Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound, which was written between 1961 and 1962 and premiered on June 17th 1968, is an absurd play that comments on the role of the critic in relation to the play he or she critiques and comments on the interdependent relationship that is formed between critic and actor. The Real Inspector Hound's plot revolves around a couple of critics, Moon and Birdboot, who become embroiled in a murder mystery while watching a play about a murder mystery; in this sense, The Real Inspector Hound is a play-within-a-play. Through the play's plot and theme, Stoppard not only comments on the interdependent and mutually beneficial relationship critics have with the theatre, but also on how the theatre and critic must remain separate entities.
The Real Inspector Hound is an absurdist play that is highly self-aware, or self-reflexive, of its premise and structure. For the purposes of this analysis, the play Moon and Birdboot are attending will be referred to as "the play," whereas Stoddard's play (in which "the play" is contained will be referred to as The Real Inspector Hound. In establishing the play's and The Real Inspector Hound's general theme of a murder mystery, Stoppard not only comments on the absurdity of whodunit tales -- in this case Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap -- but provides a meta-critique of the genre through Moon and Birdboot who attempt to decipher the play they are watching's plot. In the process, Stoppard also forces The Real Inspector Hound's audience to attempt to decipher the events within the play -- and within the play's play -- as they unfold, thus creating a tertiary level of meta-criticism. Through this approach, Stoppard demonstrates that critics and criticism are not formal roles, but rather that assuming the role of a critic can be done by anybody and that people actively engage in criticism even if they are not aware of it.
Through his criticism of theatre and the whodunit genre, Stoppard forces the reader, and consequently the critic, to recognize the interdependent and mutually beneficial relationship that is formed between the theatre and the critic. One of the basic premises Stoppard comments on is how critics are dependent on the theatre and how it not only provides them with a source of income and allows them to attain some sort of fame, but also how it allows them to gain insight into some aspect of their lives. One of Moon's most self-reflexive meta-comments allows the reader to understand Stoppard's personal concept of the purpose of theatre. Moon comments, "There are moments, and I would not begrudge it this, when the play, if we can call it that, and I think on balance we can, aligns itself uncompromisingly on the side of life" (Stoppard 31). When deconstructed, Moon's observation can be applied on two different levels. The first level Moon's comment can be applied is to his personal observation of the play he and Birdboot are watching. In The Real Inspector Hound, it is revealed the action taking place within the play's play mirrors the action that is taking place within The Real Inspector Hound. For instance, in the play it is revealed that Simon is leaving Felicity because he has fallen in love with Cynthia. This ironically parallels Birdboot's behavior as he has been having an affair with the actress that plays Felicity and has pushed his own wife to the side. It is ironic to not only see how the play mirrors Birdboot's life, but also how the issue is not so absurd that it does not occur in everyday life. By commenting on the how theatre is a mirror of real life, Moon, as a critic and observer, forces the reader -- and his followers -- to take note of the messages conveyed through theatre. By analyzing the themes conveyed through theatre, it becomes much more than a simple entertainment venue and is transformed into a means for self-reflection.
In addition to the parallels created by the adulterous couple in the play and Birdboot, Moon observes and paradoxically foreshadows what occurs in the play by commenting on his role within the critic world. In The Real Inspector Hound, the only reason Moon is given the opportunity to attend and critique the play is because his superior, Higgs, has mysteriously failed to show up. As Moon contemplates about his role and…