Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Entertainer is a play about decadence and decay: the decadence of the Rice family’s habits, the decay of propriety and of the music hall as a primary form of entertainment (indeed, as a way of life). It also addresses the hypocrisy of war and the futility of ordinary people—nobodies—trying to be somebodies. The man in Archie’s joke at the play’s end ironically finds heaven by saying a word whose crudity reflects his low class. Mick’s death reveals that obedience only leads one to be fodder for leaders to send to war at their will; by brainwashing young people into the patriotic way of thinking, politicians also remove any potential threat to the established order. Jean represents the new mind, the new woman, who will not settle for life as it traditionally has been. She rejects Archie’s phony persona, including his need to flirt, as being as old-fashioned as his pathetic antics onstage. She loves Billy because he has faded from the limelight with a dignity Archie cannot muster. She loves Phoebe for her simplicity and endurance in the face of infidelity, the death of her son, and her miserable past existence—which Archie so cruelly and contemptuously dismisses.

The play is not so much concerned with class as with the effects of time upon tradition. Within two generations, a girl like Jean can shock her female ancestry by doing the simple thing of going to a rally in Trafalgar Square, while Archie can desperately destroy...

(The entire section is 564 words.)