Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 705
Henry, a successful playwright in his forties for whom writing about love is difficult. His play, A House of Cards, has just opened. Its first act is the first act of The Real Thing. Henry, a partially autobiographical character, changes in the course of the play as he is educated in what love is by the three women in his life: his former wife, his current wife, and his daughter. Acknowledging to his precocious teenage daughter the verity of her perception of him as an ironist in public and a prig in private, he reluctantly accepts modern attitudes toward marriage as the result of his wife’s affairs and his daughter’s colorfully honest appraisal of him. As a husband, he takes his wives for granted and leaves them with unfulfilled needs. His belief in the artist’s removal from personal emotions and political causes creates tensions with Annie, as it had with his first wife. As an artist, he believes in the innocence, neutrality, and precision of words as the means for building “bridges across incomprehension and chaos” and regards his short-lived rival in love, Brodie, as a writer of rubbish. Even so, he finally admits that in love, unlike art, “dignified cuckoldry, although difficult, can be done.”
Annie, Henry’s second wife, a twenty-five-year-old actress and activist in political marches. She is Henry’s mistress at the start of the play. Like her predecessor, Charlotte, in Henry’s real life, she takes lovers and argues with Henry about her needs. Her roles bring her into close contact with Billy, another actor, and her activism in liberal movements involves her with a politically committed dramatist, Brodie, who is boorish and artistically inferior to Henry. She reacts angrily to Henry’s jealousy of Brodie with a reference to Henry’s “fastidious taste.”
Brodie, a twenty-five-year-old loutish dramatist who has spent time in prison as a result of his protests against nuclear missiles and other political injustices. He meets Annie on a train en route to a demonstration and interests her in a role in his television play. As a dramatist committed to causes, he writes with his “guts” and is incensed when he discovers that Henry, at Annie’s request, has rewritten a television play that Brodie wrote.
Charlotte, Henry’s former wife, roughly thirty-five years old, who serves as a double character—in Henry’s play and in The Real Thing. In both, she is the unfaithful wife. She informs Henry that he cannot write plays about women and that she has had a number of lovers, the most recent of whom was an architect. In the play within the play, Charlotte is married to Max, who is also an architect. Charlotte, as Henry’s former wife, educates him regarding his erroneous view of marriage as a commitment that is finished when made, insisting that it needs daily renewal.
Debbie, Charlotte and Henry’s very modern seventeen-year-old daughter, who has her own advice for Henry in regard to his marital problems. She states that free love is free of the old propaganda and that exclusive rights to a person “isn’t love, it’s colonization.” Her father’s own daughter, she is as articulate about her views on free love as Henry is about his love of language.
Billy, an actor, about twenty-two years old, with whom Annie rehearses love scenes from August Strindberg’s Miss Julie and John Ford’s Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Both rehearsals become metaphors for Annie’s affair with Billy. Billy likes the content of Brodie’s plays even as he recognizes that Henry is a much better writer.
Max, who is about...
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forty years old, also an actor and a double character who appears in both plays. InThe House of Cards, he is the architect, and in The Real Thing, he is in love with Annie and, consequently, despondent at the news of her affair with Henry. He eventually falls in love again and calls at the end to inform Henry that if it were not for Henry, he would not be currently engaged. His roles in both the play and the play within the play are minor.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 771
Annie Annie is an actress who is married to Max but is conducting an affair with Henry. She urges Henry to come clean about the affair but is in fact the one who reveals it to Max. In Act II Annie lands the part of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie in a Glaswegain production of that play and begins an adulterous affair with her co-star Billy.
Annie is politically idealistic, and dedicates herself to the campaign for Brodie’s release. She encourages Brodie to write an autobiographical play, believing that it will renew support for the campaign. Brodie’s play is so poorly written that Annie enlists Henry to re-write it, refusing, however, to admit to him that it is badly written. Henry at first refuses to cooperate with her but eventually capitulates. In the final scene, Annie turns against Brodie, smashing a bowl of dip into his face. At the same time she appears to give up her affair with Billy and to return to Henry.
Billy Billy is a young actor who falls in love with Annie. He manages to sweep her off her feet with his enthusiasm and honesty, which she finds a refreshing contrast to Henry’s tight-lipped expressions of love.
Brodie The subject of much discussion and debate throughout the play, Brodie only appears onstage in the final scene. All of Annie’s claims about his idealism are finally revealed to be false. When he set fire to the wreath of the Unknown Soldier, Brodie was not seeking to make a political statement; rather, he was seeking to impress Annie, who he had just met. He is also revealed to be ungrateful and chauvinistic.
Charlotte Charlotte is the lead actress in Henry’s new play, House of Cards. She is also Henry’s wife. Charlotte and Henry do not have a happy relationship. Henry’s irony seems to have alienated Charlotte; moreover, she criticizes his writing, complaining that he does not write good female characters. Charlotte is offstage for most of the play but reappears in a crucial scene between Henry and Debbie, during which she reveals to him that she had nine affairs while married to him. More important than the fact of her adultery, however, is her statement on commitment and marriage that she delivers in the same scene.
Debbie Debbie is Henry and Charlotte’s daughter. She appears in the second act, a world-wise seventeenyear- old who has a conversation with her father about sex and love. She claims that sex is not a mystery and that it does not deserve the hyperbole it attracts. Her father admires her skill with words but disagrees with her argument and labels her a sophist. Debbie’s pragmatic comments represent a younger generation’s view of sex and love.
Henry Henry, a successful London playwright, is the play’s protagonist. Henry is married to Charlotte, the lead actress in his current play House of Cards. However, he is estranged from his wife and is having an affair with Annie. Henry and Annie leave their respective spouses and embark on a life together. But when the new couple disagree about Brodie’s play, and when Henry learns that Annie is being unfaithful, their relationship is threatened.
Henry’s verbal dexterity lands him in trouble as often as it launches him into success. For all his wit and humor, he can be bitingly sarcastic and blisteringly rude; he is also impatient with other people’s flawed logic and imprecise expression. Henry is apt to speak as if he was a character in a play, a characteristic that cripples his expression of emotion. He is most eloquent when articulating his belief in the innocence of language and when defending his conception of literature.
Henry undergoes profound change in the course of the play. He is finally able to express love and passion in real language, and his understanding of love also changes.
Max Max is the lead actor in Henry’s new play, House of Cards. In House of Cards he plays an architect who discovers that his wife is having an adulterous affair. Offstage, Max is Annie’s husband.
In the third and last scene in which he appears onstage, Max reenacts his character’s discovery of adultery in House of Cards, confronting Annie about her affair with Henry. He later tries, unsuccessfully, to win her back with flowers and telephone calls. In the play’s final scene, it is revealed that he is in love again and is about to remarry. His joy in his new found love contrasts ironically to Henry’s sobered love for Annie.