The Real Inspector Hound- By Tom Stoppard- Analysis
‘The Real Inspector Hound’ was first performed in 1968. The play is a comic spoof of the whodunits popularized by Agatha Christie, with the clichéd plot of a secluded English country manor house, ominous radio reports of a criminal on the loose, visitors behaving suspiciously, a relative with a shady past and an unidentified dead body. Constructed as a play-within-a-play, ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ opens with two competing theatre critics, Moon and Birdboot, ready to review the latest mystery. In time, both find themselves literally drawn into the comedy, playing roles leading to the climax of the plot when the murderer’s identity is revealed to all.
In this play there is a relationship between the ‘reader’ and the text’, as well as the audience being a reader, characters in the play Moon and Birdboot are also readers. Therefore the intertextuality and the fact that the play is a parody of another genre of theatre, is an important aspect of the play. Due to the fact that the play is a play- within a play, a constructed reality, it is farcical and has aspects of the absurd in its action.
As Moon and Birdboot, are critics, Stoppard encourages the audience to be critics as well, and to laugh at ourselves as well as the parody. He demands an alert audience. In Stoppard’s plays, they are events rather than texts; written to happen, not to be read. As is famous of the whodunit genre, the audience have to expect the unexpected. The audience are forced to participate, but have to keep reinterpreting what they see as they watch the events on stage. As in the card-playing dialogue half-way through the play, nearly every line is capable of two interpretations. Cynthia Muldoon and her younger guest, Felicity, spar over Simon’s attention:
Cynthis: Did I hear you say you saw Felicity last night, Simon?
Simon: Did I? - Ah yes, yes, quite - your turn, Felicity.
Felicity: I’ve had my turn, haven’t I Simon? Now, it seems, it’s Cynthia’s turn.
Cynthis: That’s my trick, Felicity dear.
Stoppard accentuates the melodramatic elements of crime fiction. The action is full of improbabilities, the most comical being that the corpse remains undiscovered at the feet of the actors for more than half the play’s length.
As Stoppard encourages the audience to laugh at themselves, he sets an example, while making a statement about humanity’s irresistible urge to role-play, he makes fun of himself;
Moon: ‘Within the austere framework of what is seen to be on one level a country-house weekend.....the author has given us - yes, I will go so far - he has given us the human condition’
Birdboot and Moon are at first in the role of spectators, absent from the action on the stage. When Moon cannot resist answering the phone ringing on the empty stage with a call from Birdboot’s wife , Birdboot enters into the action commenting on it in his exchanges with Moon,
Cynthia: ‘Don’t- I love Albert!’
Birdboot: ‘He’s dead.(Shaking her) Do you understand me-Albert’s dead!’
Cynthia: ‘No- I’ll never give up hope!Let me go!We are not free!’
Birdboot: ‘You mean Myrtle?She means nothing to me- nothing!’
Moon: ‘Have you taken leave of your tiny mind?’
The plot is revealed to be not just about the country house guests, but also about the rivalry among theatre critics, and Birdboot’s infatuations with actresses, revealed in the opening scenes. The second body is that of the famous first-string critic, Higgs, an absent presence in the conversations of Birdboot and Moon from the beginning;
Birdboot: ‘I tell you it’s Higgs…I don’t understand…He’s dead.
Moon: He must have been lying there all the time…
Moon too leaps on stage when his colleague is shot, both led into a presence in the dramatic action which leads inevitably to their deaths;
( There is a shot and Birdboot falls dead)
Moon: Birdboot! (He runs on, to Birdboot’s body)
Cynthia: Oh my God- What happened, Inspector?
Moon: (almost to himself) He’s dead…Who did this, and why?
The play ends with Moon’s death, yet the play’s ending, as with the whole play is humourous,
Moon: ( with a trace of admiration) Puckeridge…you cunning bastard.
It is with this flamboyant, melodramatic ending that this farce ends similarly. The play’s aim is to entertain and I believe that it succeeds in its aim.