Blithe Spirit Essay - Critical Essays

Noel Coward

Critical Context

Blithe Spirit has enjoyed popular acclaim since its opening in 1941. Within four months of the London opening, an American production appeared in New York, and a road company tour began only weeks later. The play won the 1942 New York Drama Critics Circle award for best foreign play, and by December, 1944, Blithe Spirit had had a longer continuous run than any other play in London’s history.

Blithe Spirit simply carries to extremes the comic possibilities of Noël Coward’s other plays. Often his plays balance normal characters against eccentric ones; equally often domestic relationships are his field of battle. In Hay Fever (pr., pb. 1925), four normal guests arrive for a weekend with the unpredictable Blisses and leave unnoticed the next morning. Private Lives (pr., pb. 1930) pits the conventional world of Sibyl and Victor against the hilarity of Amanda and Eliot. Design for Living (pr., pb. 1933) ends with three eccentrics laughing at themselves as well as at Gilda’s angry husband.

In all Coward’s plays, plot is secondary to situation—and to characters’ conversations about their situations. Coward is a master observer of the twentieth century social scene—its foibles, its absurdities, and most of all its language. Coward emphasizes the comedy of manners interest in surface over substance, dialogue over action. This is especially true of Blithe Spirit, where substance literally is insubstantial and the focus of the play is the light, witty, hilarious verbal exchanges between this world and the next.