First, I adore this play. I devoured it one day the first time I read it two years ago, and whenever I’m in some sort of quandry regarding art or love (politics and I cross paths less often than the other two), I find myself picking it up again and finding something I hadn’t noticed last time. When I discussed it with a professor for a paper, he and I argued about what could be my favorite scene, Scene Seven; when Debbie is leaving to go on the road with her boyfriend and she and Henry try to reconcile themselves to each other, explain how they feel about love, and Charlotte drops her great revelation.
Henry delivers a monologue that (I’ve been assured) looks awkward as hell staged, but, experiencing the words alone, I find it to be one of the most beautiful and articulate descriptions of sexual intimacy:
We share our vivacity, grief, sulks, anger, joy… we hand it out to anybody who happens to be standing around, to friends and family with a momentary sense of indecency perhaps, to strangers without hesitation. Our lovers share us with the passing trade. But in pairs we insist that we give ourselves to each other. What selves? What’s left? What else is there that hasn’t been dealt out like a deck of cards? A sense of knowledge. Personal, final, uncompromised. Knowing, being known. I revere that.
And so he continues on for several more lines after he’s been going awhile, for his darling daughter Debbie to ask him flatly, “Has Annie got someone else then?”
This perfect moment follows several other beats of Henry and Debbie matching wits, she delivers the syllogism “That’s what free love is free of – propaganda,” and he offers that it should be “of love.” They argue the definition of fidelity and its relation to his last successful play. However, none of this compares to the conversation that is to follow with his first wife and Debbie’s mother, Charlotte.
Just to step away from the scene for a moment, I want to sing the praises of Stoppard’s description of Charlotte when she is formally introduced in Scene Two: “Henry is amiable but can take care of himself. Charlotte is less amiable and can take even better care of herself. . . . Annie is very much like the woman Charlotte has ceased to be.” Just between the x of us, I want to be Charlotte if I ever grow up.
Back to our (totally awesome!) heroine. Charlotte picks up where her daughter left off, asking her ex-husband about his current marriage with the mistress who ended theirs. (Did you follow that? Great, thanks.) She wonders why he isn’t curious about Annie’s fidelity while she’s away, and confesses to infidelities during their marriage, because Henry didn’t seem to care and surely he must be doing the same thing, only to realize his loyalty too late; it didn’t matter. She gloats after his inquiry, “look what your one did compared to my nine.”
And she follows this up with a speech, much shorter than Henry’s that I believe is The Big Point (possibly, the Real Thing?) behind the play – what The Real Thing is, with regards to love. According to Stoppard.
There are no commitments [in love], only bargains. And they have to be made again every day. You think making a commitment is it. Finish. You think it sets like a concrete platform and it’ll take any strain you want to put on it. You’re committed.
Charlotte and Debbie make more sense to me, at least with regards to love, than any other characters in the play. Henry is still learning the game, Annie cheats (I can’t tell if that was intended), Max is a sore loser. Debbie stands along the sidelines with her mother, but their commentary brings the audience closer to the real thing than any moment spent between Henry and Annie. And so ends my catechism.
Have a great Valentine’s Day, everyone.