Plenty

Citation metadata

Editor: David M. Galens
Date: 1998
Drama for Students
From: Drama for Students(Vol. 4. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Character overview; Critical essay; Play explanation; Work overview; Biography; Plot summary
Pages: 20
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Page 251

Plenty

DAVID HARE 1978

On April 7, 1978, Plenty was performed for the first time at London’s Lyttelton Theatre. Its author, David Hare, directed this production starring Kate Nelligan as the play’s protagonist, Susan Traherne. Plenty is one of Hare’s most successful plays and the work with which he is most closely identified. Despite being one of the playwright’s more popular works, the critical reception to Plenty was initially mixed. The play received a rather cool reception in England during its initial production, yet met with great approval in its U.S. debut in 1980 (the play’s 1985 film adaptation was also greeted more favorably in America). The work’s American popularity and the reluctance of British critics to embrace Plenty are at odds with both the author and the play’s pedigree: Hare is an Englishman and Plenty—like the bulk of his work—is primarily set in England and deals with distinctly British themes. Like many literary works, however, time has shown Hare’s play to be a valuable part of British (and worldwide) drama; the work gained new respect in the 1980s and 1990s—thanks largely to the successful movie adaptation.

As with the majority of his work, Hare’s Plenty is noted for its well-defined characters, incisive dialogue, cinematic staging techniques, and a concern for social/political issues (Hare is an active socialist). The character of Susan is often cited as a prime example of the playwright’s facility with strong female characters: in Dreams and Deconstructions: Alternative Theatre in Britain, Page 252  |  Top of ArticleSteve Grant noted that Traherne is Hare’s “most colossal role to date.” Susan is a woman conflicted by the triumphs of her past and the mundane nature of her present circumstances. Plenty does not follow a linear chronology but rather shifts back and forth through Susan’s adult life. In this manner Hare illustrates not only how one’s youthful dreams are rarely realized but how a character’s personal life can affect the outside world. This conflict of personal versus private life is often seen as one of the play’s central themes. Audiences have been attracted to Plenty for this reason as well as for the play’s unique characters, unconventional structure, and its bittersweet examination of lost youth and dreams.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

David Hare was born to Clifford Theodore and Agnes Gilmour Hare on June 5, 1947. He was born in St. Leonard’s which is located in Sussex, England. His father was a sailor and when he was five, his family moved to the small coastal town of Bexhill-on-Sea. Hare began his career as a playwright, director, and filmmaker while attending Jesus College in Cambridge where he earned his M.A. in English with honors in 1968. Prior to attending university, Hare was educated at Lancing College in West Sussex on a scholarship. In 1968 he founded and subsequently directed a traveling company called the Portable Theatre with which he was associated until 1971. Throughout his career, Hare has served as a resident dramatist, literary manager, and director of other reputable theatre companies, including the Royal Court Theatre in London.

In 1970 he married Margaret Mathieson, who at that time was his theatrical agent. Hare and Mathieson had three children, Joe, Lewis, and Darcy. After ten years of marriage, the couple divorced. Hare married for the second time, in 1992, to Nicole Farhi.

By 1998, Hare had close to thirty published plays, essays, and films as well as several unpublished works to his credit. His writing is noted for its political orientation and its focus on British themes. According to Mel Gussow in a New York Times Magazine article, Hare often treats such concerns “as the collapse of the English empire, the debilitating effects of the class system, the myths of patriotism, [and] the loss of personal freedom.” Hare is also known for creating politically and morally ambiguous plays, despite his rather clear-cut leftist politics. His first published play, How Brophy Made Good was first produced in Brighton, England, at Brighton Combination Theatre in 1969 and was subsequently published in Gambit in 1970.

Hare did not begin to receive public attention until he produced Slag in April of 1970; however, since then he has been honored for his works on numerous occasions. In 1975 he became the first dramatist to win the presitigious John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and in 1983 Plenty received the New York Critics Circle Award for best foreign play. Hare is perhaps best known for Plenty, which achieved a high profile when it was made into a film starring Meryl Streep. Despite the fact that Hare’s work has received severe criticism at times, he has still developed a fine literary reputation. As Joan Fitzpatrick Dean noted in her book David Hare, “Hare has earned an impressive reputation not only as a prolific writer but also as a theater and film director, theater founder, and literary manager.” Hare’s work is considered to have made an important contribution to his nation’s body of contemporary literature.

PLOT SUMMARY

Scene 1

The play opens on Easter Sunday in Knightsbridge, England. The year is 1962. In this opening scene Susan Traherne gives her house to her friend of fifteen years, Alice Park. Alice intends to use the house as a home for unmarried mothers. Susan’s husband, Raymond Brock, lies on the floor naked, bloodied (though unharmed), and full of Scotch and the drug Nembutal; he does not move throughout the scene. Susan leaves her husband at the end of the scene. She does not, however, take any of his possessions.

Scene 2

Scene 2 flashes back to the year 1943. The location is occupied France, where Susan works for the English government as part of the resistance efforts against Germany in World War II. In this scene, Susan awaits a shipment of explosives and guns to be parachuted down to her. Hearing a plane and thinking the drop is early, Susan flashes a beam Page 253  |  Top of Articleof light only to find another English agent, Lazar, who is bailing out of his failing plane. Susan helps him parachute to safety. The two discuss the irony that the more successful they are at diverting the Germans from their military goals, the longer the war seems to continue. While they wait, the shipment drop arrives and it is taken by a Frenchman. Susan and Lazar argue with the man as to whom the supplies belong. Eventually, and by gun point, Susan and Lazar retrieve the shipment of arms from the Frenchman. Susan breaks down and confesses that she is not an agent, only a courier, and that she is afraid to die.

Scene 3

Scene 3 takes place in Brussels in June, 1947. After traveling with Susan in Europe, Mr. Tony Radley, a friend who served in the war with Susan as a wireless operator, drops dead in their hotel lobby. Susan approaches the British Embassy for assistance, pretending to be Tony’s wife. After Sir Leonard Darwin, the British Ambassador, leaves the room, Susan asks Raymond Brock, then the Third Secretary, to call Tony’s wife to explain how he died. Susan and Raymond discuss whether Raymond should tell the widow that Tony was traveling with Susan. Susan discloses that her relationship with Tony was not unphysical, but she claims nonetheless that it was innocent. Brock decides to lie to Tony’s wife. Darwin returns and he and Susan discuss what the Ambassador perceives to be the great rebuilding of Europe in the postwar period.

Scene 4

Scene 4 is set in Pimlico (a suburb of London) in September, 1947. In a conversation with Alice, Susan repeatedly states how much she needs change and that she would like to move on. Susan also discusses her dissatisfaction with her job and her boss, who she believes is making sexual overtures towards her. Susan makes Raymond, now her lover, an omelette while Alice tells him about a new book she is writing. Susan also tells Alice that Brock thinks that Sir Leonard Darwin, his boss, is “a joke.” Towards the end of the scene Susan recalls the war and her involvement with Lazar. She says she often wonders where he is. Susan tells Brock that she would like to try a winter apart. He leaves for Brussels, where he is now posted, without responding to her suggestion. Instead, he says goodbye and gives her a kiss.

Scene 5

This scene takes place in the London suburb of Temple in May, 1951. Susan meets Mick, a friend of Alice’s from the East End and asks him to father her child. She says she would prefer to do it alone but that having someone she barely knows participate is her second choice. Mick agrees to Susan’s plan.

