Article Title

Fear and Loathing in Prague: Tom Stoppard's Cahoot's Macbeth


Carlo Vareschi


Tom Stoppard’s Cahoot’s Macbeth is dedicated to the Czech playwright Pavel Kohout. His story is told by Stoppard in the Introduction to the published text: prevented from working for political reasons in the years of the so-called Normalization, Kohout had founded a Living-Room Theatre that performed Macbeth in any house that would take the risk of hosting them. Cahoot’s Macbeth is the re-creation on stage of one such performance, interrupted by the intervention of a Police Inspector. The Introduction is dated August 1980, and Kohout’s letter referred dates to 1978, therefore any political reason for choosing Macbeth is obviously withheld to avoid reprisals. Yet we can safely assume that the political meaning of the text was not lost on any living-room audience. In Stoppard’s play the fear both inspired and felt by the tyrant Macbeth is mirrored in the character of the Inspector. Though clearly a fool, the Inspector is nonetheless a menacing figure, and he is instrumental in creating a sense of unease in the audience by trespassing the fourth wall and subjecting them to the kind of harassment, such as lights flashed in their eyes, that would probably expect a party of people caught attending a in-house performance. Yet, despite his display of selfassurance, the Inspector cannot hide his insecurity and ends being a frightened character, suspicious of and alarmed by any unexpected turn of events. The fear caused and felt by the character of Macbeth echoes through the characters of the play-within-the-play to reach the actual audience of the performance. This article will deal with the theatrical and metatheatrical implications of this reverberated fear.

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