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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 405

Largo Desolato is a semi-autobiographical play by the Czech playwright Vaclav Havel about a writer called Leopold Nettles who has come under surveillance from the government due to his political views.

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The play begins with Leopold

alone on the stage. He is sitting on the sofa and staring at the front door. After a long pause he gets up and look through the peep-hole. Then he puts his ear to the door and listens intently. After another long pause the curtain drops suddenly and at the same time the music returns.

Leopold continues sitting on the sofa, listening at the door, until Edward enters in scene three and asks,

Has anything happened?

Leopold says no, but from Edward's questions, it is obvious he thinks Leopold is suffering.

How did you sleep?

No diarrhoea

How about dreams?

Nervous?

When Suzanna enters, she is equally worried. As soon as Leopold leaves, she asks Edward,

How is he?

Betram is a little more direct.

What happened to your perspective on things? To your humor? . . . Your capacity for enthusiasm, for emotional involvement. . . . I fear for you Leopold.

When two government agents arrive at the end of scene 4, the reader finds out that Leopold has written an essay criticizing the government. However, the government will, the agents' say, let it go, if Leopold

would sign, here and now, a short statement saying that you are not Professor Leopold Nettles, author of the paper in question, then the whole thing will be considered null and void and all previous decisions rescinded –

Much to Suzanna's disgust, he begins to consider the offer, at one point saying,

I’d rather be there than here like this! Why can’t I get my life clear! It was wonderful when nobody was interested in me—when nobody expected anything from me, nobody urging me to do anything—I just browsed around the second-hand bookshops—studying the modern philosophers at my leisure—spending the nights making notes from their works—taking walks in the parks and meditating.

At the end of the play, the agents come back to tell him that his case has been postponed. Leopold is distraught. Even if it means imprisonment, he just wants the whole saga to end.

I don't want an adjournment! I want to go there! I'm begging you—I beseech you—I can't go on living like this—

The play ends with Leopold again sitting on his sofa alone.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 934

In scene 1, Professor Leopold Nettles sits on the couch in his living room, watching the front door. After a while he walks to the door, peers through its peephole, and listens at the door as if expecting someone; he appears tense. After a long pause, the curtain drops.

Scene 2 repeats scene 1 exactly. Scene 3 begins in the same way, but it continues until the doorbell rings and Nettles jumps. After he recognizes the man at the door, he opens the door and Edward, his friend and his wife’s companion, enters. The two engage in small talk, mostly about Leopold’s digestion and nerves; Edward expresses concern that Leopold is drinking too much and that he has not gone outside in some time. Suzana, Leopold’s wife, returns from shopping and asks Leopold about his activities of the day. He details his morning’s tidying and fixing of breakfast. Suzana chastises him for eating his eggs with a silver teaspoon. She then leaves, and Leopold and Edward resume their conversation. Leopold appears very anxious and concerned that he will soon be arrested, although he does not reveal where he thinks he will be taken or by whom.

The doorbell rings again, startling Leopold. Two workers from a paper mill, First Sidney and Second Sidney, whom Nettles met two years ago but had forgotten, have come to request that Leopold take some sort of action, described only in the vaguest of terms. The two Sidneys declare themselves fans of Leopold and claim that many people are looking to him for direction. The doorbell rings again, and Lucy, Leopold’s mistress, enters; the ensuing conversation repeats much of what has already been said. The two Sidneys, having overstayed their welcome, eventually leave, promising to return with writing paper and imploring Leopold to maintain his courage. When Leopold and Lucy are finally alone, Lucy also encourages Leopold to resume his writing and suggests that her love should be an inspiration to him. Leopold remains unresponsive, and the curtain falls.

When scene 4 begins, it is night. Leopold’s friend Bertram is sitting on the sofa. Like Edward in scene 3, he asks Leopold about his drinking and his nerves and alludes to Leopold’s inactivity. He repeats that many people are concerned about Leopold, and, like the two Sidneys, presents himself as an emissary representing Leopold’s supporters. Bertram refers to uncertainties and possible danger, suggesting that Leopold’s anxieties are related to past actions and future consequences. Lucy emerges from Leopold’s bedroom, causing Bertram some embarrassment. After Bertram leaves, Lucy insists on talking with Leopold about their affair, which Leopold refuses to acknowledge. Lucy asserts that she has entered the relationship in order to stimulate him to some sort of intellectual activity, but now she feels used; Leopold claims he is incapable of love. Their discussion is interrupted by the doorbell and the appearance of First Chap and Second Chap, government agents representing the source of Leopold’s fears. The Chaps have Lucy removed by the First Man and the Second Man; they then inquire about Leopold’s activities.

The Chaps have come to offer a resolution to Leopold’s difficulties, which are revealed to have come about because of an essay he published called Ontology of the Human Self. If Leopold will sign a statement saying that he is not the same Professor Nettles who wrote the essay, he will be exonerated and the matter will be dropped. The Chaps assure Leopold that many others in similar predicaments have accepted such offers. Leopold, however, is visibly disturbed and requests time to consider his decision. The scene ends with Leopold sitting on the couch, wrapped in a blanket.

Leopold is alone at the beginning of scene 5. He alternately paces, checks the front door’s peephole, takes vitamins from a collection of vials on the table, and retires to the bathroom to wash his face. Suzana enters with shopping bags, and their conversation parallels that of the third scene. Leopold describes the visit of the previous night and the Chaps’ offer. Suzana is angered that Leopold would even consider accepting and exits to her room. Leopold repeats the actions of the opening of the scene.

Next, Edward arrives and questions Leopold about his digestion, his drinking, and the events of the previous night. Leopold continues to pace, take vitamins, and leave the room to wash his face. The two Sidneys arrive with writing paper and suitcases full of documents from the mill. They repeat their encouragement and support. Bertram arrives, and he, the two Sidneys, Suzana, and Edward repeat lines from earlier scenes, all calling on Leopold to act. Leopold orders them out, and, as the curtain falls, he can be heard running water in the bathroom. The doorbell rings again.

Scene 6 continues from where scene 5 ends. Leopold emerges from the shower to answer the door. The caller, Marguerite, is a philosophy student who admires his work; like Lucy, she offers her love as an inspiration to Leopold, and it appears that Leopold has decided to replace Lucy with Marguerite. They are interrupted by the doorbell and the reappearance of the two Chaps. Leopold announces that they might arrest him, for he refuses to sign their paper and relinquish his identity; however, the Chaps reply that they have not come to arrest him or to require his signature, but to inform him that his case has been postponed indefinitely. Leopold begs to be arrested rather than to continue in limbo with an uncertain future. As the curtain falls, he has collapsed on the floor. Scene 7 repeats the opening scene.

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