Blithe Spirit

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A: Noël Coward Pf: 1941, Manchester Pb: 1941 G: Farce in 3 acts S: Living room of the Condomines' house, Kent, c.1940 C: 2m, 5fTo gather material for his next novel, Charles Condomine has organized a seance at his home. The eccentric medium Madame Arcati arrives, and after fortifying herself with martinis and dinner, begins to summon her spirits. The sceptical Charles is astonished when his late wife Elvira, dead seven years, speaks to him, but she is not heard by anyone else present. After the seance, Elvira materializes to be seen only by Charles (and the audience) and begins to reproach him. When he tells her to shut up, his present wife Ruth imagines he is speaking to her and walks out in a huff. The following day Ruth is still angry, and the couple bicker over their marriage, especially Charles's drinking. When Elvira reappears, Ruth wonders whether Charles is going mad, but Charles proves Elvira's presence by inviting her to overturn furniture. When she smashes Ruth's favourite vase, Ruth fetches Madame Arcati to exorcize Elvira, but the spiritualist fails. A few days later it emerges that Elvira is trying to kill Charles to bring him over to her side. Ruth drives off again in search of Madame Arcati, unaware that Elvira has tampered with the brakes on Charles's car. A phone call informs Charles that Ruth has had a fatal accident. Faced now with two bickering, nagging spirit wives, Charles gets Madame Arcati finally to ‘dematerialize’ them both. He leaves on a long holiday, while the quarrelling wives start to smash up the house.

A: Noël Coward Pf: 1941, Manchester Pb: 1941 G: Farce in 3 acts S: Living room of the Condomines' house, Kent, c.1940 C: 2m, 5f

Although this is Coward's most popular and, some would say, best play, its misogyny now seems disturbing. Unfortunately, Elvira is anything but blithe, and her nagging and jealousy (together with Ruth's subsequent petty behaviour) turn Charles into a distressed male victim with whom the audience are invited to sympathize. The most impressive characterization is in fact that of Madame Arcati, memorably performed on screen by Margaret Rutherford.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

Reference entries

Noël Coward (1899—1973) playwright and composer

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