Scene 6

The action returns to Pimlico in December, 1952. Susan complains about her job in advertising

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Susan (Meryl Streep) meets with Mick (Sting) in the film adaptation of Hares play

Susan (Meryl Streep) meets with Mick (Sting) in the film adaptation of Hare’s play

and the dishonesty and stupidity that the position requires. Alice paints a nude of her friend Louise from Liverpool for the New Year’s Arts Ball. Mick shows up and he and Susan have a heated discussion about their inability to conceive a child after a year and a half of trying. Susan takes out her gun and shoots it just above Mick’s head.

Scene 7

It is October, 1956, in Knightsbridge. Susan and Brock have a dinner party. Their guests include the Third Secretary to the Burmese embassy, M. Aung; his wife, Madame Aung; Alice; and Brock’s superior, Sir Leonard Darwin. Susan offends Darwin by making a scene about the English involvement in the Suez Canal fiasco (a conflict that arose over the control of the vital shipping passage. England eventually lost its claim on the canal). M. Aung spends most of his time kissing up to Darwin.

Alone, Brock and Darwin discuss Susan’s previous bouts with mental illness. Darwin discloses that he believes that the Israeli/Egyptian war was fabricated so that the English would have an excuse for seizing the canal. Susan has what seems to be a breakdown and the guests leave. At the end of the scene Brock announces that Darwin will resign, and Susan celebrates that change is on the horizon.

Scene 8

Set in Knightsbridge in July, 1961, Scene 8 introduces Alice’s student Dorcas Frey. Susan, Brock, Alice, and Dorcas have just come from Darwin’s funeral. Susan explains that she and Brock have been posted in Iran. She also notes that not many people attended Darwin’s funeral because he publicly revealed his negative thoughts about the Suez Canal incident. Dorcas asks to borrow money from Susan for an abortion. Alice tells Brock that Dorcas needs the money for a hand operation. Susan says that she would like to remain in England; she and Brock do not return to Iran.

Scene 9

The scene shifts to Whitehall, England, in January, 1962. In the first part of this scene, an unnamed BBC (British Broadcasting Company) radio reporter interviews Susan about her wartime efforts as one of the few female intelligence agents—and, at seventeen, one of the youngest to serve.

Later, Susan talks with Sir Andrew Charleson, the Chief Clerk in charge of personnel decisions, about her husband’s career. She requests that he be given a more respectable post. Charleson comments Page 255  |  Top of Articlethat Brock’s performance has always been quite mediocre. Susan tells Charleson that she will shoot herself in six days unless Charleson promotes Brock. She leaves after Charleson and Begley, another diplomat, try to detain her.

Scene 10

It is Easter, 1962, in Knightsbridge. This scene precedes the first scene in the play in which Alice returns to find Brock drunk, drugged, naked, and bloodied. Brock, who no longer works for the Foreign Service, tells Alice that he has told Susan that morning that they ought to sell the house. Brock now works in insurance. Susan is in a frenzy collecting all of the objects around the house. She suggests that Alice use the house to help her work with unmarried mothers. Brock asks Alice to get the Nembutal to sedate Susan and threatens to call the doctor to have Susan admitted to a mental hospital. Susan disregards his threat and suggests that Alice leave for a while so that she and Brock can discuss their problems.

Scene 11

Scene 11 takes place in Blackpool, England, in June of 1962. Susan has had sex with Lazar, with whom she was recently reunited. In bed, Lazar tells Susan that he found her because he heard her on the radio interview. Susan confides that she has not always been well; Lazar confesses that he has sold out to suburbia, marrying and taking a job in a corporate bureaucracy. Susan rolls a cigarette with marijuana and falls to the bed, waking to ask Lazar his real name as he leaves. “Lazar,” he says, stating his codename. He departs.

Scene 12

The final scene takes place in France. It is August, 1944, and the Resistance has succeeded in liberating the occupied portions of France. Susan appears on a beautiful hillside talking with a Frenchman about the splendor of the day; she is radiant and happy, obviously joyous that her contributions aided in the Resistance’s success. She is about to join the village party. The Frenchman complains about his life while Susan, somewhat oblivious to his comments, expresses optimism about the English improving the world. She agrees to have soup with the Frenchman and his wife. Looking out across the lush countryside, Susan pauses, stating: “There will be days and days and days like this.”

CHARACTERS

Madame Aung

Madame Aung accompanies her husband to Susan and Raymond’s dinner party in 1956. She is characterized by Hare as “small, tidy and bright.” Her only action in the play is to begin to tell the story of an Ingmar Bergman film she recently viewed. She mistakenly states that Bergman is Norwegian and Darwin firmly corrects her by mentioning that the famed director is in fact Swedish.

Monsieur Aung

Monsieur (often abbreviated as M.) Aung is the First Secretary of the Burmese Embassy whom Susan and Raymond entertain in their Knightsbridge home in October of 1956. The stage directions describe M. Aung as “almost permanently smiling—short [and] dogmatic.” Aung acts quite flattered to be in the presence of Sir Leonard Darwin and is overtly complimentary and deferential to him throughout Scene 7.

Raymond Brock

Susan first meets Brock when she approaches him at the British Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, in 1947 after her friend Tony dies in a hotel. Hare describes Brock as “an ingenuous figure, not yet thirty, with a small moustache and a natural energy he finds hard to contain in the proper manner.” Brock becomes Susan’s husband after taking her out of a mental hospital somewhere between December, 1952, and October, 1956. He does not seem bothered by dishonesty when it suits his purpose or coincides with his beliefs. He lies for Susan so that Tony Radley’s wife does not find out that her husband was traveling with another woman. Later, Brock seems unruffled by the fact that Darwin was lied to about the Suez Canal episode. Brock is described by his superior, Sir Andrew Charleson, as an unexemplory employee; however, his patience with Susan and her various mental challenges throughout the years suggests a certain level of

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MEDIA ADAPTATIONS

  • Plenty, was made into a film by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1985. Hare wrote the script and Fred Schepisi directed the film. The drama starred Meryl Streep as Susan, Tracy Ullman as Alice, Sting as Mick, Charles Dance as Raymond, and John Gielgud as Sir Leonard Darwin.

integrity. In the later years of Plenty’s chronology, Brock has lost his career in the foreign service and is working in the insurance industry. He is introduced in the first scene (what is, chronologically, his last scene in the play’s non-linear sequence of events), naked, drunk, drugged, and unconscious, with his wife preparing to leave him.

Sir Andrew Charleson

Charleson is the Chief Clerk in charge of personnel matters for the Foreign Service. Susan discusses Brock’s career with him following the couple’s return from Iran. Charleson can be read as a condescending character in that he treats his assistant with little respect. Hare characterizes Charleson as a man in his early fifties with “far more edge” than Darwin. Perhaps by edge, Hare means to say that Charleson is direct and to the point. He tells Susan quite frankly that her husband has been tested and although he has risen beyond one challenge, he is honestly a rather average man in terms of his performance in the Foreign Service.

Sir Leonard Darwin

Darwin serves as a superior to Brock in the Foreign Service. He is a tactful and patriotic diplomat. He has faith in the reconstruction of Europe following World War II and does not take Europe’s greatness for granted. He is an upstanding man who believes in his country until he is deceived about England’s role in the Suez Canal incident. This deception provokes his resignation from the Foreign Service.

