|The Real Inspector Hound|
|Written by||Tom Stoppard|
|Date premiered||17th June 1968|
The Real Inspector Hound is a short, one-act play by Tom Stoppard. The plot follows two theatre critics named Moon and Birdboot who are watching a ludicrous setup of a country house murder mystery, in the style of a whodunit. By chance, they become involved in the action causing a series of events that parallel the play they are watching.
The play was written between 1961 and 1962, initially named The Stand-ins and later, The Critics. It is a parody of the stereotypical parlor mystery in the style of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, as well as of the critics watching the play, with their personal desires and obsessions interwoven into their bombastic and pompous reviews. The title deliberately gives away the ending of The Mousetrap, though of course the producers of Agatha Christie's play could not publicly object without drawing even more attention to the fact.
While the story is set in a theater, the play within the play is set in Muldoon Manor, a lavish manor surrounded by "desolate marshes" and "treacherous swamps". It is a direct parody of Agatha Christie’s "closed" settings in which no one can enter or leave, so the characters know that the murderer must be one of them.
The manor itself is described as having French windows and a large settee. The play is set, as spoken by Mrs Drudge, in the "drawing room of Lady Muldoon’s country residence one morning in early spring." In essence, the entire setting is a parody of Christie’s cosy settings and this particular setting has had comparisons drawn between it and The Mousetrap.
Moon - a second-string theatre critic, called to the production to review it in the absence of Higgs, another critic. Moon's jealousy of Higgs' superior reputation seems to make him question his own purpose, with Moon's ultimate thoughts being of Higgs' death.
Birdboot - a theatre critic and a womaniser, who catapults young actresses to stardom by delivering dazzling reviews in return, we assume, for sexual favours. While married to Myrtle, he is having an affair with the actress who plays Felicity in the play within the play.
Higgs - the senior critic, Moon is his stand-in.
Puckeridge - the third-string theater critic, or Moon's stand-in. In early versions of the play, this character was called "McCafferty".
Mrs Drudge - The maid, or char, of Muldoon Manor. One of Stoppard's primary vehicles for emphasizing the satirical character of the story. Her cockney accent adds to the humor of Stoppard's play.
Simon Gascoyne - New to the neighborhood, Simon has had affairs with both Felicity and Cynthia. He takes an instant dislike to Magnus, as they are both in love with Cynthia. Later in the play, Birdboot assumes the role of Simon Gascoyne.
Felicity Cunningham - A beautiful, innocent, young friend of Cynthia's who has had an affair with Simon and Birdboot. She is seemingly sweet and charming, but soon seeks ruthless revenge.
Cynthia Muldoon - Apparent widow of the late Lord Albert Muldoon who disappeared ten years ago. She claims to be very upset about her husband's disappearance, but the audience is led to think otherwise. Sophisticated and beautiful. She has had an affair with Simon.
Major Magnus Muldoon - Lord Albert Muldoon's crippled half-brother who just flew in from Canada. Has a desire for his late brother's widow, Cynthia. Takes an instant dislike to Simon, as they are both in love with Cynthia.
Inspector Hound - Appears from outside the house in the middle of the play to investigate an alleged phone call. Moon assumes this role near the end of the play.
The Real Inspector Hound opens with two theatre critics, Moon and Birdboot. Since Moon's superior, Higgs, is unavailable, Moon is called upon to review the production. The other critic, Birdboot, seems to have an interest in the young actress playing Felicity Cunningham. Birdboot states that he is a "respectable married man", yet Moon's comments direct readers to doubt this statement.
The play within the play is set in "Lady Muldoon's country residence one morning in early spring" and opens with a body lying on an otherwise empty stage. The help, Mrs. Drudge, gravitates to the radio, oblivious to the corpse, and turns it on just in time for an overly-expository police message explaining that police are searching for an escaped madman in the swamps surrounding the manor. Simon, a mysterious young man new in the neighborhood enters the house, and it is revealed that he has dumped Felicity Cunningham for her friend Cynthia Muldoon, lady of the house. In the audience, Birdboot has mentally done the same. Major Magnus Muldoon, Cynthia's brother-in-law, is also in love with Cynthia. Eventually Inspector Hound from the police force arrives on the scene, apparently searching for the madman, and the company finally notices the body. The company splits up to look for a man of suspicion, when Simon is left alone on stage with the body, he bends over it and seems to recognize the victim, at which point he is shot by an unknown assailant.
