Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Although the action of Dirty Linen reveals that all the MPs except for one moralistic gentleman, French, have previously been intimately involved with Maddie and that she is the mysterious woman described in the salacious newspaper reports of governmental indiscretion, Tom Stoppard allows the voluptuous Maddie to pronounce the play’s judgment on privacy rights: “All you need is one paragraph saying the M.P.s have got just as much right to enjoy themselves in their own way as anyone else, and Fleet Street can take a running jump.” Her disarmingly simple proclamation of the right to privacy both quells the controversy about moral misbehavior in high places and stands in refreshing contrast to the tortured prose of the committee’s early drafts of their statement.

If Parliament is at all typical of the country, the Great Britain of this play is a feverish hotbed of sexual intrigue, with a press corps determined to exploit the reading public’s appetite for prurience. Dirty Linen is a lively bowler-hat sex farce that also happens to contain a witty and articulate defense of the rights of elected public officials to personal freedom. Despite Stoppard’s own background as a journalist, the play rejects the public’s right to know as a freedom less valuable than the right of an individual to personal privacy.

As Dirty Linen has revealed its message well before the interruption of New-Found-Land, Stoppard...

(The entire section is 472 words.)