A Comical Review of Blithe Spirit

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 séance to get some ideas for a novel that Charles is in the process of writing. After the séance 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 séance 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 séance 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 séance 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