Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Joe Orton and his lover, Kenneth Halliwell (1927-1967), who on August 9, 1967, murdered Orton and then took his own life, were arrested in 1962 and sentenced to jail terms of six months each for willfully defacing seventy-two library books. They had skillfully and puckishly rewritten the blurbs on the flaps of the book jackets and had artfully altered them and some of the inside illustrations in ways that were judged obscene. Their motive was to engage in a spoof that would fluster and bewilder the stalwart library patrons who represent middle-class virtues. During his half-year in jail, Orton began to write in earnest, and his writing had consistently the same basic aim that had inspired his defacing of the library books. He wanted to hold up to ridicule what he considered the hypocrisy of British morality, and he wanted to do it in a brilliantly witty way. With Loot, he fulfilled this aim.

Loot is a farcical attack on authority and conventions of all sorts: parental, ecclesiastical, civil, judicial, sexual, even those of the mortuary. Much as Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832-1898) looked aslant at his world in Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872), so Orton viewed society with tongue in cheek but with rapier bared and in hand. The theme on which Loot centers is the hypocrisy of social institutions and of those who allow themselves to be manipulated by such institutions....

(The entire section is 461 words.)