(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The title of a play usually permits one to anticipate its content. However, in The Bald Soprano, nobody sings and no head is bald. In most plays, words are chosen to make the strongest possible impact. In The Bald Soprano, language flows independently from meaning. A play has a plot and at times subplots. The Bald Soprano does not. It is subtitled an “anti-play,” and that is true.

The scene is the English living room of an English couple, the Smiths. Mr. Smith reads the newspaper. Mrs. Smith comments on the dinner they just had, as if her husband had not been there; she praises yogurt, which is good for the stomach, “appendicitis, and apotheosis.” Mr. Smith remarks that a good doctor must die with his patient. He announces the death of Bobby Watson; the same name, repeated thirty times, is applied to all the members of Bobby’s extended family.

The rest of the play is in keeping with this introductory segment. Mary, the maid, introduces the Martins. A long conversation, punctuated by “What a coincidence!,” permits the Martins to deduce that the Smiths are husband and wife. The doorbell rings three times. Nobody is there when Mrs. Smith opens the door. She concludes that every time the doorbell rings, there is nobody there. When Mr. Smith opens the door, the Fire Chief enters; he is in search of fires to extinguish. Various fables are told. Ambiguous statements about fire are made, while Mary throws...

(The entire section is 491 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

After dinner, the Smiths sit down in the sitting room of their typically English home. Mr. Smith smokes his pipe and reads the newspaper. Mrs. Smith, insisting that they are a typically English couple, speak of what they ate and what the children did. Mr. Smith clicks his tongue.

When Mrs. Smith remarks that Dr. Mackenzie-King had his own liver removed before operating on Mr. Parker’s liver, Mr. Smith argues that if Mackenzie-King was really a good doctor, he should have taken his own life when Parker did not survive the liver operation; he asserts that a doctor should perish with a patient just as a captain goes down with the ship. Mr. Smith then changes the subject, mentioning that he read that their friend Bobby Watson died. The couple speaks about Bobby but quickly become lost in a confused conversation; because all of Bobby Watson’s relatives are also named Bobby Watson, they are unable to figure out whom they are talking about, who died, and who is still alive.

Mary, the Smiths’ maid, returns from her day off and announces that the Martins, whom they invited to dinner, were waiting for a long time downstairs. The Smiths, before leaving the room, instruct her to bring them up. Mary shows the Martins into the sitting room, then leaves. As if they never saw each other before, Mr. and Mrs. Martin begin to question each other, wondering where and when they previously met. Gradually, they are able to deduce that they both took the same train from Manchester and that they both live in the same room and sleep in the same bed. Moreover, both have a daughter who seems to be the same child. Therefore, they conclude, the two of them must be married. As they kiss, thrilled to have found each other again, Mary comes in and announces to the play’s audience that Mr. and Mrs. Martin reasoned incorrectly, that the daughter they think they have in common is really two different children, and that they are not in fact husband and...

(The entire section is 797 words.)