During the play the two theatre critics discuss things they may write about this typical whodunit, but they are often sidetracked by their soliloquies, Moon's concerning his professional jealousy of Higgs and Birdboot's concerning his newly found "love", the actress playing Cynthia. As they talk, the telephone on stage begins to ring incessantly until Birdboot cannot stand it anymore. He walks up on stage to answer it, only to find that it is his wife, Myrtle, on the line. Birdboot speaks to her and as he hangs up, the play suddenly starts again and he gets trapped in it, mistaken for Simon, leading to his inevitable demise as he executes the role to its end. Moon ascends the stage to unravel Birdboot's death, taking on the role of Inspector Hound, and is astonished to find that the dead body is Higgs, the first-string critic who was unavailable that night. Major Magnus accuses Moon of being the madman, since he is not the real Inspector Hound, and he tries to run but Magnus shoots him. As Moon lies dying on the floor, Magnus reveals himself to not only be the real Inspector Hound but also Cynthia's lost lover, Albert, who had disappeared ten years earlier. Moon, however, also recognises him as third-string critic Puckeridge, who will now become the first-string as both Higgs and Moon are out of the way.
The barrier between the critics and the actors onstage is blurred from the beginning when the audience "appear[s] to be confronted by their own reflection in a huge mirror". The audience is subtly brought into the play without its consent playing a vital role in the upcoming scenes. After several scenes of the "play" have taken place, the reader can notice a more precise divide. The annoying ringing of the phone onstage, which according to Inspector Hound has been cut, instigates Moon to jump onstage to answer the phone. After Moon finally picks up the onstage phone, completely crossing the audience-stage barrier, we find out that Myrtle, Birdboot's curious and untrusting wife, has been the one calling looking for him. At the moment Birdboot crosses into the realm of the stage to answer the phone, the barrier vanishes as he now becomes part of the plot and assumes the role of Simon, as his love life parallels that of the Casanova. Soon, Moon follows and transforms into the role of the investigator, whereas Simon and Hound occupy the critics' positions in the audience. The disappearance of the barrier is finalized as the audience discovers the unknown body is that of Higgs, and assumes that the real murderer must be Puckeridge.
A happy juxtaposition between fantasy and reality is observed in The Real Inspector Hound as Birdboot and Moon are able to live out their fantasies through their involvement in the play. Birdboot becomes the handsome young dapper who promiscuously gallivants about the stage in the role formerly occupied by Simon, while Moon finally transforms into the first-string critic and is able to play the role of the leading man when he puts on the shoes of Inspector Hound. Both critics become the characters of their dreams; they no longer are the husband that sneaks around behind his wife's back and the man who desperately wants to be recognized and admired. They in essence become the characters of the play, further blurring the line between a "stage world" and reality.
Stoppard also satirizes the profession of theater critics by exploring the hierarchy of society, particularly the role of fill-ins, second-strings, and substitutes in relation to their "betters". Nowhere else is this more evident than in the fretting of Moon over the existence of Higgs, the main critic, as well as Puckeridge's ultimate usurpation of Higgs' and Moon's positions by killing them both, perhaps as a reflection on the effects that ignominy has on characters.
The play also explores the cynical approach that critics take to plays and appears to deliver a message claiming that all critiques are subject to their own biases. While Moon and Birdboot are understandably extreme examples, Stoppard uses these characters to show how self-aggrandizement can muddle the true purpose of a play through Moon (who uses the play as an attempt to show off his skills in the brief period where Higgs, the person he is standing in for, is absent) or how other interests can jeopardize the integrity of a play through Birdboot, who pens lavish reviews as long as there are visually-pleasing female leads in the play.
The play was written in the 1960’s in a time when values were beginning to change. Many countries around the world had embarked in women’s liberation movements and this signalled a change in thinking. Many suppressed social groups, women, people from other races and homosexuals, were beginning to become recognised and this signalled the rise of the underdogs. In regards to the stage of crime fiction, the play was written at the beginning of the refinement stage. The society of the time had grown weary of Christie’s cosy crimes that were inevitably solved, and were beginning to realise that crimes did not occur quite as formulaically as often portrayed in golden age films. This is one societal influence that had a huge bearing on the way in which Stoppard constructed The Hound, as a tongue-in-cheek parody that laughs at the cosy conventions of earlier crime fiction texts.
