Hello, happy ghost

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2009, 12:00am

Lasting laughter

Blithe Spirit is a popular comedy written by English playwright Noel Coward. It takes its title from the classic poem To a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 -1822).

The famous first line of the poem is 'Hail to thee, blithe spirit'. In modern English, this would be 'Hello, happy ghost'!

Coward's comedy was first staged in London in 1941, and by the time it closed, it had set a record as the longest-running play in theatre history. It also made a lot of money when it opened in New York later the same year.

Blithe Spirit has had many revivals in London and New York and is a favourite play of amateur companies and school theatre groups all over the world.

Why is Blithe Spirit so popular? The answer to that is easy. It is a very funny play and always reduces audiences to fits of laughter wherever it is performed.

The writer

Noel Coward (1899 - 1973) was a man with many talents. He was a famous playwright, music composer, theatre director, actor and singer.

After starting his career in the theatre as a child actor, Coward began writing plays in his 20s and many of them were popular.

His plays were funny, witty and entertaining.

In addition to writing more than 50 plays, Coward wrote musicals, poetry, and short stories. He also found time to act in plays and films and perform in musical revues. Coward was one of the great talents of world theatre.

The plot

Complete this summary of the plot of Blithe Spirit by choosing the correct word in brackets. Pick the word by looking at what the rest of the sentence tells you.

Charles is a (artist / novelist) and one evening he invites a local (medium / nurse), Madam Arcati, to his house to hold a seance as part of the (introduction / research) he is doing into (ghosts / trees) for his new book.

Charles does not believe in ghosts, but he wants (to print / to meet) a medium so that he can write about a seance in his (novel / painting). He does not tell Madam Arcati that he is using her for (information / travelling).

Madam Arcati goes into a trance, suddenly (eats / screams) and then faints. After recovering, Madam Arcati says she has summoned up a (ghost / medium).

Later in the evening, Charles (discovers / hates) a ghost in the house. It is Elvira, his first wife who (died / fainted) seven years ago. Elvira has been brought back from the dead and she intends to do everything she can to wreck Charles' (second / first) marriage. Charles' life is now impossible as the ghost of his first wife causes as much chaos as she possibly can.

Answer these questions
1 What is a skylark?
2 What is the meaning of 'long-running' when talking about a play or a film?
3 What is a 'revival'?
4 What is the opposite of 'amateur' (adj)?
5 What does 'reducing someone to fits of laughter' mean?
6 Can you think of another way of saying 'in his 20s'?
7 What do you call someone who writes plays?
8 Which adjective means 'using words in a funny and clever way'?
9 What sort of entertainment is 'a revue'?
10 What is a 'seance' and what do you call the person who conducts a seance?

now do this
1 Watch Blithe Spirit on DVD. It is an old black and white movie but it is still very funny.
2 Read the play (Methuen Modern Plays / ISBN 978 0413771971) and act out the scene in the first act when Madam Arcati goes into a trance.
3 Write a brief character study of Charles, Elvira and Madam Arcati.
4 Look up the titles of other famous plays by Noel Coward.


The plot: novelist / medium / research / ghosts / to meet / novel / information / screams / ghost / discovers / died / second

Answer the questions: 1. a small bird / 2. showing for a long time / 3. staging of a play that has not been seen for a long time / 4. professional / 5. to make someone laugh very hard / 6. between the ages of 20 and 30 / 7. playwright / 8. witty / 9. a theatre show with songs, dances and jokes / 10. a meeting where people try to talk to dead people; a medium