Darwin takes a moral stand that counters what would have been the appropriate diplomatic reaction, which is to support his country without question—despite his feelings of betrayal. As a result of his resignation—and, overall, his comittment to the truth regardless of decorum and expectations—Darwin is shunned by society, as evidenced by the small turnout at his funeral. While Susan claims to be motivated by truth, it is Darwin who represents genuine honesty in Hare’s play.

Dorcas Frey

She is Alice’s seventeen-year-old history student from Kensington Academy, where Alice begins to teach during the play. Dorcas attends Sir Leonard Darwin’s funeral as Alice’s guest. Having had sex with one of Alice’s friends in an effort to acquire drugs, Dorcas becomes pregnant. After Darwin’s funeral, Dorcas asks to borrow money from Susan in order to get an abortion, although she claims to need the money for a hand operation.

Lazar

Lazar is the man Susan accidentally meets while she waits for a shipment of guns and explosives during the war one evening. He is an agent for England and Lazar is only his code name (his real name is never revealed). Susan often wonders about Lazar in the years following the war. He tracks her down in England nineteen years after their first meeting in France. They have sex in a cheap hotel, and he tries to tell Susan about his life after the war. He feels that he has sold out in some fashion because he works in the corporate world and has a wife and a home in suburbia. Despite wanting to reveal something of his life following the war, Lazar ultimately hides his true identity from Susan. He leaves her, stoned on marijuana, without telling her his real name (he tells her the name she has always known: Lazar). Lazar’s absence throughout most of the play as well as his shadowed identity code him as a mystery man. In a way, he represents all that has been elusive in Susan’s life; it is the enigma that surrounds him—and the possibility that he possesses that which would make her life whole—that maintains Susan’s interest for so many years.

Mick

Mick is a friend of Alice’s who Susan approaches to father her child. He is a friendly younger Page 257  |  Top of Articleman who still lives with his mother. He is from a lower class than Susan and thus does not spend time in the same social circles as she and Brock. Mick agrees to father the child and the two spend eighteen months trying; however, they are never successful. Mick winds up feeling quite horrible and used by the experience. He would like to continue to be involved with Susan yet the two agree not to see each other any longer. Mick later confronts Susan despite their agreement; however, she wants nothing to do with him and shoots her gun above his head. Later, Susan tells Lazar that Brock paid Mick to appease him after the incident.

Alice Park

Alice is Susan’s self-proclaimed Bohemian friend. Susan meets Alice in 1947 and stays in touch with her until the play’s end in 1962. Alice leads a rather carefree existence, sleeping with married men, doing drugs, working inconsistently, and crashing at Susan’s home on occasion. Alice encourages Susan to break free from the things that Susan believes restrain her: Brock and her job. Alice seems to enjoy the drama that such action would present. Alice seemingly dislikes England as well as its social expectations. Throughout the course of the play she resists these expectations and helps those whose lives run counter to the country’s dominant cultural expectations—as evidenced by her plans to use Susan and Brock’s home as a kind of halfway house for expecting unwed mothers.

Susan Traherne

Susan Traherne is the rather complicated protagonist of the play. She is both volatile and passionate, as exemplified by her unpredictable outbursts and her lingering feelings for Lazar. Susan suffers from mental instability that manifests itself in her brutal and unabashed honesty. She serves in World War II as a courier for the English in France, and after the war she is disillusioned, constantly confronting the boredom and inanity of her subsequent jobs. She has trouble adjusting to postwar England and seems lost in her admiration of the past; through her memory and the mundane quality of her present life, her years with British intelligence have acheived an idealized (an unrealistic) perfection. She thinks longingly of the war and her love affair with Lazar.

Susan finds herself alone at the end of the play. She goes from serving a country in a war on foreign soil to being ostracized by that country by the end of the play’s chronology. In the beginning, Susan willingly accepts this outsider status. In the end, her status as someone who is alienated can be seen as self-inflicted or as a punishment that others (perhaps unjustly) impose upon her (like other points in the play, Hare leaves this issue ambiguous). Although Susan is characterized as mentally unstable, she claims her actions are motivated by a desire for change and truth—bolstered by her willingness to say that which others will not. Despite her declarations of allegiance to the truth, Susan comes to represent something else entirely: unfulfilled hopes and ambitions. Like her native country, Susan reaches her apex in the victory of World War II; in subsequent years she and England will both fail to sustain their dreams of empire and influence.

THEMES

Duty and Responsibility

Much of the themes of duty and responsibility in Plenty revolve around social expectations and patriotic obligations. Susan fulfills her patriotic duty to England by serving in the resistance efforts during the war. Likewise, Brock, Darwin, Begley, Charleson, and M. Aung’s service in diplomatic positions reflects their patriotic responsibility to represent their countries. Both Mick and Brock attempt to meet the traditional social responsibilities of men in that Mick tries to father a child with Susan and become involved with her while Brock later cares for Susan financially and emotionally as her husband. Interestingly, many of the characters in this play can be described as failures in these respects.

Although Susan feels that she is helping France curtail Germany’s encroachment during the war, the Frenchman that she and Lazar encounter in the first scene tells them that the English are not welcome in France. From the Frenchman’s perception, Susan and Lazar are fulfilling duties that are not necessarily required of them. After the war Susan fails to adhere to the unspoken civil responsibility of following social protocol. Instead of being quiet and acquiescent (as women were expected to do), Susan is often verbose and brash. Susan and Alice (who

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TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY

  • Research the role of women in World War II. What did women contribute to resisting German dictator Adolf Hitler’s forces in Europe or more specifically in France during the war?
  • In Scene 4, the announcer discusses the BBC series, “Musicians and Disease” after mentioning that Vorichef died “in an extreme state of senile dementia.” Do you think that Susan suffers from dementia or any other psychological disease? If so, where can you locate evidence in her behavior that she is or is not rational and mentally stable?
  • Compare and contrast Alice’s perceptions about the world around her with those of Susan. In what ways are the two women similar and in what ways are they different?
  • How might Susan define love. Does she care most for Lazar, Brock, or perhaps Mick? Discuss her motivation to be with each of these three men.
  • Research the Suez Canal incident. Do you believe that Darwin should have resigned from his post based upon your findings?

adheres to social mores even less than Susan) seem almost unpatriotic in their dislike for their nation, its policies and conventions. Susan also refuses to let Mick assume the responsibilities that being a lover, father, or even a friend would entail—despite his apparent willingness to be all of the these things to her.

Darwin relinquishes his duties in the foreign service in order to be honest with himself and others about what he perceives really happened over the Suez Canal. By abandoning the socially acceptable diplomatic role, Darwin refuses to take responsibility for the lies of his country. Ironically his honesty codes him as unpatriotic in that he does not unconditionally support England. For different reasons Brock fails to meet his professional responsibilities in the eyes of the foreign service. He does not advance through the ranks because he fails to excel in his duties. At the play’s conclusion, he is working in the insurance industry. Ironically insurance protects people when and if they are unable to care for themselves. Thus it seems that while on the surface this play focuses on the ways in which the characters meet their duties and responsibilities, it also turns this notion upside down by exposing the ways in which they fail themselves and others as well.

