Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

Noël Coward subtitles Blithe Spirit “an improbable farce,” and it is, not only because it asks the audience to believe in the supernatural but also because its humor turns on the idea that the supernatural world has a pattern of manners much like ours.

Suspending disbelief comes easily to audiences of this play. The playgoer knows from the opening moments, when the Condomines and Bradmans are so sure that ghosts cannot appear, that almost certainly something will happen to prove them wrong. Madame Arcati is a trustworthy link between “here” and “the other side”; she is so much more down-to-earth, for all of her clairvoyance and bizarre dress, than the rather superficial and oversophisticated Condomines. She rides a bicycle, likes to eat, openly shows enthusiasm, and speaks in Girl Scout cliches. If such a woman believes in ghosts, it would be very hard for a self-respecting audience not to play along. This belief is central to the play’s humor—the butts of the jokes often are the foolish characters who refuse to believe in Elvira’s presence.

Elvira is not merely a believable ghost, she is a ghost who pouts, teases, whines, manipulates—in short, does exactly what she did when alive. Elvira has not mellowed at all in the afterlife, which she describes as an extended cocktail party where she played chess with Genghis Khan and watched Merlin do magic tricks. Her jealousy of Charles and Ruth drives her finally toward...

(The entire section is 428 words.)