal concept of the purpose of theatre. Moon comments, “There are moments, and I would not begrudge it this, when the play, if we can call it that, and I think on balance we can, aligns itself uncompromisingly on the side of life” (Stoppard 31).
When deconstructed, Moon’s observation can be applied on two different levels. The first level Moon’s comment can be applied is to his personal observation of the play he and Birdboot are watching. In The Real Inspector Hound, it is revealed the action taking place within the play’s play mirrors the action that is taking place within The Real Inspector Hound. For instance, in the play it is revealed that Simon is leaving Felicity because he has fallen in love with Cynthia.
This ironically parallels Birdboot’s behavior as he has been having an affair with the actress that plays Felicity and has pushed his own wife to the side. It is ironic to not only see how the play mirrors Birdboot’s life, but also how the issue is not so absurd that it does not occur in everyday life. By commenting on the how theatre is a mirror of real life, Moon, as a critic and observer, forces the reader—and his followers—to take note of the messages conveyed through theatre.
By analyzing the themes conveyed through theatre, it becomes much more than a simple entertainment venue and is transformed into a means for self-reflection. In addition to the parallels created by the adulterous couple in the play and Birdboot, Moon observes and paradoxically foreshadows what occurs in the play by commenting on his role within the critic world. In The Real Inspector Hound, the only reason Moon is given the opportunity to attend and critique the play is because his superior, Higgs, has mysteriously failed to show up.
As Moon contemplates about his role and life, and about what will be written on his epitaph, he comments, “Sometimes I dream of revolution, a bloody coup d’etat by the second rank—troupes of actors slaughtered by their under-studies…Sometimes I dream of Higgs” (7). In The Real Inspector Hound it is not the actors that are slaughtered by their underappreciated understudies, but rather the critics who are killed off. By referring to the role of the critic as being one of power, Moon not only comments on the impact the critic can potentially have, but also on the necessity for evolution in terms of theatre as an art form. The critic’s livelihood is dependent on artistic revolution and innovation. If a critic is only critiquing the same element or genre, then their input becomes moot and they outlive their purpose as they have lost any power they may have had when their critiques actually influenced people. A critic not only has the power to influence people to attend or avoid a theatre production, but also the critic’s power also lies in how he or she influences the theatre. In The Real Inspector Hound, Birdboot is having an adulterous affair with the actress who plays Felicity in the play.
In his defense, Birdboot contends, “My wife Myrtle understands perfectly well that a man of my critical standing is obliged occasionally to mingle with the world of the foot lights, simply by way of keeping au fait with the latest,” that is to say, that in order to understand and keep up with the ever-changing world of theatre, a person needs to be actively involved in it (10). If a critic is not up-to-date with what is going on in the realm of theatre, it is difficult for him or her to impact either the audience or potential theatre-goer, or to make an impact on the world of theatre.
Birdboot also asserts that it is necessary to maintain a certain level of integrity (even if he engages in illicit behavior himself) and is offended when Moon insinuates Birdboot uses his position of power to influence the realm of theatre and promote any actress that is willing to trade (sexual) favors. Birdboot exclaims, “[To] suggest that my good opinion in a journal of unimpeachable integrity is at the disposal of the first coquette who gives me what I want” is considered to be more of an insult than a statement of truth, despite the fact that it is not intended to question his integrity as a critic, but rather his integrity as a man.
Through The Real Inspector Hound, Stoppard provides commentary on the thin line that divides critics from actors by highlighting how the theatre becomes irrevocably changed when critics interfere with a production. For instance, when Moon crosses the play’s fourth wall and jumps into the action in medias res, he not only disrupts the action on stage, but also breaks down the wall between critic and actor and becomes part of a world he is merely charged with observing.
By breaking the rules of theatre and becoming actively engaged in the action, Moon can no longer provide an unbiased opinion on the play and thus outlives his purpose. His objectivity is removed and as such, so must he be from his position. While the theatre and critic are interdependent on each other for survival, the theatre cannot serve to criticize its audience and can only provide them with a mirror into who they are.
Likewise, a critic cannot become part of the theatre without losing his or her reputation; the critic has to remain constantly separated from the action while attempting to remain informed about the artists, themes, and artistic movements that are constantly in flux. Through Moon’s and Birdboot’s monologues, Stoppard investigates the role of the critic and demonstrates how critics are constantly fighting to survive within their own industry and how the theatre is dependent on critics to not only influence audiences, but also to secure employment within the industry.
In a way, critics are the people who have the most control in the world of theatre and as such, they are constantly in danger as other critics actively fight to be the most respected and influential critic, the one who holds all the power, and the one who gets all the “perks. ” Works Cited Stoppard, Tom. The Real Inspector Hound. Scribd. Web. 14 December 2012, from http://www. scribd. com/doc/92063145/The-Real-Inspector-Hound-Full-Text