Sanity vs. Insanity

Another central theme of Plenty revolves around the question of Susan’s state of mind. Towards the end of the play Susan admits to Lazar that she has “not always been well”; however, just after this admission she also tells him that her clarity of mind is something that she controls. This scene suggests that, as Susan says, she simply “likes to lose control” at times. While “losing control” may have been an asset during her daring wartime work, it is a less desirable trait in England’s staid postwar society.

In an earlier scene Brock denies that Susan is mad by suggesting that she simply “feels strongly.” After Darwin’s pressing however, Brock admits that Susan does have a history of mental illness. Brock actually admitted Susan to a mental institution after the shooting incident with Mick. Despite the apparent proof that Susan is mentally disturbed, the scenes which betray this instability are also marked by Susan’s willingness to speak what she believes to be true. Some critics have suggested that, with the character of Susan, Hare intertwines truth and madness. As far as his protagonist is concerned, the truth and insanity are mutually dependent traits; her mental instability fuels her need to expose the truth.

Truth and Lies

The question of honesty permeates this play and most of its characters. Susan exemplifies someone who is willing to speak her mind despite the fact that what she says may be inappropriate and offensive. Despite her devotion to the truth, Susan is not above deception. In fact, her work in France was based on duplicity. Likewise, she does not intercede with the truth regarding the money she loans to Dorcas Frey. Alice tells Brock that the funds are for a hand operation while Susan knows—but does not betray—the truth: that Dorcas needs the money for an abortion.

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Brock is another character who lies throughout the play. He lies to Tony Radley’s widow about Tony traveling alone at the time of his death—although this lie does serve to protect both Radley’s reputation and his widow’s feelings. Later, Brock seems to not understand Darwin’s consternation regarding the lies that surround England’s role in the Suez Canal incident. Although the play does not explicitly incriminate M. Aung as a liar, his exaggerated deference seems insincere. His wife, though perhaps not a liar, does convey false information when she tells the dinner guests that Ingmar Bergman is Norwegian when in fact he is Swedish. Darwin, who is associated with truth throughout the play, corrects this false information. Later Darwin resigns because he is unable to live with the lie that continued diplomatic service might require. He feels betrayed and takes the higher moral ground. Darwin’s morality is apparently respected by few of his peers, as evidenced by the small turnout at his funeral.

Hare seems to be criticizing the social practice of rewarding those who advance by any means necessary. While the characters who manipulate the truth are often successful, they are hardly respectable people. Although Susan is, for the most part, devoted to truth, her motivation is in part driven by bitterness over the lost hopes and dreams of her adventurous youth. Her obsession with exposing the truth also reveals her mental problems and may eventually lead her to imprisonment in an institution. Darwin, perhaps the most honest character in the play, is rewarded for his integrity with vilification. It’s interesting to note that he shares the surname of Charles Darwin (author of the ground breaking Origin of the Species), the British naturalist known for advancing the theory of evolution. Darwin the scientist was frequently attacked for challenging preconceived notions regarding man’s origins.

STYLE

Setting

Plenty takes place in the European countries of England, France, and Belgium. The twelve scenes occur in seven different cities or towns during eight different years ranging from November of 1943 up through June of 1962. The setting of this play is significant because it is far from unified. Not only does the action skip from location to location, but it also travels back and forth through close to nineteen years as well. Instead of highlighting the ways in which many things change over time, the skipping through the years exposes what remains constant in the lives of the characters, namely Susan’s dissatisfaction.

The setting for Scene 1 and Scene 10 is particularly significant because it takes place on Easter. During these scenes, Susan prepares to and eventually does leave Brock. Because Easter symbolically recalls Jesus Christ’s resurrection, Susan’s leaving can perhaps be read as a rebirth of sorts. Hare concludes the play with an almost dream-like scene in which a radiant, young Susan celebrates the Resistance’s victory in France. The audience’s last impression of her is as a confident, optimistic young woman. Yet this scene evokes bittersweet emotions with the knowledge that Susan’s life will never again be this rich or fulfilling.

Allusion

Hare employs several political allusions within his play. An allusion is a reference to a person, place, or event with which the reader/viewer is supposed to be familiar (likewise, a literary allusion makes reference to a written work with which familiarity is assumed). An example of a more overt allusion occurs in Scene 7 when Susan brings up the Suez Canal. Critics such as Ted Whitehead, who wrote for the Spectator in 1978, somewhat sarcastically criticized Hare because such allusions “may mean more to those for whom Suez still rings a bell.” Whether one is familiar with the event or not, its inclusion in the text should prompt an investigation about the event, for knowing the history behind the canal will only further one’s level of understanding regarding Hare’s intent. The playwright’s allusions highlight his refusal to spoon-feed his audiences with a neatly packaged message.

Ambiguity

Ambiguity is one of the more central literary devices Hare employs in Plenty. He intended ambiguity. He gives examples of this intention in his foreword to Plenty. Hare says of Susan, “in Scene Page 260  |  Top of ArticleFour you may feel that the way she gets rid of her boyfriend is stylish, and almost exemplary in its lack of hurtfulness; or you may feel it is crude and dishonest.” By not clearly defining a character’s actions or motivations, Hare provokes thought in his readers and viewers. He intends to show that there are often many ways of perceiving a situation or person. Some may see Susan as heroic while others may find her crazy and unpredictable. The manner in which Hare portrays her makes it possible to view the character in both of these lights.

Unconventional

Convention in literature pertains to certain expected approaches and traditions associated with particular genres. Hare breaks with traditional approaches to drama and thus his work can be considered unconventional. In particular, Plenty’s plot is considered a departure from standard dramatic narrative. Hare’s plot does not follow a linear development that progresses from a beginning through a middle to an end. Instead, the plot is broken up and begins at the end. Scene 2 is really the first of the chronology and Scene 12 is the second in the chronology. Although Scene 3 through Scene 11 follow in a linear fashion, they are separated by many years. In addition the setting for these scenes span the globe, taking place in different countries and cities throughout Europe. Rather than adhering to the unities of theater (place, time, and action as defined by Aristotle’s Poetics), Hare jumbles the events of Susan’s life to illustrate his themes; while time does not unfold in a typical fashion, the play’s structure allows the playwright to build a “linear” concept of thematic unity.

Plenty is also considered unconventional in its liberal use of cinematic techniques such as flashbacks, quick scene changes that approximate film editing styles, and concise dialogue. While the play earned its share of criticism for appropriating such methods (many theater critics looked down on film as a bastardization of traditional drama), it also made Plenty appealing to a generation of theater goers who had become familiar with cinematic vocabulary.

Symbolism

One of the most blatant symbols in Plenty is Susan’s gun. According to Joan Fitzpatrick Dean in David Hare, Susan’s gun symbolizes her “destructive powers that are intended to exact respect and submission.” Often guns suggest a certain phallic presence in literature. Read in this way, Susan’s gun could also be understood to symbolize the ways in which she controls, manipulates, and destroys the men in her life.

Hare also employs symbolism by linking Darwin (through the character’s name) to noted scientist Charles Darwin, who, like the diplomat, sought to spread the truth despite harsh criticism. On a larger scale, the character of Susan can be seen to symbolize the unfulfilled promise of England in the postwar era. Like Susan at the end of World War II, the British empire is strong and confident, believing that it has the power to change the world for the better. Susan’s disillusionment and growing unhap-piness mirror the dissolution of the British empire and the country’s increasing hardships with unemployment and domestic unrest.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

England in 1978

England is one of the countries that comprise the United Kingdom along with Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In 1978, the year of Plenty’s debut, Prime Minister James Callaghan and Queen Elizabeth II presided over the United Kingdom, whose population at the time was approximately 55,780,000 people.

