EE1 Module A: The Real Inspector Hound
|BikiCrumbs: The Real Inspector Hound|
What's this? A Parody?
Parody of crime conventions
- Stoppard clearly and often comically parodies many traditional conventions of crime fiction. Using some swift intertextuality, he explores this to a further extent. There are many very staple characteristics, however, that Stoppard clearly parodies to brilliant effect.
- The various characters of ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ are stereotyped parodies of their cosy-crime counterparts. Simon Gascoyne is the ‘rakish young man’. Felicity is the ‘trim-buttocked artless young girl’. Cynthia is the ‘vivacious widow’. Drudge talks as if she’s a walking stage direction, and is always present when overhearing remarks.
- There are a variety of red-herrings, and the nature of the red-herring is parodied by Moon, quite hilariously –
MOON: Felicity! – she’s the one. BIRDBOOT: Nonsense – red herring. MOON: I mean, it was her! BIRDBOOT (exasperated): What was? MOON: That lady I saw you with last night!
- Hound comes in to solve the case through rational means – “well what’s it all about?” Cynthia: “I really have no idea.” This is a staple element of cosy crime fiction (especially Christie’s works), where the case is solved in a very domestic manner. Stoppard parodies Hound’s investigation through slapstick humour, as the language of the characters is reduced to short staccato-like lines. (p33-34) What would be a very tense moment of a Christie mystery becomes rollickingly hilarious. There is no rationality, this is all very random. This links to Stoppard’s genre too, which throws away rationality and realises the world is not able to be rationalised.
- The motives and suspects of the thriller/‘The Real Inspector Hound’ are parodied to the extent that everyone has a motive, and virtually everyone says “I’ll kill” someone throughout the play -
FELICITY: I’ll kill you for this, Simon Gascoyne! SIMON: I’ll kill anyone who comes between us! MAGNUS: It’s Gascoyne isn’t it? I’ll kill him if he comes between us! CYNTHIA: If I find that you have falsely seduced me from my dear husband Albert – I will kill you, Simon Gascoyne!
- Birdboot frequently speculates upon the identity of the villain, when he essentially has no idea what he’s talking about. He suggests “revenge”, “jealously” and the “paranoid grudge” as motives – which are all very typical motives in crime fiction. Moon overhears Birdboot’s thoughts on motives, and thinks he’s referring to his feelings towards Higgs – which is Stoppard satirising the situation, and also drawing further comparisons between the play and real life (referring to Moon’s “trichotomy of forces”).
- Coincidences are popular, and are an often criticised aspect of crime fiction, as they often occur to plug plot-holes or wrap things up nicely. Stoppard realises this and makes his coincidences so overblown that they become comical. The radio is always on when crucial information is issued, often in verbose detail.
Parody of traditional denouement
- The way Stoppard parodies the denouement is so funny and clever it gets a dot point of its own. The closing scene/chapters of a crime fiction text will always include a denouement of sorts.
- In cosy-crime it clarifies the plot and reveals the identity of the murderer. According to Stoppard, however, these denouements are too complex, far-fetched and illogical. Stoppard has been quoted as commenting that the conclusion of ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ should be, interestingly, “clear and logical”. The ending is essentially logical, but insanely complex (some argue it is never to be properly solved!).
- The murder will slip-up somewhere along the way, in conventional cosy crime, which the detective will use in order to catch the crafty assailant in the end. In the typical denouement, we will find the missing piece of the puzzle, prevent another crime and the play will end on a positive note.
- “Not so!” says Stoppard, commenting on the real world. There is a blurred line in the real world – police may be corrupt, murderers not always caught, the line of morality often blown apart. There is not the restoration of order that cosy crime maintains.
- ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ ends with three dead theatre critics in a thriller-play that has been turned upside down. An infinite number of questions lay behind the play, and there is absolutely no resolution to anything, apart from the essential play, with the closing of the curtains. Stoppard’s greatest parody is that of the denouement, where he throws away the rationality inflicted by cosy crime and replaces it with real world chaos.
Devices used to enhance parody
- Stoppard uses a number of theatrical devices to enhance the parody, often increasing the comical nature of scenes and dialogue.
