It is as if we only existed one at a time, combining to achieve continuity. I keep space warm for Higgs. My presence defines his absence, his absence confirms my presence, his presence precludes mine…
As part of his soliloquizing, Moon grieves over the way that his existence as a theater critic hinges on Higgs’ absence. When Higgs, the first-string critic, is present, it is as if Moon does not belong to the London theater scene. And since Moon defines himself by his profession, he feels as if his whole existence hinges on the absence of Higgs. This train of thought makes Moon uneasy, and he tries to convince himself that his existence is secure with or without Higgs.
It is merely that it is not enough to wax at another’s wane, to be held in reserve, to be on hand, on call, to step in or not at all, the substitute...
This passage continues to expose Moon’s insecurity with regard to the way in which his existence is defined by the first-string critic Higgs. Even though he searches for some way to secure his existence independent of Higgs, he concludes that it is simply not feasible to live a life in which you depend on another’s absence. As a result, Moon wishes death upon Higgs, and eventually he gets what he wishes for. But he also realizes that Puckeridge, the third-string critic, must be wishing a similar fate for him.
Well, I think I’ll go and oil my gun.
These words demonstrate Stoppard’s knack for wordplay. The phrase is slang for using the bathroom, but in the context of a murder mystery it carries much more weight. Are Magnus’ words to be taken literally? Does he have a gun, and is he involved in the murder? For a little while, our fear of his involvement subsides as we learn that he is in fact the real Inspector Hound. But then we learn that he is also Puckeridge, the third-string critic who murders Moon, Birdboot, and Higgs. So on one level of reality — the play-within-a-play — these words are really just slang and nothing more. But on another level of reality, they seem to be a literal description of the preparations he must undergo to murder his colleagues.
It would be as hypocritical of me to withhold praise on grounds of personal feelings, as to withhold censure.
Even as Birdboot tries to deny his philandering habits, he falls in love with the actress that plays Cynthia Muldoon and seems determined to arrange a private rendezvous. We learn that he writes dazzling reviews of female actresses in return for sexual favors. So, when he claims that Cynthia is one of the “peaks in the range of contemporary theater,” we suspect that his opinion is influenced by his desire to have an affair with her. But in the passage above, he seems to be trying to convince himself that his motives for praise are pure. As readers, we ought to be skeptical of his claim.
For what in fact is this play concerned with? It is my belief that here we are concerned with what I have referred to elsewhere as the nature of identity. I think we are entitled to ask—and her one is irresistibly reminded of Voltaire’s cry, “Voila!” — I think we are entitled to ask—Where is God?
Stoppard’s play is self-reflective. It analyzes itself. Typically, a parlor mystery is concerned with resolving a crime and restoring order to a temporarily disrupted universe. But here Stoppard tells us that his play is not so much concerned with the traditional ‘whodunnit’ questions. Instead, he uses detective fiction and satire as a framework to tackle a deeper set of philosophical questions — questions about the nature of identity and the existence of God. At face value, we could take Moon’s analysis to be parodying the bombastic nature of drama critics. Certainly, “Where is God?” is a question that comes out of nowhere. But in the context of the Theater of the Absurd, the question is a relevant one. These works use parody and traditional forms to ask big, pressing questions.
It sounded like a cry of a gigantic hound!
This line references The Hound of the Baskervilles, the third of four crime novels featuring Sherlock Holmes and published in 1902 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In that novel, the legend of a “fearsome, diabolical hound of supernatural origin” inspires a murder. Since — in this play — the inspector’s name is Hound, and since the play pulls a line directly out of the novel, the reader is prompted to wonder whether there is something sinister about Inspector Hound himself. Is he truly the leader of the county police, or is he more like the diabolical hound from Hound of the Baskervilles?
Yes, getting away with murder must be quite easy provided that one’s motive is sufficiently inscrutable.
When Moon speaks this line, it is difficult to grasp the weight of its meaning. But by the end of the play, it carries great significance. In the play-within-a-play, Magnus reveals himself to be the real Inspector Hound (and Cynthia’s long-lost husband Albert). He brings justice to the fake Inspector Hound (played by Moon) who turns out to be the madman. But, Magnus is played by Puckeridge, who, outside the play-within-a-play, schemes to kill the other critics so that he can become first-string. So Magnus turns out, on one level of reality, to actually be the murderer. But his motive is “sufficiently inscrutable” by the characters at Muldoon Manor since they cannot access motives outside of the fictive universe in which they reside. The conflation of fiction and reality make Magnus’s/Puckeridge’s motive “sufficiently inscrutable,” and as a result Puckeridge gets away with murder.
Red herring—smell it a mile off. Oh, yes, she’s as clean as a whistle, I’ve seen it a thousand times.
A red herring is something, especially a clue, that is intended to be misleading or distracting. In the context of a murder mystery, it often leads the audience to suspect the wrong person to be the culprit. Through Birdboot, Stoppard is making a comment that parlor mysteries have become methodical, predictable and generic. There is always a red herring, and playwrights tend to stick to their old tricks, resisting new inventive ways of misleading audiences. The Real Inspector Hound is Stoppard’s way of rebelling against the rules of the genre.
Not only that!—I have been leading a double life—at least!
Magnus reveals himself to be at least two different people. First, he is the real Inspector Hound. Second, he is Albert, Cynthia’s long-lost husband. But he is also Puckeridge, the third-string theater critic scheming to kill the other critics so that he can move up to first-string critic. So, in actuality, he has been leading a quadruple life! He is Magnus, Inspector Hound, Albert, and Puckeridge.
[With a trace of admiration.] Puckeridge...you cunning bastard.
Just before Moon dies, he makes sense of what has happened. Disguised as Magnus, a character in the play to be reviewed, Puckeridge devised an elaborate scheme to kill off the other critics. Birdboot, just before being shot to death, put the pieces together and figured out that Puckeridge was going to kill them off, but he died before he could warn Moon. Moon in a way admires the scheme because he too had always craved to see Higgs die so that he could move to first-string. While Moon’s craving had always remained just a fantasy, Puckeridge actually put a plan into action.
The Real Inspector Hound Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Real Inspector Hound is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Hound appears in the middle of the play to investigate an alleged phone call. His character takes its inspiration from Hound of the Baskervilles, the third of four crime novels featuring Sherlock Holmes and published in 1902. In that novel, the...