British Arts and Literature in the 1970s

According to Arthur Marwick in British Society since 1945, “British art merged anonymously into the major international trends” and thus did not necessarily advance a “distinctively national or personal genius.” Marwick identified “super realism” as one of the international trends with which British art blended. He included political works that emphasize feminism and homosexuality in this group. For dramatists, poets, and musicians, he noted that “innovation tended to be at the unspectacular.” Despite such derogatory comments, Marwick did—contrarily—suggest that in the 1970s “the National Theatre at last entered into its magnificent new

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COMPARE & CONTRAST

  • 1940s: During World War II, Great Britain envisions that it will be able to provide for the development of its colonies abroad. On February 20, 1947, Great Britain announces its intention to relinquish governing power over India. By 1948, the British colonies of India, Pakistan, Ceylon, and Burma have gained independence. These events indicate the downsizing of the British Empire.

    Today: The majority of England’s colonies have achieved independence. The British Empire as a world power is no more.
  • 1940s: Retail sales decline in 1943 because citizens are urged to purchase items such as clothing and furniture on a need only basis. Expenditures on luxury items are low as a result. Other items are restricted such as coal.

    1978: Britain enjoys a booming economy in 1978 with many of its leading indicators up from previous years.

    Today: According to the Economist, in 1997 Britain experienced economic growth for “a fifth straight year” despite a more recent slow down.
  • 1947: Britain and Egypt attempt to negotiate a renewal of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 which granted Britain the right to post defense troops in the Suez Canal region to protect their interest in the route’s security. Negotiations break down despite Britain’s voluntary evacuation of the area.

    1956: President Nasser of Egypt nationalizes the Suez Canal in July and in October, after making an ultimatum that Egypt and Israel withdraw from the area, Britain and France invade the Canal Zone. Egypt sinks forty ships and effectively blocks the Canal in retaliation. By November British, French and Israeli troops withdraw from the area.

    Today: The Middle East continues to be a site of extensive political conflict.

architectural complex and thereafter continued to present a range of plays which could by no stretch of the words be deemed conservative or unimaginative.”

Also during this period, novelists such as Angela Carter and Fay Weldon advanced feminist concerns while playwrights such as Hare addressed issues that directly affected women in postwar society. Marwick called the rise of women novelists and feminism as a literary theme “the most significant development in the indigenous novel” for the 1970s.

Economy

By the close of 1978, the British economy had not enjoyed a better year since 1973. Most of the leading indicators were up, including total output, export volume, spending power, earnings, and retail sales. The government aided this trend by reducing taxes during the summer of 1978. As a result of a strong pound (the basic unit of currency in England), the country experienced less expensive imports. In addition inflation was brought to a celebrated low of 7.4% in June of 1978.

Although 1978 signaled improvement in many areas, the mid- to late-1970s were a harkening back to the Depression of the 1930s according to Marwick in British Society since 1945. The author stated that this period was marked by “a general sense of a worsening economy and declining living standards . . . and the break up of the optimistic consensus which had carried Britain through the difficult postwar years into the affluence of the sixties.”

Politics

According to Encyclopedia Britannica’s Book of the Year for 1979, one of the principal successes Page 262  |  Top of Articleof 1978 was Prime Minister Callaghan’s ability to run the nation despite “a hung Parliament, a divided Labour Party, and Trades Union Congress opposition to his principle policies.” Ironically, in 1978, opinion polls rated Margaret Thatcher less popular than James Callaghan. This suggests that the Labour Party enjoyed a higher approval rating than Thatcher’s Conservative Party despite the fact that Thatcher assumed the Prime Ministership in 1979.

Foreign Relations

Callaghan’s visit to India marked a major foreign relations event in 1978. Prior to this visit, a British Prime Minister had not visited India since 1971. The general concerns for the year involved increasing international trade and decreasing Soviet influence in Cuba and Africa. Britain’s colonies continue to agitate for independence. Colonial Prime Minister Ian Smith signed an agreement that allowed the African nation of Zimbabwe’s black majority to assume sovereignty by year’s end.

Class

During the 1970s, Britain’s society continued to confirm the endurance of its class-conscious system. The decade, however, was also a time of class mobility. Marwick noted that “Margaret Thatcher herself is a symbol of the educational opportunity and upward mobility offered by the British System.” Marwick referred to the Prime Minister’s “lower-middle-class” beginnings in contrast to her future distinction as the British head of state as an example of the possibility of social mobility afforded to British citizens during this era.

CRITICAL OVERVIEW

Plenty has most certainly not gone without its share of unfavorable criticism despite the fact that it is one of Hare’s best-known plays. Prior to Plenty’s debut at the Lyttelton Theatre, Hare’s plays had not been performed at Britain’s National Theatre and following some of the rather scathing reviews from his critical contemporaries it may seem shocking that Hare has risen to such artistic acclaim—despite the mixed critical reaction his plays have received, he has continued to be popular with audiences.

It is perhaps Hare’s often shocking and pointed commentary about England that elicited such a response from his nation’s critics. After the release of the film adaptation in 1985, Gavin Millar wrote in Sight and Sound, “no one with any serious hopes for contemporary British writing can ignore him, yet what the devil is the chap saying about us?” Ted Whitehead, writing for the Spectator soon after Plenty’s first performance in April of 1978, had answered this question years earlier by detailing Hare’s work as “a cry of disgust with Britain—with the wet, the cold, the flu, the flood, the loveless English—and with the horror of sexual repression, the futility of sexual freedom, the corruption of wealth, the lie of good behavior, the decay of belief, the deceit of advertising, the bureaucracy and the indignity of death.”

Whitehead touched on the elements within the play which may have offended Britain’s critics. He further noted that the play was somewhat confusing because of the inclusion of “some sketchy minor characters” such as Dorcas Frey and the Aungs. Their inclusion, along with the “hurtling forward, or backward and forward, gives the feeling of hectic development that never quite becomes organic growth” according to the critic. Whitehead was not alone in his confusion about Plenty. Bernard Levin wrote in the Sunday Times in April, 1978, “what does the author want us to think, to feel? What is he saying? What does he believe about his characters and their predicament? There is no telling, and it is no use searching the title for clues, either, for it has less discernible connection with the contents than in any play since Twelfth Night.

Of the film version, George Perry echoed Levin’s dismay in his November, 1985, article for the Sunday Times. He noted that “Plenty, albeit well dressed, entertaining, and cleverly written, is ultimately so shallow it might as well have been called Empty.” While there seemed to be a consensus of confusion surrounding Plenty, which many critics viewed as the playwright’s fault, one critic suggested that perhaps the viewers of Hare’s work were themselves responsible for coming up empty. Writing for London Magazine, Colin Ludlow commented that the critical conclusion “that [Plenty] lacks substance and has nothing to say” results from “pure laziness” on the part of the critics. Further, Ludlow noted that his peers’ inability to understand the play also highlights the way in which “Hare refuses to prescribe cures for the problems he highlights.”