- A variety of mixed metaphors are used to both confuse and enhance meaning – Birdboot’s “The skeleton in the cupboard is coming home to roost” is used as a metaphor for a secret of the past that’s soon to be revealed. It is also a very common cliché, and is part of the critic jargon of his character, essentially emphasising how much of an idiot he is.
- He eliminates the fourth wall (as seen in many absurdist plays), which is his way of drawing the reader’s attention and engagement – a fundamental aspect of crime fiction.
- A variety of juxtaposition effectively compares a stack of meaningful stuff. Moon often comments in poetic, vivid language – “these crustations in the rock pool of society” “…trembling raw meat which, at heart, is all of us. But there is no more to that –” followed by Birdboot’s idiotic “I agree, keep your eye on Magnus”. They do it again when referring to the “open mouth” controversy (23).
Stoppard and his Intertextuality!
Christie's 'The Mousetrap'
- Stoppard is clearly parodying the entire cosy-crime genre, however he follows the events of Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’ within ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ quite closely – mocking Christie’s play, as well as the theatre/literary genre of cosy crime.
- ‘The Mousetrap’ is a whodunit thriller, just like the thriller in ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ – it casts eight people, Mollie and Giles Ralston, the owners of the guest house, four invited guests (all with eccentric characteristics), the unexpected guest (who turns up out of the blue after his car overturns in the snow storm) and a skiing detective.
- These characters are all thrown up in the thriller – the unexpected guest is Magnus Muldoon, who turned up unexpectedly from Canada at random. The skiing detective is Inspector Hound, who arrives in ridiculous attire. We have various invited guests, as well as the owners Cynthia (and, oh! Albert!) Muldoon.
- Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’ is full of far-fetched coincidences, and very sensational. Stoppard pushes these extreme coincidences past the boundaries of realism, creating a melodrama rather than a mystery.
- At one point, following the thriller’s opening, Moon notes that it is “derivative, of course” to which Birdboot replies “but quite sound”. Ironically (but purposefully ironic) this relates to the derivative nature of the thriller, and its link to ‘The Mousetrap’. Various specific events of ‘The Mousetrap’ are parodied, to remind Stoppard’s audience of this intertextual link.
- Detective Sergeant Trotter arrives at Monkswell Manor, uninvited, on his skis as he is caught in a snow-storm, in ‘The Mousetrap’. Inspector Hound arrives at Muldoon Manor wearing swamp boots (“two inflated pontoons with flat bottoms – about two feet across”) as the Manor is surrounded by “deadly swamps and fog”.
- At one point, Trotter orders everyone to “go through the actions [of the crime] a second time”. But there’s a catch, “The same actions will be performed, but not necessarily by the same people”. Stoppard uses this to blur the line between reality and the theatre (common absurdist trait), as the actions of the first half of ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ are performed again, simply by a different set of people – as Trotter comments in ‘The Mousetrap’.
Doyle's 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'
- There are a variety of different links between Stoppard’s ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ and Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. This emphasises that it is not merely Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’ that is parodied, nor is it primarily cosy crime, it is all of crime fiction – from its Victorian Detective roots (Doyle and Poe).
- The play is set in a foggy countryside, similar to Doyle’s classic. ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ features a brother returned from Canada (in ‘Baskervilles’ it was America), a repeated crime, a disguised corpse and a false Inspector Hound (or in ‘Baskervilles’ a false Sherlock Holmes).
Form and Fantastic Features
- Regular plays move through a series of well-defined acts, with each act leading to or providing a climax of sorts. Instead of conforming to this traditional style of linear progression, the structure of ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ is more aptly described as circuitous.
- The two strands of the play, that is the thriller and the world of the theatre critics, though separate to begin with, are gradually woven together and overlap until eventually they cannot be separated. This happens when the thriller essentially repeats itself, involving different characters.
Techniques used to enhance comedy
- Stoppard uses a variety of techniques to enhance the comedic aspect of ‘The Real Inspector Hound’.
- Meaningless language is used to ridicule the conventions of crime fiction, by using its language in a highly melodramatic and verbose manner. This is especially evident in the various radio announcements. Bloated melodramatic language is used to similar effect, “Please! Please! Remember Albert!” and “You are a damned attractive woman Cynthia!”.
- ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ is full of farcical misunderstandings, that are common to this type of melodrama or debasing caricature. They remind us that we’re watching a parody.
