Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The question of theme in Otherwise Engaged depends on the interpretation of Simon’s character. If Simon is meant to be a victim, a man so pressed by the demands of others that he has no time for himself, then he could be considered the prototype of modern human, or at least of civilized human in a society which has lost its manners. On the other hand, if Simon is at fault, if through his coldness and self-centeredness he regularly gives pain to others, then he is the villain of the piece.

The first interpretation is the most obvious. Although traditionally the Englishman’s home is said to be his castle, Simon has no retainers to guard his gate, and callers seem to wander in and out at will, disregarding his desire to be alone. At first, only the disreputable lodger Dave demands more than his attention. Dave seizes the opportunity for a kind of blackmail; to get rid of him, Simon offers an extension on the rent, money, and a bottle of sherry. Later, when Simon refuses the loan of his elaborate coffee-making equipment, Dave repays him with abuse.

If this kind of treatment might be expected from someone of Dave’s level, it is more surprising from Simon’s friends and his relatives. Unlike Dave, they begin politely, merely asking Simon to listen to their problems. As the play proceeds, however, they become as insulting as Dave. Whatever their problems, it is Simon who is blamed. For example, when Jeff returns, drunk, he falsely accuses Simon of betraying him to the police. Simon’s brother and his wife are no different. Even though Simon has attempted to build up Stephen’s confidence and then has rejoiced with him about his promotion, Stephen cannot forgive his brother for his greater worldly success, and he deliberately strikes out at him by reporting Beth’s affair.

Nowhere does Simon Hench appear to be...

(The entire section is 760 words.)