In a two-page “Note on Performance” published with Plenty, Hare confirms his intent to not answer the questions he poses. He wrote, “ambiguity is central to the idea of the play. The audience is Page 263  |  Top of Articleasked to make its own mind up about each of the actions. In the act of judging, the audience learns something about its own values.” Hare’s work continued to frustrate, disappoint, and challenge critics both in England and in the United States, where he produced the play in 1982 prior to making the film version; however in general, Plenty was received much better abroad than at home.

In his introduction to his work The History Plays, which includes Plenty, Hare partially attributes this relative acceptance to the fact that Americans were “not afraid to look English society in the eye, to see Suez as criminal and the Foreign Office as absurd. They also seemed less frightened of a strong woman.” Despite the criticism Hare has received about the political content of his work, he has often been praised for his wit even by his most skeptical critics. In the same Spectator article of 1978, Whitehead applauded the playwright’s “glacially witty dialogue.”

Much to Hare’s credit, he has been congratulated not only for his mastery of his craft but for his effect on audiences as well. After noting the intentional ambiguity of Plenty, Ludlow made the comment that “the power of his [Hare’s] work is to provoke thoughts and disturb complacency.” He follows this with the appraisal that “certainly the study of suffering and waste in Plenty does no less than that.” While critics may have initially chafed at Hare’s forthright commentary in Plenty, time has shown the play to be a significant contribution to both British and world drama. As Joan Fitzpatrick Dean noted in David Hare, “Plenty deserves to be Hare’s best-known work, not only because it is among his finest plays but because it epitomizes his themes and character types. Like many of his works of the 1970s, Plenty deals with specifically British experiences and personalities.”

CRITICISM

D. L. Kellett

Kellett is a professional writer with a specialty in drama. The following essay explores the theme of ambiguity in David Hare’s Plenty.

The extent to which readers are able to understand or discern an author’s intended meaning is often a topic of literary debate. Some authors refuse to discuss the meaning of their works and thus it is not possible to know for certain whether critical interpretations of their writings are accurate. Doris Sommer’s article “Resisting the Heat: Mench, Morrison, and Incompetent Readers” in Cultures of United States Imperialism, expanded this debate even further. Sommer argued that readers may not necessarily be capable of accurately interpreting a work’s meaning because “some books resist the competent reader.”

Sommer noted that writers like Guatemala’s Rigoberta Mench and the United States’s Toni Morrison may intentionally prevent readers from pinning down an author’s meaning. Sommer’s article raises the point that authors go to varying lengths to either help or hinder interpretation of their work. In addition, she noted a critical distinction between ambiguity and what she calls resistance. She stated that “ambiguity, unlike the resistance that interests me here, has been for some time a consecrated and flattering theme for professional readers. It blunts interpretive efforts and therefore invites more labor.”

David Hare’s works combine resistance and ambiguity. In the introduction to The Early Plays: Slag, Great Exhibition, Teeth ‘n’ Smiles, Hare states, “as you can’t control people’s reactions to your plays, your duty is also not to reduce people’s reactions, not to give them easy handles with which they can pigeon-hole you, and come to comfortable terms with what you are saying.” In the “Note on Performance” that precedes Plenty, Hare goes further. He says of Plenty, “I planned a play in twelve scenes, in which there would be twelve dramatic actions. Each of these actions is intended to be ambiguous, and it is up to the audience to decide what they feel about each event.”

Taken as a whole, Hare’s Plenty may seem rather overwhelming—in fact it has confounded many critics over the years. Taken piece by piece, however, the play may be more readily accessible. In the “Note on Performance,” Hare states that he intends for his audiences, or presumably his readers, to judge his characters and plots in order to arrive at conclusions about the work as a whole. One impediment to judging quickly, however, is the presence of ambiguity in Hare’s writing. Thus prior to judging, one must explore the nature of Plenty’s ambiguities in further detail.

One of the greatest obscurities in Plenty surrounds the characterization of Susan Traherne. Should she be detested, admired, or pitied? Is she selfish, inspired, or crazy? Can she be detested, admired, and pitied because she is selfish, inspired, and crazy? These questions are not easily answered;

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WHAT DO I READ NEXT?

  • Paris by Night is another of Hare’s works. It was first published in 1988, and was written expressly for film. The story is about an English woman attending a political conference in Paris who must confront her limits and her understanding of herself.
  • The television play Licking Hitler (1978) was written by Hare at the same time he was working on Plenty. It takes place during World War II and, like Plenty, explores the themes of honesty and dishonesty in the public and private realms.
  • Sefton Delmar’s Black Boomerang (1962) was used by Hare as a factual source for Licking Hitler. In this autobiographical work, Delmar details his direct involvement in the black propaganda efforts of Britain during World War II.
  • Hedda Gabler (1890), a play by Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, is the story of a strong female protagonist. The title character, Hedda, struggles with the world in which she lives much like Susan in Hare’s Plenty—she also possesses destructive tendencies and an explosive personality. Ibsen and Hare are both known for addressing political and personal problems in their works.
  • Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1959) examines England’s role as a colonial power in Nigeria. The novel traces the empire’s influence on an African tribal village.

however, they seem to be the very judgments that Hares insists his readers make. In David Hare, Joan Fitzpatrick Dean remarked that “there is a fundamental ambiguity in Hare’s presentation of Susan. On the one hand she is frustrated, trapped, and unfulfilled; on the other, she is selfish, insatiable, and unreasonable.”

Scene 7 is the pinnacle scene of Susan’s frustration with the polite inanity of the British diplomatic world. Her barbs towards Darwin, who to that point had epitomized the acquiescence and silence Susan detests about diplomacy, reflect her deep dissatisfaction with Britain’s social mores. In a heated moment she declares, “I would stop, I would stop, I would stop . . . talking if I ever heard anyone else say anything worth . . . stopping talking for.” But does Susan’s outburst reflect a warranted frustration or simply the ranting of a self-centered unstable idealist who wishes to control the present and who cannot let go of the past? Susan’s dealings with Mick suggest the latter.

In asking Mick to father a child for her, Susan exposes an intolerance for allowing other people into her private world. She is absorbed in her own wishes and would be more than happy to “do the whole damn thing” alone. After Mick and Susan’s attempts fail, she reveals that she does not care for Mick’s feelings. The Susan presented in Scene 6 is cold, calculated, and self-absorbed. She does not demonstrate compassion for Mick, who feels used, but rather she is preoccupied with the work she must do on her newest ad campaign. In the end, Mick concludes that “she is actually mad,” yet is she not just frustrated by his love for her?

Hare suggests that the answers to these questions betray the values of the one who judges, thus what does it imply to say that Susan is frustrated or Susan is a raving lunatic or Susan is selfish? Better yet, what does Hare evoke by wanting his readers to categorize Susan as one thing or another? To see Susan as a frustrated and trapped woman places the reader squarely within a camp that openly criticizes British culture; however, labeling her as crazy may indeed do the same. Susan’s madness may account for the lack of perfect British decorum in her behavior, yet it does not necessarily diminish the impact of what she says.

Whether she is frustrated or crazy, Susan’s honesty still reveals social criticism. The reader who is willing to label her as frustrated shows his or Page 265  |  Top of Articleher willingness to be overtly critical, while the reader who prefers to call her crazy can be shielded from implicating him/herself in such criticism. In the end then, the ambiguity surrounding Susan Traherne ferrets out those folks who value honesty above decorum or those who value diplomacy above forthrightness.

