Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 873
Criticism Naturally, The Critic explores the issue of criticism, specifically the different ways that playwrights respond to critiques of their work. Sir Fretful Plagiary is the epitome of one who attempts to seem gracious and able to withstand any critical judgment of his plays; when faced with even the smallest...
(The entire section contains 873 words.)
See This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
Naturally, The Critic explores the issue of criticism, specifically the different ways that playwrights respond to critiques of their work. Sir Fretful Plagiary is the epitome of one who attempts to seem gracious and able to withstand any critical judgment of his plays; when faced with even the smallest quibble, however, his ‘‘fretful’’ nature becomes apparent. For example, Sir Fretful tells Dangle and Sneer that he is ‘‘never so well pleased as when a judicious critic points out any defect’’ in his work to him and that Sneer ‘‘can’t oblige [him] more’’ than he would by offering his opinions. However, when Sneer tells him that the ‘‘events’’ in his latest play are ‘‘too few,’’ Sir Fretful responds that the events are ‘‘too crowded’’; when told by Dangle that the play’s ‘‘interest rather falls off’’ at the end, Sir Fretful counters with, ‘‘Rises; I believe you mean, Sir.’’ When Dangle’s wife (who only defends Sir Fretful because ‘‘everybody else abuses him’’) states that she ‘‘did not see a fault in any part of the play from beginning to end,’’ Sir Fretful exclaims, ‘‘Upon my soul the women are the best judges after all!’’ Of course, ‘‘best’’ in this context means ‘‘most flattering.’’
Unlike Sir Fretful, Puff does not become upset when faced with complaints about his play, The Spanish Armada. Instead, he offers what he finds to be logical explanations for every incident and line, however contrived or ridiculous. For example, when Sneer asks Puff how Hatton could never before have asked Raleigh about their preparations for war, Puff responds, ‘‘What, before the Play began? how the plague could he?’’ Similarly, when Dangle observes that the Beefeater’s soliloquy of four lines is ‘‘very short,’’ Puff explains, ‘‘Yes—but it would have been a great deal longer if he had not been observed.’’
Convinced of his own skill as a playwright, Puff becomes irritated when he learns of the cuts in the script made by the actors: although he initially calls them ‘‘very good judges’’ of what should be deleted, he later complains that they have cut ‘‘one of the finest and most laboured’’ scenes of his play. Although he lets the cuts remain, he vows to ‘‘print it every word,’’ assured that his readers (if not his audience) will appreciate his talents.
Publicity and Advertising
While Puff is the play’s primary playwright, Sheridan also uses him to satirize the means by which the skills of a playwright are found in the world outside of the theater, specifically in the world of advertising. Puff explains that he ‘‘does as much business in that way as any six of the fraternity in town’’ and that it is his talent for ‘‘puffing’’ up language to extraordinary heights that helps Puff make a living from the press. For example, Puff has taught advertisers to employ ‘‘panegyrical superlatives’’ to create appealing images of their products and capture consumers’ interest; he has also used his talent for ‘‘puffing’’ to create false newspaper advertisements in which he pretended to be bankrupt, an invalid, and a widower in ordere to live upon the charity of credulous readers.
Puff’s swindles are strikingly in tune with some modern advertising practices. For example, Puff uses the press to create false (and, of course, glowing) reviews of the work of his friends. A similar device was seen in 2001 when Sony Pictures came under fire for inventing positive critical reviews for its film The Animal; that same year, the company was criticized again for having employees pose, in television commercials, as theatergoers offering great reviews of The Patriot. Puff also composes stories wherein he sneaks in advertisements that seem glaringly out of place: for example, he recites a story he wrote about George Bon-Mot ‘‘sauntering down St. James’s-street,’’ where he met Lady Mary Myrtle and said:
I just saw a picture of you, in a new publication called THE CAMP MAGAZINE, which, bye the bye, is a devilish clever thing,—and is sold at No. 3, on the right-hand of the way, two doors from the printingoffice, the corner of Ivy-lane, Paternoster-row, price only one shilling!
This is remarkably reminiscent of the advertising practice known as ‘‘product placement,’’ in which corporations pay to have characters in films use their clearly marked products. Many corporations selling things such as cars, food, and clothing use product placement as a means of exposing their products to a captive audience.
Finally, Puff also reflects a twentieth-century trend among advertisers when he describes his technique ‘‘The Puff Collusive,’’ in which he acts ‘‘in the guise of determined hostility’’ to presumably warn the public about the moral dangers of a new work of art (in the case of his example, a poem): ‘‘Here you see the two strongest inducements are held forth;—First, that nobody ought to read it;— and secondly, that everybody buys it.’’ When one considers the furor over certain books (such as The Catcher in the Rye or The Satanic Verses), television shows (such as N. Y. P. D. Blue or South Park), or albums by artists as different as Elvis Presley and Eminem, one sees just how prescient Sheridan was in his creation of Puff and all his ‘‘various sorts’’ of ‘‘Puffing.’’