What was Noel Coward's intention or message in his play Private Lives?

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Coward's 1930 play Private Lives is a comedy of manners about the love problems of a privileged, upper class couple.

Elyot and Amanda have married and divorced because they were fighting all the time. Each has remarried a younger person. They end up in a hotel in rooms next to...

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Coward's 1930 play Private Lives is a comedy of manners about the love problems of a privileged, upper class couple.

Elyot and Amanda have married and divorced because they were fighting all the time. Each has remarried a younger person. They end up in a hotel in rooms next to each other with their new spouses. The rooms share a terrace.

Back in close proximity, Elyot and Amanda soon fall back in love, but that love means they are fighting all the time. The play is a version of the "I can't live with you, but I can't live without you" love story.

Coward's intention is a to offer a new and modern twist on love and marriage. Elyot and Amanda are clearly equals, breaking the old Victorian/Edwardian mold of subservient and superior gender roles. The early staging of the play emphasized this, showing the couple in mirror image poses, such as when they both face each other smoking a cigarette. Amanda breaks gender conventions by marrying a younger man, which is also a mirror image to Elyot's marrying a younger woman.

Coward thus shows the paradox of equality: it is the spark that holds the twosome together but it also means they are constantly fighting each other with no clear way to resolve their battles. Modern love is not easy, Coward says, but the lead characters wouldn't have it any other way.

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As one who lived and wrote during and after the horrors of World War I, Noel Coward was influenced by artists who became expatriates after the war in an attempt to escape from the deterioration of society. Officially referred to as the Lost Generation, writers like Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald left their home countries to live in France and other places because they perceived their old, socially constraining ways of life to be superficial and materialistic, and they instead embraced lives of immorality and recklessness (Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Lost Generation"). Coward's play Private Lives satirizes their escapism and lack of morals through his characters.

The characters Amanda and Elyot embody the expatriates in France whom Coward was friends with. Their upscale life in France is completely devoid of any social and moral constraints. They married each other without a true understanding of what it meant to be married, and because they had no social and moral constraints, they very quickly filled their married life full of violent arguments and jealousies. After their divorce and after they remarried and saw each other again, their lack of moral constraints quickly led them to abandon their new spouses and run off with each other. Amanda underscores the theme of lack of social and moral constraints when, in a discussion with Victor, she says, "I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives" (Act One). She further adds, "There's no knowing what one mightn't do" and describes she and Elyot as "two violent acids bubbling about in a nasty little matrimonial bottle" (Act One).

In contrast to the socially and morally free-floating Amanda and Elyot, Sibyl and Victor represent classic social constraints and expectations. They embody the expectations of marriage by wanting to take care of their spouses. Victor is a classic, strong gentleman, whereas Sibyl is a classic romantic. Yet, even this adherence to social constraints do not make the characters happy.

Hence, Coward is showing us that there must be a balance between the two extremes. While it is wrong to be so without bounds that you are self-serving and violent, it is also equally wrong to be so constrained by society that a person does not develop into the person he/she could truly be.

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