Ray Cooney's Run for Your Wife through Philosophical Inquiry
Run for Your Wife is a British farce written by Ray Cooney who also played the main protagonist, John Smith, in the play in theater performances in Britain in the 1980s. The play explores numerous issues ranging from ethics, polygamy, and faithfulness to the aesthetics of British culture in the 1950s. The whole play, however, is a farce and sometimes acts in the play seem to be mindless, performed just for the sake of humor although some forms of humor used in the play also seem to be bland. One way to make sense of the play is to explore it through branches of philosophy such as metaphysics and epistemology. Both of these branches of knowledge ultimately suggest that there is subjectivity and relativity in our ways of knowing. This may be useful in understanding Run for Your Wife since the play presents acts that seem farcical or mindless primarily because of our general perception of how things should be. In this paper, I will briefly summarize the plot of Run for Your Wife, define metaphysics and epistemology, and how these branches of philosophy can expand our understanding of things around us.
Run for Your Wife features a man named John Smith, a taxi driver, who is having a nightmarish morning. John saved a woman from three muggers the night before but in the confusion of the moment, the woman hit John with a handbag. The injury resulted from the hit forced John to a hospital for minor treatment. Again in the midst of confusion, John provides the hospital and the police with two different home addresses. That might seem as an honest mistake or just a case of one person having two addresses, but it turns out John has a wife living in each of the places. John is a bigamist. From being a hero just minutes ago, John turns into an object of growing suspicion and distrust.
One of his wives, Barbara Smith, lives in Streatham, while the other, Mary Smith, lives in Wimbledon. One wife thinks John works the night shift and the other thinks he works the early shift. John has been able to hide his bigamy from both of his wives by concocting white lies and being extraordinarily exact with his timetable. The scenario that took John to the hospital made it impossible for him to maintain his precise schedule. So, both of his wives are baffled and call the police to inquire about the whereabouts of John's. The rest of the play is revolved around John trying to hide his little secret and prevent two of his wives from meeting each other. Stanley Gardener, John's neighbor, tries to help him. The other two main characters are detectives Sergeant Troughton and Sergeant Porterhouse. The whole play takes in a farcical manner. People keep mistaking one for another. One wife at a moment is mistaken for a nun, while the other for a transvestite. Almost everyone seems to be obsessed with sex, and the question of homosexuality is also explored through John's character.
Although these acts seem to be mindless at times, there are numerous social issues explored in these scenes. Both Mary and Barbara describe John as an ordinary man. So, is he not different from any other man in his society? Does this mean that ordinary men can be unfaithful and/or polygamous? Or is John an exception? In another instance, John pretends to be a homosexual in his farcical attempts to hide his bigamous secret. Does that mean that homosexuality is considered more acceptable than bigamy? Or is it still not? Why does Stanley try to help his buddy out? Does he have a similar secret? Or does he just admire John's courage and in his fantasy wants to be like John? Once again, the question is whether John is any different from other men. Why do the detectives who consider John a hero first and then quickly start treating him with less respect, almost forgetting about John's feat? Is this the reflection of law enforcement agencies which may consider one a hero today and then a villain tomorrow? Or is this the reflection of the society that flips and flops easily? These are some but a few critical questions one may keep in mind while watching the drama unfold in Run for Your Wife.
To better appreciate the seeming mindlessness or ostensible lack of logic in Run for Your Wife, it might be useful to explore the play through deep philosophy. Metaphysics, first codified by Aristotle and refined by other philosophers, may be of help here. Metaphysics, in its modern philosophical terminology, "refers to the studies of what cannot be reached through objective studies of material reality." In a broader sense, it is "a type of philosophy or study that uses broad concepts to help define reality and our understanding of it. Metaphysical studies generally seek to explain inherent or universal elements of reality which are not easily discovered or experienced in our everyday life. As such, it is concerned with explaining the features of reality that exist beyond the physical world and our immediate senses" (Metaphysics, n.a.).
This approach can significantly broaden our perspective on social relations that we see in Run for Your Life and many other theatrical works. Although social science is considered by many as a kind of "science" and often deals with methodologies and forms of inquire that are considered "objective," there is a lot in human behavior or psychology that cannot be reached through objective studies. There is a lot in human behavior that cannot be easily discovered or experienced. Yet there is a lot in human psychology that at times seems to exist beyond our immediate senses. The same is true of social relations. Run for Your Life may depict people whose behavior may seem to be mindless and lacking in logic. But the mindlessness of it may be the very logic of it. John is an ordinary man in the play. So are others. The only reason we can judge any of them or any of their acts is through our preconceived understandings of what is right, wrong, or normal. Looked at it from a metaphysical perspective, characters in Run for Your Wife and the play itself may be seen differently.
Metaphysics also deals with the branch of philosophy called epistemology. Epistemology "is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits?" Furthermore, "as the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one's own mind? Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry" (Steup, 2005). In other words, epistemology deals with the question of knowing and the modes of inquiry. Many of the things we know -- or we think we know -- or we the way perceive -- is depended on the manner we accumulated knowledge about the subject.
Again, how do we know that John's behavior in Run for Your Wife is right or wrong? How do we make that judgment? How do we justify his actions or consider his behavior unjustifiable? Answers to these questions very much depend on epistemology. To make judgment about John's bigamous behavior, we need to have preconceived understandings about marital relations. His bigamy can be evaluated only in relation to a monogamous behavior. But is the idea that monogamous relationship is the only right form of relationship an objective truth? Where is the evidence for that? It is hard to find hard evidence here. There is, however, evidence to the fact that monogamous relationship is considered the norm due to our way of understanding marital relationships. Through modes of inquiry, influenced by Christianity, European philosophy, law, ethics, and various social practices, the British people have come to a conclusion that monogamous relationship is, or at least should be, the standard.
It may sound odd but justification for monogamy makes as much sense as justification for bigamy or polygamy. That is, neither of them makes perfect sense. And both of them make perfect sense when epistemology is taken into consideration. If through the modes of inquiry, the majority in a given society comes to a conclusion that it is normal for men to have two wives, and generations grow up accepting this belief and continue their understanding of this relationship by using the same modes of inquiry that established the normalcy for this behavior in the first place, then people will not see anything wrong or deviant about bigamy. John's bigamy is problematic to a viewer because most viewers today operate within the system where…