Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

There has been much speculation about the significance of the title Speed-the-Plow, with its flow-through hyphenation. Researchers have uncovered its agrarian good luck phraseology from eighteenth century England; it means roughly, “Hope your ploughing gets finished swiftly and profitably.” If this is what Mamet had in mind, he is using the title subtly to suggest that the fast-paced movie industry has had many forebears. Speed-the-Plow’s business-as-usual realistic ending wins out over its possible romantic counterpart.

One ironic aspect to Speed-the-Plow is that the buddy movie that the men are going to make is contained within a buddy play. Mamet, too, has had to wrestle with the fact that art for art’s sake does not sell tickets. If his characters seem to practice an “honor among thieves” (with the buzzword in Speed-the-Plow being “loyalty”), we see much the same characters in his dramas as in his screenplays: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), The Verdict (1982), The Untouchables (1987), House of Games (1987), and Things Change (1988).

Mamet’s misogynistic and immature male characters, Bobby and Charlie, are like the others in his canon. Pascale Hubert-Liebler states that “the rare heterosexual relationships, doomed from the start by male misogyny and the mutual incomprehension of the sexes, usually end in disaster.” In...

(The entire section is 403 words.)