The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Temptation begins in a room of a scientific institute. The room serves several functions, creating an “impression of bureaucratic anonymity”; the furnishings and equipment appear to have been assembled by executive whimsy. Lorencova, Kotrlý, and Neuwirth are onstage when the curtain rises, lounging. They call Maggie to bring coffee. Foustka, dressed in black, arrives late for work. The others ask him about his private studies; he pretends ignorance, but Neuwirth insists. The Deputy Director enters with Petruska, who holds his hand throughout the play. After surface pleasantries, the Deputy describes the upcoming garden party. The Director enters and soon explains the need to counter growing mystical tendencies in society. Vilma arrives late, interrupting him; he finishes his remarks with an appeal for Foustka’s personal support.

Scene 2 begins with Foustka conducting a ritual that is interrupted by the landlady’s knocking at the door of his small, book-lined bachelor room. Foustka covers up his spell, then learns from Mrs. Houbova about his strange, odorous caller. She then sends in Fistula, a small, unflappable vagrant with bad feet. Foustka is first annoyed by the intrusion, then increasingly disturbed as Fistula’s conversation suggests that he has special knowledge and supernatural connections. Fistula responds to Foustka’s suspicions in several long, articulate speeches, arguing that he is not an agent provocateur but rather a minor spirit who offers himself as the object of a scientific inquiry. As a test of his powers, Fistula volunteers to cause the secretary, Maggie, to fall in love with Foustka at the garden party. Foustka protests, saying that he is faithful to his girlfriend; Fistula wonders if she is faithful in return, then leaves.

Scene 3 takes place in the garden, where the lights first reveal a pair of lovers who exchange intimate thoughts and gestures throughout the scene. Other characters dance in formal dress as Foustka joins Maggie, treating her to a philosophical meditation on the beauty of the cosmos. They are interrupted when Neuwirth asks Maggie to dance; the Director joins Foustka, taking his hand in an appeal for Foustka’s opinion of him as a man. This apparent gay proposition is interrupted by the Deputy, who explains that Petruska would like a dance with the Director. Though he declines, they take him off to see a light show designed by Kotrlý. Lorencova explains to Kotrlý that he seeks advancement too blatantly; he is concerned that she may like Neuwirth more than himself. Foustka and Maggie resume their conversation, to which she responds enthusiastically. Kotrlý then interrupts to dance with Maggie; the Director returns to complete his pass, but Foustka uses his plans with Vilma to excuse himself. The Deputy approaches the Director with an invitation for drinks, which is refused. Neuwirth and Lorencova discuss Kotrlý’s machinations; he is concerned that she loves Kotrlý, while she is obviously toying with both men. Foustka again resumes his cosmological seduction of Maggie, who declares her love and kisses him passionately. Vilma then appears, coolly interrupting their tryst as the curtain falls.

Vilma’s boudoir is revealed in scene 4, where she and Foustka enact a scene of jealous rage. Foustka questions her about a dancer, while she dismisses the dancer’s attentions as mere juvenile flattery. Finally, when Foustka threatens violence, Vilma applauds, and it is revealed that the scene was an erotic game. When Foustka confesses that these games test and disturb him, Vilma suggests that he is really only troubled by the recent encounter with the predatory Director. The doorbell rings, and Foustka admits the dancer from the jealousy scene, who delivers flowers and leaves awkwardly. Vilma goes to Foustka, pleading her love with kisses; without batting an eye, he slaps her down and kicks her.

Scene 5 is again the institute, where Foustka and Vilma, sporting her black eye, enter happily. A nervous Maggie delivers coffee as before. The other scientists come in, closely followed by the Deputy, who provides another long-winded but meaningless introduction for the Director. This time the...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The principal dramatic device is the play’s use of a known myth. Temptation uses a story with features that are generally known but not completely determined. Consequently, every scene, every element in the play, suggests relations with the story’s sophisticated intertext, while Havel’s choices are not constricted by a need to adhere to a single version of the myth. Havel’s play creates meanings of its own, based on the contemporary context of the story’s use, but it also generates meanings in relation to the entire tradition of Faustian works. His Fistula character is typical of the innovative possibilities, for Fistula is neither as spectacular nor as seductive as the typical Mephistopheles character of the myth; conversely, Fistula’s insidious qualities help Havel to dramatize the pervasive, apparently innocuous quality of evil in Cold-War-era Soviet life.

The second dramatic device is more characteristic of Havel’s work; the play uses repetition as its primary technique for establishing progressive changes. The routines at the office gradually acquire meaning as their variations accrue. The scenes in Vilma’s boudoir are played in reference to previous scenes and games. The Director repeats his attempts to seduce Foustka and Kotrlý. Against the repetitive background of scenes and routines of behavior, key moments are distinct, their differences emphasized by the sameness of their surroundings. The final costume ball could not...

(The entire section is 429 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Goetz-Stankiewicz, Markéta. The Silenced Theatre: Czech Playwrights Without a Stage. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1979.

Goetz-Stankiewicz, Markéta, ed. The Vank Plays: Four Authors, One Character. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1987.

Havel, Václav. Letters to Olga: June 1979-September 1982. Translated by Paul Wilson. New York: Knopf, 1988.

Keane, John. Václav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts. New York: Harper Basic, 2000.

Kriseova, Eda. Václav Havel: The Authorized Biography. Collingdale, Pa.: Diane, 1998.

Mestrovic, Marta. “From Prison, a Playwright Yearns for a Stage.” New York Times, April 9, 1989, p. H5.

Trensky, Paul I. Czech Drama Since World War II. White Plains, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1978.

Vladislav, Jan, ed. Václav Havel: Or, Living in Truth. London: Faber, 1987.