HOUND: Please Lady Cynthia, I must ask you to put yourself completely in my hands. CYNTHIA: Don’t Inspector. I love Albert!
- With all his melodrama, Stoppard makes sure to flip over on himself and make sure there’s irony and humour to be found in more subtle understatements. Like Hound’s comment, as he stands on a corpse, “Is there anything you have forgotten to tell me?”
- Stoppard uses a variety of clichés to undermine any meaning and to exaggerate any comic value a piece of dialogue has. They suggest a lack of originality, a very postmodernist convention, and serves to ridicule the crime genre as well as the language of the critics. Birdboot’s “The sweet madness of love” upon first laying eyes on Cynthia is one example. These clichés are slightly ironic, considering there’s scarce meaning to be found in the rest of the dialogue – but it’s still very funny.
- Various scenes contain outstanding visual humour; like the arrival of Magnus in the wheelchair, knocking over Simon; the arrival of Hound wearing inflatable pontoons as shoes; Cynthia wearing a cocktail dress while playing tennis; the carefully positioned sofa used to conceal the body. This all add to the theatrical element of Stoppard’s play, as it’s not just his dialogue that is clever.
- There are various games being played throughout ‘The Real Inspector Hound’, which introduce this metaphor drawing links between the game and the murder mystery that Stoppard parodies. Each are predictable, there are a set of moves and responses. Crime fiction is a shallow game, according to Stoppard. The card games of the thriller are just insane, and make no sense at all. Birdboot’s win “And I call your bluff” is totally random, and has no meaning. Stoppard undermines the entirety of his play and any other crime text by mocking the nature of chance.
- Various cases of dramatic irony help increase the humour and meaninglessness of the entire situation. Birdboot’s “revenge, jealousy and the paranoid grudge” are mistaken for Moon’s thoughts towards Higgs. He also identifies Magnus as the villain, and Simon as the victim, very early on – with very little information to go behind.
Stoppard's post-modern tendencies
- Stoppard writes from a strong post-modern perspective (in terms of philosophy, not art). This is reflected in ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ as well as a variety of his other works (including our favourite ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’).
- Stoppard’s view on God (Moon’s “Where is God?”) is very post-modern.
- The idea that everything is a copy of something else, and that nothing is original, is a large aspect of the text. At one point, Moon and Birdboot are replaced in their positions as critics by two of the actors, absorbing their roles entirely.
- This text is written as a parody of traditional/cosy crime fiction, particularly the Christie ‘golden-era’ of crime fiction. The simple fact that ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ is a parody reflects on post-modernist cynicism.
'Theatre of the Absurd'
- This text has been greatly influenced by radical foreign dramatists. It is also a part of the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ (or just absurdist) genre of Post-WWII theatre.
- An attitude of questioning and challenging beliefs regarding religion, reality, theatre and the human condition are traditional aspects of absurdist theatre.
- Attempts for realism are completely abandoned. The theatre world and the critical world are so intertwined that they cannot be separated. As an audience, we can’t work out ‘what’s real and what’s not’. The line between actors and real characters is frequently blurred.
- The relative nature of truth and the fluid nature of identity are part of absurdist theatre, and resonate heavily in ‘The Real Inspector Hound’, especially that of questioning identity.
- The structure of the play reflects these values. Meaningless and mistaken dialogue highlights the general chaos and ‘meaninglessness’ of the entire situation (a common central-concept of absurdist plays). It is also circuitous in structure.
1960s societal values
- The class system is also highlighted, and at times parodied. A reflection of changing times and attitudes towards the class-based social system.
Beginning of stage notes: “The first thing is that the audience appear to be confronted by their own reflection in a huge mirror. Impossible.”
Stoppard blurs the line between the theatre and the real world, from the very beginning. This is a concept pushed heavily throughout the play, as different characters become interwoven into the ‘play’. Stoppard’s frequent use of the ‘play-within-a-play’ device, to highlight confusion and to surface his intention, is put to full use in ‘The Real Inspector Hound’.
The ‘game of mirrors’ invites the audience (us) to recognise our own plight, and to recognise the pretensions that we each inwardly hold, to relish their absurdity, and to identify ourselves for the duration of the performance with those who move into a frame where their pretensions are lived out – Birdboot moves into the thriller where he can embrace Cynthia. Moon dreams of killing Higgs and moves into the thriller where he is accused of his murder.