Hare weaves ambiguity throughout Plenty not only through his characterization of Susan but within each scene as well. As he clearly states in his “Note on Performance,” he intended each action to be ambiguous. One of the ambiguities raised in Scene 2 concerns the British presence in France. Angry about losing the guns and explosives from an armed Lazar, the Frenchman declares, “Nobody ask you. Nobody ask you to come.” In French he adds, “you are not welcome here.” The implicit “you” of the Frenchman’s statement is not simply Susan and Lazar but the British in general.

In this scene Hare suggests that despite their allegiance in resistance to Germany, England and France were perhaps not as united as one might think. What then are the rules of engagement by which Susan and Lazar must abide when France, a supposed ally, becomes adversarial? She says, “they [the Gaullists] just expect the English to die. They sit and watch us spitting blood in the streets.” In a frightened state of dismay Susan questions, “what’s the point of following the rules?” Susan’s questioning contrasts sharply with the comment she makes earlier in the scene that, “it really is best if you always obey the rules.” Scene 2 thus embodies two contradictions that leave the audience or reader somewhat mystified: allies stand in opposition to one another and rules are both to be followed and not to be followed.

Although Scene 2 does not include Alice, the themes it raises have metaphorical implications on Susan’s relationship with her. In that Alice and Susan share a distaste for England, she and Susan seem alike. In David Hare, Dean suggested that although Alice and Susan share such distaste, “the contrast between them is at least as strong as their shared disdain for convention.” Dean noted that Susan “admires Alice’s freedom and independence,” but she does not achieve the same in her own life. In Scene 6 Alice prompts Susan to leave her job and Brock, yet Susan convinces herself not to do either. Susan does not leave Brock for another ten years and continues to torment herself with unfulfilling occupational choices. As she sees it, she chooses instead to continue “living in hell.”

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“DESPITE THE READING THAT EACH VIEWER OF PLENTY MAY CHOOSE, THE INCLUSION OF OPTIONS MAKES HARE’S PLAY AN EXERCISE IN DECISION-MAKING.”

Susan and Alice’s relationship symbolizes the notion that within similarity, differences may exist. Alice most definitely does not believe that one must always obey the rules. Her sexually active Bohemian lifestyle flies in the face of such social conventions. Susan’s rejection of the rules manifests itself only sporadically and thus she can ironically be seen as someone who in part obeys the social mores of her time. The action advanced in Scene 2 involves Lazar and Susan in 1944 in France, yet the ambiguities it evokes permeate the play throughout its entirety.

Because ambiguity plays such an integral role in Hare’s work, one should not be surprised that his title also reflects this basic organizing principle. The title calls to mind Susan’s postwar optimism. In the final scene, which chronologically precedes the majority of the other scenes in the play, Susan declares “there will be days and days and days like this.” Susan’s perception of what the day is like differs greatly from that of the Frenchman who seems downtrodden and pessimistic about the future and his own reality. Thus, the days that follow or—in the jumbled chronology of the play—have passed, can either be seen as Susan perceives them or as the Frenchman perceives them.

The scene’s placement at the end of the play also has important significance. First, it calls attention to the fact that the days that follow it chronologically do not meet Susan’s expectations; however, if one reads the final scene as a 1962 dream sequence induced by Susan’s drug use, her words may express a valid hope for her future. The title, like this final scene, embodies two possible perceptions of the past and the future: one of plenty and one of lack. Again, Hare leaves this judgment for his readers and audiences to make. The irony afforded by the more pessimistic reading may seem a bit more appealing; however, the two readings play into Hare’s use of ambiguity. Despite the reading

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A scene from the 1985 film adaptation: Brock (Charles Dance) regards his unhappy wife, Susan

A scene from the 1985 film adaptation: Brock (Charles Dance) regards his unhappy wife, Susan

that each viewer of Plenty may choose, the inclusion of options makes Hare’s play an exercise in decision-making.

As Colin Ludlow noted in an article for the London Magazine, “the power of his [Hare’s] work is to provoke thought and to disturb complacency.” At the very least, Hare stirs his audience into debate. For this reason, I would argue that the title of “Empty” that George Perry suggested in his review of the play for the Sunday Times lacks the subtlety required of this wonderfully ambiguous play.

Source: D. L. Kellett, for Drama for Students, Gale, 1998.

Bert Cardullo

Cardullo examines the use of staging, particularly the elements of light and sound, as they pertain to the the character of Susan in Hare’s work.

In Scenes 2 through 11 of David Hare’s Plenty (1978), we hear sounds from the dark before the lights come up on the action. Those sounds are of a wireless (Scene 2); a small string orchestra (Scene 3); a string quartet (Scene 4); a brass band (Scene 5); Charlie Parker’s saxophone (Scene 6); the music of the English composer Elgar (Scene 7); the voice of a priest (Scene 8); a radio interview (Scene 9); “some stately orchestral chords: melodic, solemn” (Scene 10); Elgar’s music again (Scene 11). The lights come straight up on the action, without any sounds coming first from the dark, in Scene 1. In Scene 12, music is playing as “the room [of Scene 11] scatters [and] we see a French hillside in high summer. The stage picture forms piece by piece. Green, yellow, brown. Trees. The fields stretch away. A high sun. A brilliant August day.”

Plenty, in the words of Robert Brustein,

traces the career of a spirited Englishwoman from her youth as a courier [1943], aiding the French resistance against the Nazis, to her collapse, some fifteen years later [1956], into peacetime disillusionment—paralyzed by anomie, riddled with depression, rotting with despair and psychic rust. Hare’s heroine, Susan Traherne, represents a particular example of a general condition, the personification of a hopeful, idealistic generation disaffected by a nation in moral collapse. It is Hare’s conviction that World War II represented England’s last heroic moment, after which it experienced a series of demoralizing deceptions and compromises, tied to the loss of empire. Ironically, this was a time of relative affluence, an era of peace and plenty. [New Republic, November 29, 1982]

The play begins in 1962 as Susan is about to leave her husband, Raymond Brock, whom she later Page 267  |  Top of Articlesays she married only because he had once been kind to her when she was in trouble (she had shot a man in a quarrel). The play begins, that is, with Susan’s disillusionment and despair. We see that disillusionment and despair clearly from the start; there is no anticipatory moment of darkness and sound before Scene 1. There is such an anticipatory moment before Scene 2, and this scene itself is played in only “a small amount of light.” Scene 2 is a flashback to Susan’s days as a teenaged courier for the Resistance—a time of excitement, danger, mystery, and promise for her. There—we get not only “from the dark the sound of the wireless,” but a whole scene played in semi-darkness: darkness is a metaphor, not for death, but for life lived at its highest pitch. Scene 11 is a flash forward to England in 1962, after Susan has left Brock and has been tracked down by Lazar, the parachutist whom she aided in Scene 2 and whom she hasn’t seen since the war. Susan and Lazar are spending the night in a Blackpool hotel in a failed attempt to recapture the exhilaration and sense of purpose of 1943. The scene is played in semi-darkness, an ironic reproduction of the lighting of Scene 2.

