Study Guide

Eunuchs of the Forbidden City

by Charles Ludlam

Eunuchs of the Forbidden City Themes

Themes and Meanings (Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Eunuchs of the Forbidden City is a complex play. It is historical, taking place during a time of emperors and pageantry. It is epic, taking five acts to span more than twenty years and featuring a cast of royalty and servants. It is sexual, featuring eunuchs servicing empresses, princes, servants, and one another. It is comedic, with much wordplay, double entendres, and anachronistic comments.

The names of the characters are, alone, enough to reveal the comedic nature of this play. Tsu Hsi is pronounced “Susie”; Tsu An is “Sue Ann”; T’ung Chih is “tongue-in-cheek.” There is scatological humor when the innkeeper Wu Yung Foo hides food for the infant prince in a chamber pot and then sits on it, claiming to have “loose bowels. That was my plot.” Ludlam pokes fun at himself in the next line, when Prince Kung says, “This is a loose plot.” A Lu Te sings “Tsu, Tsu, Tsu-Hsi, good-bye,” a play on a jazz tune. An Te Hai says “Walk this way” and then walks comically, and the innkeeper mimics him, reminiscent of a gag made famous by Groucho Marx.

The sexual nature of the play also goes from subtle to outright blatant and vulgar. In the beginning, there are veiled references to sexual acts being performed by the eunuchs in their “serving” the royalty. As the story progresses, however, we see An Te Hai performing oral sex and anal insertions upon Tsu Hsi, A Lu Te trying to copulate with T’ung Chih, and An Te Hai...

(The entire section is 436 words.)