BIRDBOOT: Where’s Higgs?
BIRDBOOT: I mean it’s sort of a thriller, isn’t it?
MOON: I suppose so. Underneath.
BIRDBOOT: Underneath?!? It’s a whodunit, man! – Look at it! Has it started yet?
BIRDBOOT: Are you sure?
MOON: It’s a pause.
BIRDBOOT: You can’t start with a pause! If you want my opinion there’s total panic down there.
Moon and Birdboot establish the genre/nature of the play, and also surface some character traits that will become more evident throughout the play. Moon’s “underneath” highlights his nature of always looking for hidden depth and complexity, when it is essentially void. Birdboot’s comparative simplicity is also surfaced, “it’s a whodunit”, he always looks on a simple level, and is essentially only worried about the ladies involved.
Birdboot also introduces Moon’s preoccupation with Higgs, a fellow theatre-reviewer, who Moon has replaced. Moon’s insane ‘second string’ speech (11) further explores his fixation with his position as second-best.
The pause enables the audience to identify with Moon as he fidgets, reads his program and looks around. He wonders if the play has begun, as do we. Three levels working (or “a trichotomy of forces”) – the thriller, the play, the theatre.
RADIO: The man is wearing a darkish suit with a lightish shirt. He is of medium height and build and youngish. Anyone seeing a man answering to this description and acting suspiciously, is advised to phone the nearest police station.
Introducing the “escaped madman” lurking about the “desolate marshes of Muldoon Manor”. Stoppard’s very broad description is designed to throw up the traditional police description and call to public help in order to find a criminal. It’s highly ironic in nature, and very cynical in tone (fitting with Theatre of the Absurd, Stoppard’s genre).
MRS. DRUDGE (into phone): Hello, the drawing-room of Lady Muldoon’s country residence one morning in early spring? …I’m afraid there is no one of that name here, this is all very mysterious and I’m sure it’s leading up to something…inditement …Lady Muldoon and her houseguests are cut off from the world, including Magnus, the wheelchair-ridden half-brother of her lady-ship’s husband Lord Albert Muldoon who ten years ago went out for a walk on the cliffs and was never seen again –
(later to SIMON) Judging by the time you did well to get here before high water cuts us off for all practical purposes from the outside world.
…(after commenting on the “treacherous” fog) I’ve known whole week-ends when Muldoon Manor might as well have been floating on a pack of ice for all the good it would have done phoning the police.
Drudge is a parody of typical ‘cosy’ conventions by sending them all up at once, making her thoughts and motives very explicit, which then becomes comical. She is constantly exposing their vulnerability, “[we’re] cut off from the world” and “for all the good it would have done phoning the police”.
BIRDBOOT: The groundwork has been well and truly laid, and the author has taken the trouble to learn from the masters of the genre. He has created a real situation, and few will doubt the ability to resolve it with a startling denouement. Certainly that is what it so far lacks, but it has a beginning, a middle and I have no doubt it will prove to have an end…
SIMON: One only has to compare this ragbag with the masters of the genre to see that here we have a trifle that is not my cup of tea at all.
MOON: Faced as we are with such ubiquitous obliquity, it is hard, it is hard indeed, and therefore I will not attempt, to refrain from invoking the names of Kafka, Sartre, Shakespeare, St. Paul, Beckett, Birkett, Pinero, Pirandello, Dante and Dorothy L. Sayers.
Stoppard is constantly drawing the audiences attention to the fact that they’re watching a play (common to Theatre of the Absurd plays). Moon references Sayers among writers of the canon when commenting on the thriller, drawing attention to ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ as a clear parody of the genre. Birdboot references the conventions of the genre, and is sure the thriller will provide him with the denouement he needs. Simon (as a critic) disregards the thriller when comparing it to “the masters of the genre” (Sayers? Hah!), again drawing attention to the play as a play.
On another level, Moon references Samuel Beckett, the pioneer of absurdist theatre (author of ‘Waiting for Godot’) to draw attention to the absurd nature of the thriller and of ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ as a whole. It shows us that Stoppard is paradoxically making sure his audience knows this is a ridiculous play, but reassuring them its mirroring real life (through the mirror and pause in the opening).
Back to Module A: Genre.