The play is a farce, satirizing the role of the theater critic as well as the theater itself. It plays off stereotypes, such as the pretentious theater critic, to achieve a comical effect. Since Tom Stoppard satirizes both the theater and the critics, the audience must understand both institutions separately to appreciate the humour. When Mrs. Drudge answers the phone, Stoppard makes fun of the excess of information readily handed out in murder mysteries. The use of unlikely, timed radio announcements pokes fun at this common element in “whodunits.” Finally, the play lampoons the stereotypical characters of the murder mystery, poking fun at the unoriginal cast of the genre.
The text is designed to be performed in the form of a play. Its purpose was to tell an entertaining story but also become a vehicle for Stoppard’s views on the formulas of crime fiction. Stoppard intended The Hound to be an attack on the cosy conventions of Christie’s works. The intended audience of the piece is one of two groups. The first of these intended audiences are those who have been fans of crime fiction texts in the past, but grew tired of the formulaic plots, and will be encouraged to re-join the genre in this new age. The other possible audience is for a whole new generation of crime fiction followers. There would have been many people who stayed away from crime fiction because it was too formulaic but the change in style and subversion of conventions enticed them to become crime fiction fans.
There are a number of mysteries throughout The Real Inspector Hound. The first mystery is evident at the beginning of the play as the reader is left to wonder about the identity of the body on stage. While clearly visible to the audience, the body is not noticed by the characters. The maid, Mrs. Drudge, even humorously reveals and then covers the body while cleaning the room. Later, the body is discovered to be that of Higgs, whose whereabouts had been unknown in the presence of Moon.
The second mystery evident in the play is the identity of the mysterious man in the vicinity of Muldoon Manor. From the moment the radio tells of a lunatic roaming around the coast, later pinpointed in the area of Muldoon Manor, the audience is intrigued about the identity of this mysterious lunatic.
As the play continues, the mystery in it becomes deeper and more convoluted. In the ending's drastic twist, the audience wonders where the real Inspector Hound is, and who the murderer is. Who is masquerading as whom? The twist is similar to that of Agatha Christie's play The Mousetrap.
There are effectively three sleuths in The Hound: Inspector Hound, Moon, and Birdboot. The first of these, Inspector Hound, is the official detective in the play but, ironically, is the one who plays the smallest role. He arrives at the manor wearing "swamp boots" and carrying a foghorn. He is a parody of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, and very precise in his manner, like Holmes, but his Holmes-like deductions are way off the mark. Upon spotting the body, he declares he has found Lady Muldoon’s missing husband, Albert. Despite repeated attempts by Cynthia to assure him otherwise, he is firm before finally conceding "are you sure?" Upon entering the manor, he makes a very Holmes-like statement as he asks Cynthia to take her time, "begin at the beginning and don’t leave anything out," despite the fact that nothing has happened that would warrant such a statement. The ineptitude of Inspector Hound is another way that Stoppard sends up the cosy conventions of crime fiction.
The second sleuth is an impromptu one. Birdboot is a play critic who is sitting in the audience watching the play just like everyone else. He is, however, called up on stage by a mysterious phone call. Through a series of unlikely circumstances, he takes up Simon Gascoyne's role onstage and unintentionally fills in his lines with surgical precision. This is another way in which Stoppard sends up the conventions of the genre, highlighting the fact that the crimes are so formulaic, anyone could simply slip straight into them and nothing would change. It is Birdboot, who, after observing the action from his more hands-on role, realizes that the body belongs to Higgs. He also deduces who killed Higgs, but just before he can reveal the murderer he is killed. Birdboot is a notorious womanizer, quite an alteration to Christie’s sleuths, who would not become involved with other characters.
The third sleuth in the play, Moon, who is also a play critic, races up on stage when Birdboot is shot. He inadvertently takes on the role of Inspector Hound, much as Birdboot filled the role of Gascoyne minutes earlier. When he realizes his situation and goes back to sit down, Hound and Simon Gascoyne are sitting where he and Birdboot once sat. Moon is a second-string critic to Higgs and is very fond of using bombastic language. He too becomes an impromptu sleuth and also ends up dead.
The criminal in the text is Puckeridge, the third-string critic to Higgs and Moon. He is described by Moon as "bitter". He is very sneaky in his methods and uses disguises and aliases to trick Birdboot and Moon up on stage before killing them. During the play he goes under the names of Inspector Hound, Major Magnus and Albert Muldoon. The reader does not get to see much of Puckeridge as himself and only really can judge him based on his performances as other characters.
At the end of the play it is revealed by Moon as he is dying on the stage that it was actually Puckeridge who killed both Higgs and Moon in order to rise from the third string to the first.
