The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Both Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land take place in “an overspill meeting room for House of Commons business in the tower of Big Ben”; the audience can quickly observe that it is scarcely an ideal place for the conducting of governmental business, as the famous bell chimes with comic regularity every quarter hour. A bawdy tone is quickly established when the first character to appear, a voluptuous secretary, slips into a pair of “French knickers”—a garment which she evidently dispenses as souvenirs, as each of the other characters inadvertently displays a similar pair in the course of the play.

The plot revolves around the efforts of a parliamentary subcommittee to draft a statement upholding the decency of the members of the House of Commons and rebuking the tabloids for inquiring too diligently into the sexual lives of the members of Parliament (MPs). The chairman, Withenshaw, has been promised a life peerage by the prime minister if he can produce a report that will calm the rough waters. Another member, McTeazle, helpfully explains, “this is a meeting of a Select Committee of Members of Parliament to report on moral standards in the House. . . .” The secretary assigned to take down the minutes of the subcommittee, the felicitously named Maddie Gotobed, has been hired less for her stenographic skills than for her apparent involvement with nearly every member of the panel. The audience can quickly deduce that the “titian-haired, green-eyed” Maddie is the “Mystery Woman” of tabloid headlines who presumably has provided sexual favors for a pride of MPs. As McTeazle ruefully explains, “. . . we face the possibility that a sexual swathe has passed through Westminster claiming the reputations of, to put no finer point upon it, 119 Members. Someone is going through the ranks like a lawn-mower in...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The play thrives on Tom Stoppard’s characteristically spirited multilingual wordplay, as when the first two characters to appear, Cocklebury-Smythe and McTeazle, greet each other in a page-long series of foreign-language clichés: “Toujours la politesse,” “Noblesse oblige,” “Mea culpa,” and “Après vous. J’y suis, j’y reste.” The avoidance of English in favor of French and Latin clichés is in the tradition of Restoration comedy in the late seventeenth century, with its foppish gentlemen who affect French phrases and who prefer any European values to native ones.

A persistent verbal motif is provided by the nervous instructions of the politicians, who urge Maddie to remember to deny all the places they have met for their liaisons, as when Cocklebury-Smythe urges her that the “best thing is to forget Crockford’s, Claridges and the Coq d’Or.” This reminder to Maddie to forget certain compromising moments rises in a consistently amusing crescendo of bawdy language, as when Cocklebury-Smythe says, “I forgot—I was at the Golden Carriages as well as Claridges, and the Odd Sock and the Cocked Hat,” or when McTeazle testifies, “I was at the Cox and Box, and the Cooks Door, the Old Chest, the Dorchester, and the Chesty Cook and—er—Luigi’s.” Because they are fired off in great barrages, and because even the bad puns remind the audience of the almost infantile pleasure people take in verbal similarities, there is much to...

(The entire section is 501 words.)


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Corballis, Richard. “Tom Stoppard.” In British Playwrights. 1956-1995: A Research and Production Sourcebook, edited by William W. Demastes. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Gambit: International Theatre Review 10, no. 37 (1981). Special Stoppard issue.

Gussow, Mel. Conversations with Tom Stoppard. New York: Grove, 1996.

Hayman, Ronald. Tom Stoppard. 4th ed. London: Heinemann, 1982.

Hearty, John, ed. Tom Stoppard: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1987.

Hunter, Jim. Tom Stoppard’s Plays. New York: Grove Press, 1982.

Jenkins, Anthony. The Theatre of Tom Stoppard. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Whitaker, Thomas. Tom Stoppard. New York: Grove Press, 1984.