On plays

Mark posts a long excerpt from Tom Stoppard’s play The Real Thing, where the character Henry, a writer, talks about what writing means and the sacredness of words. So ask yourself, what does reading this do for you? Me, I’ve got some thoughts.

Now, I don’t normally like plays. To some people that’s a meaningless statement; it’s like saying, I don’t normally like blue things. But it’s the way it is. I can’t read playscript properly; I can never immerse myself into the story. I can’t get over the unreality of plays when presented on a stage, either; it never seems remotely real, because the people are just standing on a stage, not in a bedroom or a street or a lunar base. Films don’t have this problem, although this is only because film directors can choose their camera angles. (And a further point might well be made: why is reality, or seeming reality, important?) But back to the point: I don’t normally like plays. I quite often don’t like great works of literature, either (you may fill in your own definition for that term). But I do like reading quotations. Similarly, I enjoyed reading this excerpt; removed from its context, from the surrounding body of the play, the words take on a little mystique of their own, I think. We don’t know about the characters (except for any internal evidence, and Mark’s very brief introduction), and we don’t need to; their ideas come through much more strongly when shorn of anything other than a mouthpiece through which they’re presented. So I enjoyed reading this.

I do wonder why Mark posted it, though. There’s a little thought in my head that says that it’d be an interesting little social experiment to see which bit of it those who read and comment upon it choose to comment upon. How they summarise the piece — I saw it as commentary on the sacredness of words, but someone else might see it as a vilification of the arrogance of writers, or as an example of how everyone thinks that they can do an expert’s job, or… and so on, ad nauseam. There aren’t that many people who would generate enough links, enough commentary, to perform this kind of experiment without making it explicit: read this text and tell me what you thought, which would alter the results. I doubt Mark did do it for this reason — doubtless he either just likes the piece or it has peculiar relevance to something he’s doing — but it’s a fascinating thought, just the same.


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