Stoppard’s send up of hierarchies is evident in the extended quote by Moon when he states that he dreams of the day when “troupes of actors are slaughtered by their understudies, magicians sawn in half by indefatigably smiling glamour girls, cricket teams wiped out by marauding bands of twelfth men.” He also goes on to talk about “an army of assistants and deputies, the secondsin- command, the runners up, the right-hand men storming palace gates…”
This was the beginning of the refinement age, and Stoppard is also quite deliberately sending up the cosy conventions. For that reason, there are a number of alterations to generic conventions. The first and most obvious of these is the fact that the criminal, Puckeridge, gets away with the crime. In traditional texts, the crime would have been solved by the intellectually superior sleuth. In The Hound, however, the detectives do not solve the case and are not intellectually superior. Inspector Hound, who is a parody of Sherlock Holmes, is very precise in all his methods; it’s just that those methods are all wrong. Also, of the three detectives in the play, two are killed and the other disappears from the action seamlessly. The very fact that there are three detectives is a subversion of the conventions of crime fiction, in which there would be one detective who may or may not be aided by an assistant. Moon and Birdboot start off in the audience, and yet by the end of the play find themselves amongst the action itself. This is also a subversion as, traditionally, the audience would find themselves totally removed from the action. Another way the conventions have been altered is the way the body is integrated into the storyline. In a conventional crime fiction text, a dead body would be the centre of attention but in The Hound, it remains undiscovered for a vast majority of the play.
Repetition The line “Where’s Higgs?” is repeated on numerous occasions to establish the comedic angle very early on and creates a foreboding effect on the audience as they too wonder "Where's Higgs?" Birdboot adamantly repeats that he is "a man of... scrupulous integrity," however his actions suggest otherwise.
Metaphor Moon continually uses various types of metaphors to make himself sound learned. He is a second-string critic who uses language in flourishes. "The ocean will fall into the sky and the trees will hang with fishes." He also uses the metaphor "these crustaceans in the rock pool of society."
Parody Stoppard has created an entire play that parodies every aspect of Christie and Conan Doyle’s works. Birdboot highlights this right from the beginning when he states that the play is a "who killed thing? No one will leave the room." Also, Birdboot states that while at first the play seems convoluted, he feels that few will doubt the author’s "ability to solve it with a startling denouement."
Clichés Stoppard uses well known crime fiction clichés to help send up Christie’s settings and plots. These include "a murderer in our midst" and "the killer will strike again."
Exaggeration and sensationalism. These are used once again to further parody and send up Christie’s works. In particular, Stoppard is having a shot at the way in which critics lapped up Christie’s works despite them being exceedingly predictable. Moon states, in reference to the play, that "the author has given us – yes, I would go so far as to say – he has given us the human condition."
Foreshadowing This is done most deliberately by Stoppard to further send up the predictable nature of Christie’s stories by allowing certain characters to predict exactly what is going to happen. Mrs Drudge states that "this is all very mysterious and I’m sure it’s leading up to something." Moon also foreshadows his own death when talking about Puckeridge, "does he wait for Higgs and I to write each other’s obituary – does he dream."
Comedy This teams well with parody, particularly of Inspector Hound’s character, who is a parody of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. When a madman is loose in the vicinity of Muldoon Manor, a police bulletin on the radio states that "Inspector Hound, who is masterminding the operation, is not available for comment but it is widely believed he has a secret plan." Following his entrance to Muldoon Manor, Hound states that "now is the time to speak.” When Felicity tries to speak, he abruptly replies with "don’t interrupt."
Dramatic Irony The body is left lying in the middle of the stage, completely visible to the audience but unseen by the characters in the play.
Dialogue and tone. The dialogue given to the characters is specifically designed to parody traditional crime fiction texts and the tone used by the characters in very stereotypical. This is evident in Mrs Drudge’s character, who is a common maid and therefore does not speak quite as sophisticatedly as Cynthia, Felicity or Simon.
Irony It is quite ironic that Moon dreams of the day when second-in-commands rule the world when he is killed by his reserve, Puckeridge.
Allusions When discussing the type of review he will write, Moon mentions renowned authors such as Kafka, Sartre, Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, Dante, Dorothy L. Sayers, and the post-impressionist artist, Van Gogh.
The play was directed by Robert Chetwyn, while the design was completed by Hutchinson Stott.
Booth, Alison, Hunter, J P., and Mays, Kelly J, eds. The Real Inspector Hound. By Tom Stoppard. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2006.