Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, which was written between 1961 and 1962 and premiered on June 17th 1968, is an absurd play that comments on the role of the critic in relation to the play he or she critiques and comments on the interdependent relationship that is formed between critic and actor. The Real Inspector Hound’s plot revolves around a couple of critics, Moon and Birdboot, who become embroiled in a murder mystery while watching a play about a murder mystery; in this sense, The Real Inspector Hound is a play-within-a-play. Through the play’s plot and theme, Stoppard not only comments on the interdependent and mutually beneficial relationship critics have with the theatre, but also on how the theatre and critic must remain separate entities.
The Real Inspector Hound is an absurdist play that is highly self-aware, or self-reflexive, of its premise and structure. For the purposes of this analysis, the play Moon and Birdboot are attending will be referred to as “the play,” whereas Stoddard’s play (in which “the play” is contained will be referred to as The Real Inspector Hound. In establishing the play’s and The Real Inspector Hound’s general theme of a murder mystery, Stoppard not only comments on the absurdity of whodunit tales—in this case Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap—but provides a meta-critique of the genre through Moon and Birdboot who attempt to decipher the play they are watching’s plot. In the process, Stoppard also forces The Real Inspector Hound’s audience to attempt to decipher the events within the play—and within the play’s play—as they unfold, thus creating a tertiary level of meta-criticism. Through this approach, Stoppard demonstrates that critics and criticism are not formal roles, but rather that assuming the role of a critic can be done by anybody and that people actively engage in criticism even if they are not aware of it.
Through his criticism of theatre and the whodunit genre, Stoppard forces the reader, and...
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