The Arrogance of Reality Heidi-Jo Fonley English 254 Dr. Ken Pellow 5 March 2002 The Arrogance of Reality In his stage play, The Real Inspector Hound (1968), Tom Stoppard criticizes western society's inheritance from logical positivism and Aristotelian philosophy that claims it is possible to know what is real and what is illusion. He sets up a definitive boundary between reality and make-believe then destroys it, thereby throwing his audience into uncertainty. He does this by using the play-within-a-play method of absurdist drama but then adds a twist; he changes the identity of the players. Thus, Stoppard illustrates that reality is not the fixed boundary that Aristotelian philosophy has taught modern, western society to believe, but it is rather a fluid, conditional quality, and illusion is more difficult to distinguish than originally thought.
As would happen in any realist play, Stoppard begins by allowing the audience to compartmentalize his two main characters.
The audience is given Moon and Birdboot, who are play critics, that are slightly self-absorbed for they only listen to about half of the answers to the questions they ask each other, just as might be expected from two rather arrogant play critics.
Moon: Yes, getting away with murder must be quite easy provided that one's motive is sufficiently inscrutable.
Birdboot: Fickle young pup! He was deceiving her right, left and centre. Moon: [thoughtfully] Of course. I'd still have Puckeridge behind me---- Birdboot: She needs someone steadier, more mature---- Moon: --And if I could, so could he---- Birdboot: Yes, I know of this rather nice hotel, very discreet, run by a man of the world---- Moon: Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
Birdboot: [Pause] Hello-what's happened? Moon: What? Oh yes-what do you make of it, so far? (pp. 2805) Stoppard adds to the ease of compartmentalizing by giving his audience rather obvious stereotypes. The above quote also show that Moon is the under-appreciated, under-recognized, second-in-command. And that Birdboot is the licentious, adulterous, veteran critic, who has numerous affairs with young, pretty actresses on the pretense and/or bribery of giving them a good review to further their careers. Stoppard, thus, leads his audience into the false security that the critics are part of the audience. The audience knows rationally that they are actors in the play, but they subconsciously push them into the category of spectators that the audience themselves occupy. This is Stoppard's first step in blurring the lines between reality and illusion; he makes the proscenium arch fluid and moveable. It no longer stops at the edge of the stage.
For the most part, the play has fit neatly into the audience's typical idea of secure, adult let's-play-pretend. Stoppard erupts this security abruptly by changing the roles of four main characters: Moon, Birdboot, Simon, and the (fake) Inspector. Simon Gasconyne is killed (pp. 2805) and Moon frustrated with listening to a phone ringing on stage gets up to answer it (pp. 2806). It turns out to be Birdboot's wife (pp. 2806) he goes on stage to talk to her but never leaves as Moon does. Felicity, the young actress Birdboot was entertaining the previous evening, enters in her role and recognizes Birdboot. She places him in the role of Simon (pp. 2807) and since both have the same lecherous personalities the role fits. Moon enters the play, as another fake Inspector Hound later on when Birdboot figures out the dead body, which has been on stage for the entire play, is really Higgs. Birdboot is shot and Moon runs up on stage and Cynthia, the lady of the house, enters seeing Moon as the Inspector (pp. 2811). Moon tries to return to his seat but stops because it is occupied (pp. 2812). Simon and the first Inspector Hound are now playing the role of the critics (pp. 2812). All of this switching of roles erodes the comfortable idea of pretend the audience was enjoying. Since they have already subconsciously placed themselves and the critics in the same category of spectators, they become part of the play along with the critics. Where is the line between illusion and reality? Stoppard has now shown his audience that illusion and reality are fluid rather than solid.
Stoppard has effectively destroyed the proscenium arch altogether, and thus destroys the line between reality and illusion. This not only shows the fluidity of illusion and reality but also that they are not two separate concrete concepts but instead are conditional in nature. The may depend upon circumstances such as the position Moon finds himself facing: "But I didn't kill-I'm almost sure IÃ¢ÂÂ¦" (pp. 2814). Did Moon kill Higgs or did someone else? "Moon: Ã¢ÂÂ¦Puckeridge! You killed Higgs-and Birdboot tried to tell me" (pp. 2814). Moon is facing Magus, the half brother of Cynthia, who turns out to be Puckeridge, a subordinate of Moon, who turns out to be the real Inspector Hound (pp. 2814). Here Stoppard switches Magnus' identity from that of a supposedly illusionary character to a supposedly real person (i.e. Magus = illusional -- to Puckeridge = real --to the Real Inspector Hound = illusional, or possible both note the word real) in order to show the conditional quality of illusion and reality.
Throughout this play, Stoppard wants his audience to see that we all play roles depending upon our current circumstances that just are. The roles aren't illusion but may not necessarily be real either. He wants society to see that the line between these isn't as easily defined as we may like. By first blurring the line between which play is illusion and reality then blurring the line between identities; his play exemplifies this with its spiral into the fluidity of illusion vs. reality.
Works Cited The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Seventh Edition. Volume 2. 2785