Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 573

Sleuth, like its own Milo Tindle, disguises itself and purports to disapprove of the old-fashioned parlor room murder mysteries popularized by such masters of the genre as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Also like Milo, the play indulges in flamboyant and elaborate tricks used so successfully by the past masters. In so doing, Sleuth unmasks itself for what it really is: Anthony Shaffer’s backhanded, revitalized homage to the supposed outdated parlor room puzzler. While it is lambasting the genre for being sterile, overly intellectual, and bloodless, Sleuth is also lauding the genre for its playful plot twists, elaborate deceptions, and unabashed ability to entertain.

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Andrew Wyke is the personification of the genre itself. He is quick-witted, theatrical, and obsessed with elaborate plot schemes. His speech is lively and rich with horrible puns and allusions to his beloved literary compatriots as well as his own works. He is also, like the genre, extremely class-conscious, intolerant of people whom he deems not part of his insulated, aristocratic world. Milo, young, vigorous, and handsome, the son of an Italian immigrant, is a threat to Andrew. He represents everything that Andrew is not. As he tells Milo just before he shoots him in act 1:I hate your smarmy, good-looking Latin face and your easy manner. . . . I hate you because you are a culling spick. A wop—a not one-of-me. Come, little man, did you really believe I would give up my wife and jewels to you? That I would make myself that ridiculous?

Milo represents the world of flesh and blood reality. His world is in direct conflict with Andrew’s universe of intellectual games, contrivances, and manipulation. However, both worlds are potent ones. It is obvious that Milo is at first awed by Andrew’s passionate love for games-playing. Although Milo does not agree with Andrew’s assertion that the world of detective fiction is superior to detective fact, and that the detective story is “the normal recreation of noble minds,” he still cannot resist becoming caught up in Andrew’s frenzied enthusiasm for games-playing. After the games turn deadly, however, Milo’s admiration turns to revulsion. In the end, after he has taken his revenge on Andrew by beating him at his own manipulative games of deceit and humiliation, he tells Andrew:Take a look at yourself, Andrew, and ask yourself a few simple questions about your attachment to the English detective story. Perhaps you might come to realize that the only place you can inhabit is a dead world. . . . It’s a world of coldness and class hatred, and two-dimensional characters who are not expected to communicate; it’s a world where only amateurs win, and where foreigners are automatically figures of fun. To put it shortly, the detective story is the normal recreation of snobbish, outdated, life-hating, ignoble minds.

In the end, it is Milo’s world of facts, of real police detectives and real death, that destroys Andrew’s world of charades and betrayal. Or so it seems. For the main, overriding theme of Sleuth is the beguiling fascination this artificial world of games has on the world of fact. The audience is held spellbound by the play’s string of deceits, fake murders, disguises, and manipulative acts. Sleuth therefore proves that Andrew’s world is hardly dead, and that with a few modifications the old-fashioned parlor room puzzler can still pack quite a dramatic punch.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 722

Deception
The elaborate game playing that takes place in Sleuth is indicative of its most important theme: deception. Milo's "crime" against Andrew starts with an act of deception, that is, having an affair with his wife. To teach Milo a lesson about trying to...

(The entire section contains 1295 words.)

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