The Bald Soprano Summary

Eugene Ionesco

The Bald Soprano

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The Bald Soprano Summary

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Romanian-French playwright Eugène Ionesco wrote The Bald Soprano (La Cantatrice Chauve in the original French), an absurdist play about the rambling conversation of six people, in 1950., It was Ionesco’s first produced play; it would become one of France’s most famous works of theater, and is regarded as a seminal piece of absurdist theater, ranking with Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1948).

The work’s subtitle is “antiplay,” and this shows in its themes of the unreliability yet necessity of language; alienation and the possibility of permanent separation from others; and parody of the bourgeoisie and conformism. The cyclical and atypical form of The Bald Soprano is resistant and questions the dominant modes of morality prevalent in traditionally linear plays.

The first scene takes places in a middle-class room and shows an Englishwoman,Mrs. Smith, observing the time, nine o’clock, along with her husband, Mr. Smith. Everything they own is English, from their slippers to their pipes. She talks to her husband about daily inanities, such as hoping the oil she purchased from the grocery store is good, and whether she should try another grocery store. She’s stopped by the fear that she may hurt someone’s feelings.

In her recap of what they’ve done that evening, Mrs. Smith talks about a boy they knew who recently died; his name was Bobby Watson. It’s later revealed that Bobby actually died two years ago. Then three years ago. Then four.Then it’s shown that Bobby Watson is actually multiple family members. Bobby Watson, it turns out, will be marrying a woman named Bobby Watson.

The Smiths discuss the requisite wedding present. But then, he’s dead again, and they don’t have to buy any presents.

After awhile, it’s unclear just who Bobby Watson is and whether he’s dead or alive. This is frustrating for the Smiths.

The Smiths argue over the fate of the Bobby Watsons, namely who will take care of the two young Bobby Watsons now that father Bobby Watson is gone, when their maid, Mary, enters.

Mary announces that the Martins, another English couple, have arrived.The Smiths go to their bedroom to change their clothes.

The Martins apparently don’t know each other. However, once they see each other, they get a whirl of déjà vu. They converse, realizing through discussion that they both live in Manchester. They took the same train to London in the same second-class cabin. In fact, they live in the same place: at 19 Bromfield Street. They even sleep in the same bed and both have a two-year-old toddler named Alice.They discuss the most peculiar physical detail about Alice: she has one red eye and one white eye. With so many coincidences, they figure they must be husband and wife.

The Martins then take a nap. As they sleep, Mary tells the audience that the Martins can’t possibly be married. This is because Mrs. Martin’s daughter has a white left eye, while Mr. Martin’s daughter has a red left eye.

The Smiths reenter the living room. They discuss their guests.

The doorbell sounds. When Mrs. Smith walks over to open it, no one is there. This happens a couple times and eventually she infers that a ringing doorbell means no one is there.

But as soon as she comes to this conclusion, the doorbell rings again, and the Fire Chief makes his first appearance. He announces that his expectations have been dashed: he was ordered to put out all of the fires in the city, but there is none in this house. The Smiths apologize, and promise to call him should any real fire occur.

The Fire Chief, the Martins,and the Smiths sit around with nothing to do. To pass the time, they begin to tell a series of stories, most of which emerge as nonsense.

Eventually, Mary enters the living room. She unravels her own story, the shocker of which is that she’s in love with the Fire Chief. The Smiths physically push her out of their living room. They’re horrified that a servant would impose her own story onto theirs. They force Mary off the stage as she is reciting a poem that, even they have to admit, is rather accomplished. The Fire Chief retreats offstage.

The two couples start reciting various platitudes. The couples start to argue, but the utility of language falls into question when what they say to each other makes no sense. No one is able to successfully communicate, and their problems become permanent. Occasionally, they scream.

The stage lighting fades as the couples continue to argue. When they appear in full again, the Martins are in the same postures as the Smiths had been at the beginning of the play. Eerily, they begin to repeat the initial lines of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

In interviews, Ionesco said he was first inspired to write the play while attempting to learn English. At 40, he used Assimil (as in “assimilation”), a popular French language service that teaches language by having students repeat various real-world conversations, similar to what occurs in The Bold Soprano. He had the surreal sensation that the facts he was learning to repeat—that there are seven days in a week, that the floor is down, that husbands and wives can be married—were inescapable. Yet these words could not fully impart the state of things; they continued to only suggest reality. As he studied English, these simple words became parodies of themselves. The Bold Soprano is Ionesco’s attempt to transfer this mesmerizing, surreal experience to others.