Scenes 3 through 10 of Plenty chronicle Susan’s life from 1947 to 1962. She meets Brock after the death in 1947 of Tony, a Resistance worker with whom she was carrying on a casual affair and whose sudden death of a heart attack can be seen as a mercy not afforded those who had to live through England’s decline after World War II. She has an unhappy career as an advertising copywriter, where success is “simply a question of pitching my intelligence low enough”; she runs around with a bohe-mian crowd. Susan attempts to have a child by Mick, a man she barely knows: she wants a child, but not a husband; she likes sex, but she’d rather not know her sex partner very well, if at all. She marries Brock, whom she does not love. She shows signs of a mental imbalance that will never leave her.

Like Scene 2, Scenes 3 through 10 open with an anticipatory moment of darkness and sound; unlike Scene 2, these scenes present an increasingly sad reality exposed by light. Through light and sound, Hare repeats the outline of Susan’s experience up to her leaving Brock eight times: the anticipation—the promise of darkness and sound—then the deflation—the disappointment of light and human bodies. Even though the sounds from the dark are usually meant to underline the mood of the scene to come (for instance, the music of a brass band before Susan’s brassy request, made at a festival and fireworks site, that Mick father her child), still they

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“THROUGH LIGHT AND SOUND, HARE REPEATS THE OUTLINE OF SUSAN’S EXPERIENCE.”

have, occurring before not during the scene, an existence independent of it, an existence in darkness as pure, tantalizing sound. Scene 12, set in 1944 in newly liberated France, opens in light: even as we saw clearly Susan’s disillusionment and despair in Scene 1, we see the past clearly now. We see it without illusions, with the knowledge about Susan and England that the play has given us, knowledge that Susan herself, for all her erratic behavior, achieved. The time is immediately after the liberation, and already the boredom and sluggishness of “peace and plenty” are setting in under a brilliant sun. Thus the “unnaturally gloomy” farmer whom Susan encounters speaks with “extreme disgust” of the ugly stretchmarks he sees on his wife’s legs in bed, as if darkness with its attendant invitation or allure has completely deserted them, just as it will desert Susan.

Source: Bert Cardullo, “Hare’s Plenty” in the Explicator, Volume 43, no. 2, Winter, 1985, pp. 62-63.

Molly Haskell

Looking at two film versions of Hare’s work, critic Haskell praises the author for his creation of strong female leads. She primarily focuses on the film adaptation of Plenty starring Meryl Streep as Susan Traherne.

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Source: Molly Haskell, “A One-Man Revival of Great Women’s Roles” in Ms., Volume XIV, no. 4, October, 1985, pp. 19-20.

SOURCES

Craig, Sandy, Editor. Dreams and Deconstructions: Alternative Theatre in Britain, Amber Lane Press, 1980.

Economist, January 3, 1998, p. 52.

Gussow, Mel. Review of Plenty in the New York Times Magazine, September 29, 1985.

Hare, David. “Note on Performance” in Plenty, New American Library, 1983.

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“SUSAN TRAHERNE IS A WOMAN NAGGED AND IMPRISONED BY THE PAST, BUT IN THIS CASE THE PAST REPRESENTS PERFECTION.”

Hare, David. Introduction to The History Plays, Faber, 1978, p. 16.

Hile, Kevin S. “David Hare” in Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Vol. 39, Gale, 1992.

Levin, Bernard. Review of Plenty in the Sunday Times, April 16, 1978, pp. 37.

Ludlow, Colin. Review of Plenty in London Magazine, July, 1978, p. 78.

Marwick, Arthur. British Society since 1945, Penguin, 1982.

Millar, Gavin. “The Habit of Lying” in Sight and Sound, Autumn, 1985, p. 299.

Perry, George. “Plenty of Nothing” in the Sunday Times, November 24, 1985.

Sommer, Doris. “Resisting the Heat: Mench, Morrison, and Incompetent Readers” in Cultures of United States Imperialism, edited by Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pense, Duke University Press, 1993, pp. 407-32.

Whitehead, Ted. “North of the Suez” in the Spectator, April 22, 1978, p. 26.

FURTHER READING

Bull, John. New British Political Dramatists: Howard Brenton, David Hare, Trevor Griffiths, and David Edgar, Macmillan, 1984.

This work explores Hare as well as other modern English playwrights. It dedicates a thorough, in-depth chapter to Hare and his work.

Childs, David. Britain since 1945: A Political History, Methuen, 1986.

Childs details post-World War II political issues up through 1985. The book focuses on domestic as well as foreign affairs.

Dean, Joan Fitzpatrick. David Hare, edited by Kinley E. Roby, Twayne, 1990.

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This work offers information on the critical reception, themes, imagery, sources, settings and contexts of Hare’s works.

Homden, Carol. The Plays of David Hare, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Homden’s work is a comprehensive resource about Hare’s works and includes commentary about his 1993 trilogy which includes Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges, and The Absence of War.

Oliva, Judy Lee. David Hare: Theatricalizing Politics, UMI Research Press, 1990.

Oliva’s work provides another comprehensive review of Hare’s works and includes an interview with him from 1989. The appendix lists the sources for critical reviews of Hare’s work.

Trussler, Simon, General Editor and Malcom Page, Compiler and Associate Editor. File on Hare, Methuen Drama, 1990.

This helpful short book provides summaries of many of Hare’s works as well as quotations from Hare, his actors, and his critics about the works. The text includes nine pages about Plenty and additional bibliographic suggestions.

Source Citation

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Plenty." Drama for Students, edited by David M. Galens, vol. 4, Gale, 1998, pp. 251-270. Gale Ebooks, https%3A%2F%2Flink.gale.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FCX2692900025%2FGVRL%3Fu%3Dpoul45153%26sid%3DGVRL%26xid%3D5138cc9d. Accessed 18 Sept. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2692900025

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  • Africa
    • Plenty
      • 4: 258
      • 4: 261-262
  • Ambiguity
    • Plenty
      • 4: 259
      • 4: 262-265
  • Death
    • Plenty
      • 4: 254
      • 4: 262
  • Dialogue
    • Plenty
      • 4: 251
      • 4: 260
      • 4: 263
  • Duty and Responsibility
    • Plenty
      • 4: 257
  • Duty and Responsibility
    • Plenty
      • 4: 257-258
  • Emotions
    • Plenty
      • 4: 259
  • Europe
    • Plenty
      • 4: 254-255
      • 4: 258
      • 4: 260-262
      • 4: 265
  • Film
    • Plenty
      • 4: 260
  • Hope
    • Plenty
      • 4: 255
      • 4: 259
  • Imagery and Symbolism
    • Plenty
      • 4: 260
  • Insanity
    • Plenty
      • 4: 263-264
  • Mental Instability
    • Plenty
      • 4: 254
      • 4: 258
  • Middle East
    • Plenty
      • 4: 261
  • 1970s
    • Plenty
      • 4: 260-263
  • Plot
    • Plenty
      • 4: 260
  • Politicians
    • Plenty
      • 4: 262
  • Politics
    • Plenty
      • 4: 251
      • 4: 259
      • 4: 261-263
  • Postwar Society
    • Plenty
      • 4: 253
      • 4: 258
      • 4: 260-261
  • Sanity vs. Insanity
    • Plenty
      • 4: 258
  • Setting
    • Plenty
      • 4: 260
  • Truth and Lies
    • Plenty
      • 4: 258
  • War, the Military, and Soldier Life
    • Plenty
      • 4: 253-254
      • 4: 258
      • 4: 260-261