Essay, Research Paper: Blithe Spirit By Noel Coward

Literature: World War

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Blithe Spirit written by Noel Coward was first published in 1941. Noel Coward
was known for his sophisticated comedies of modern life (Seymour, Smith 261). It
is sophisticated yet hilarious to the readers. Seymour and Smith stated that
Coward’s plays, “are within their admittedly-but unashamedly-extremely
narrow limits, accurate truthful, cynical and funny”(261). It is one of the
greatest farces ever written. Blithe Spirit is the story of Charles Condomine
who loses his wife, Elvira, at a young age. Charles remarries a lady named Ruth.
The couple decides to have a sйance to get some ideas for a novel that
Charles is in the process of writing. After the sйance is complete,
Elvira’s spirit is conjured up and only Charles can see her. Ruth thought he
had gone mad, and she was quite perturbed with him. Eventually, Elvira reveals
herself to Ruth by moving objects in front of her. Elvira decides that she wants
Charles to be in the spirit world with her. Thus, she tries to kill him in
numerous ways. Elvira tampers with the brakes on Charles car, but Ruth takes the
car that morning and dies in an accident. Now Charles is faced with two spirits
talking to him, and he calls on Madame Arcati to help him get rid of the two
spirits. Madame Arcati is the woman who performed the sйance in the
beginning. Later, Charles finds out that Edith, a servant, can see the two
spirits. Once Madame Arcati knows that Edith can see the spirits, she realizes
that Edith is the source to get rid of them. Madame Arcati’s sйance does
not work so Charles decides to take a trip away from the house. He gets in his
car, and it crashes at the bridge. This drama is one of the greatest farces
because every one acts seriously in funny situations. For example, when Madame
Arcati is about to start the first sйance she steps outside and talks to
the birds and tells Charles’s guests that the cuckoo is angry. All the guests
obediently listen to the bird. It may seem comical to the reader but it also
presents a grave appearance. According to Eric Bentley, “if what farce offers
is the interaction of violence and something else, it follows that violence by
itself is not the essence of farce”(243). The violence portrayed in this play
is not horrifying, and it gives no gory details. It lightly discusses the death
of the characters in a comical way. An example of this is when Elvira tampers
with the breaks on the car and Ruth while driving it gets into an accident.
Elvira’s response to her taking the car is a scream that sounds like a
banshee. Suddenly, Ruth’s spirit comes in, and she starts chasing after
Elvira. Some people want their jokes pleasant and harmless. It is common to
interpret farce as precisely the pleasant treatment of what usually would have
been an unpleasant subject (Bentley 239). One of the greatest nineteenth century
farceur critics discusses his opinion on modern day farces, “I had often
complained that they bored us constantly with this question of adultery, which
nowadays is the subject of three quarters of the plays. Why, I asked, take
pleasure in painting it’s dark and sad sides, enlarging on the dreadful
consequences which it brings with it in reality? Our fathers took the thing more
lightheartedly in the theatre and even called adultery by a name which awoke in
the mind only ideas of the ridiculous and a sprightly lightheartedness. . . .
Chance brought it about that I met Labiche. “I was very struck,” he said to
me, “with your observations on adultery and on what could derive from it . .
.for farce . . . I agree . . .” I had almost forgotten this conversation when
I saw the title posted outside the Palais Royal. . . .It was my play: it was
adultery treated lightheartedly” (Bentley 238). Although Blithe Spirit did not
portray any adultery, Sarcey made an excellent point that a farce has to remain
lighthearted through any bad situation in order to be sought funny by the
audience (243). Coward wrote this play in England during World War II. He did
not write this comedy to insight laughter during a dark moment but to merely
write a comical drama (Bentley 236). Blithe Spirit is indeed a wonderful comedy
for polished, edgy audiences. It is a combination comedy that turns itself into
a good-humored ghost story. As Madame Arcati says, “nothing has ever been
definitely proved about anything” (Fulton 516). In this world, a lot of things
happen around us that we may not understand or be able to explain with reason.
People are apt to brush aside something they do not understand or reject
something supernatural. In the universe, there is still the unseen realm for us
to explore. Therefore, audiences are more willing to view plays if they are
intertwined with a comical twist. As Coward states, “Blithe Spirit is an
improbable farce, in which things are supposed to fly to and fro”(Fulton 465).
The most comical character in the play would definitely be Madame Arcati. She is
a hefty older woman that rides a bicycle everywhere she goes. The town’s
people all think she is a bit strange, but her character lightens up the play
dramatically. She is the only character in this play that is portrayed
comically. However, the audience may perceive the other characters as comical
despite the portrayal of serious situations. As proven, Blithe Spirit has many
characteristics of a great farce. As noted previously, Seymour and Smith’s
view of this drama is extremely narrow. Yet, it consists of cynical and funny
traits (243). Overall, Blithe Spirit gives a wonderful example of humor in
extraordinary circumstances.

Eric, Bentley. The Life of The Drama. New York: Henry Holt & Company,
1967. A.R., Fulton. Drama And Theatre Illustrated By Seven Modern Plays. New
York: Henry Holt and Company, 1946. Martin, Seymour-Smith. Funk & Wagnalls
Guide to Modern World Literature. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1973
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