Using Dark Comedy As A Way of Exploring Issues Within Marriage (Private Lives, Noel Coward)

Playwright, Noel Coward

Playwright, Noel Coward

British playwright Noel Coward explores issues within problematic marriages in his 1930 dark comedy, Private Lives. As a lifelong bachelor, he is quoted in saying, “I’ve sometimes thought of marrying, and then I’ve thought again.” This negative attitude displayed towards marriage is noticeably influential in Cowards writings. Undoubtedly, his personal views play a crucial role in the inclusion of the action that occurs within Private Lives. Coward uses the institution of marriage to comically study the issues of infidelity and domestic violence. He approaches the topic of marriage with a strange absurdity that seems to reflect his own opinion of “till death do us part”. The irreverent way which Coward approaches these grim topics, ads to the absurd comedy seen in “Private Lives.”  For this reason, Private Lives stands as an important and effective piece of theatre in the genre of dark comedy as it so effectively works as a cynical humor piece.

One issue that is explored throughout the course the action is that of domestic violence. Contention and anger play a big role in the relationship between Sybil and her ex-husband Victor. In the previous action of the play, the couple has divorced following a volatile and abusive relationship. As the two characters are reunited, the old romance between the two is rekindled, as well as their violent tendencies toward one another. The violent nature of their relationship is demonstrated strongly through the physicality of the characters, creating a morbidly funny and over the top depiction of domestic violence and abuse within marriage. The heavy inclusion and stylized approach to domestic violence ensure that this idea is present throughout all three acts of Private Lives. Coward’s unapologetic and unique approach to depiction of spousal abuse creates a strong reaction from audiences, making the issue impossible to ignore. The black comedy approach to the issue of domestic abuse creates great visibility for the problem.

Another issue that Coward explores is that of infidelity. Although Elyot and Amanda are divorced, they abandon their new, younger spouses to run away together.  The absurdity of the situation further allows Coward to poke fun at the issue of fidelity in marriage. The back and forth nature of Elyot and Amanda’s relationship also adds to the absurd feel of the play, and allows Coward to raise yet another issue and present it in a funny way.

“Private Lives” is a perfect example Dark Comedy. The cynical yet humorous approach that Coward takes to marriage is effective in communicating the issues of infidelity and domestic violence.

Coward, Noel; Private Lives, Modern World History, Great Britain
Hoare, Philip; Noel Coward: A Biography; 


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