Synopsis - The Bald Soprano

The Bald Soprano

By Eugene Ionesco ,1950

Setting: A middle-class English household, post-World War II


The Bald Soprano, Ionesco's first play, was inspired by his attempt to teach himself English from a primer of the “See Dick and Jane” variety. As Ionesco read and copied the primer's banal truisms and clichés (“The ceiling is up”), each apparently innocuous sentence came to seem increasingly uncanny and enigmatic. The play was intended to convey this experience of a disintegration of language.

As the play opens, Mr. and Mrs. Smith are leading their middle-class existences— Mrs. Smith rambles on about what the couple just had for dinner (as well as their children) while Mr. Smith reads the newspaper and clicks his tongue. Eventually, Mr. Smith announces the death of “Bobby Watson,” and the couple proceeds to debate whether Bobby died two, three, or four years ago, then whether he is, in fact, dead at all, or is instead living and engaged to a woman also named “Bobby Watson.” They determine that he is dead— leaving behind two children named “Bobby Watson”— and that the widow Watson is planning to remarry one of several practically indistinguishable relatives named… “Bobby Watson.” The indecipherability of the Watson situation causes the Smiths to quarrel, accusing each other of engaging in typically male (or female) behavior.

Just as they are patching up their differences, Mary enters, declares that she is the maid, and announces the arrival of guests, the Martins. The Smiths leave to change their clothes, and Mary ushers in the Martins. After a lengthy, uncomfortable silence, the Martins begin a polite exchange to determine why they seem so familiar to each other. They are surprised to find that they are both from the city of Manchester, that they both took the same train to London, that they both traveled second class, that they both reside at No. 19 Bromfield Street, that they sleep in the same bed, and that they both have a two-year old daughter named Alice with one red eye and one white eye. They deduce that they must be husband and wife, embrace, and promptly fall asleep.

Mary re-enters and tells the audience that the Martins' deduction is incorrect, because while each may have a daughter named Alice with different-colored eyes, there are two different Alice Martins whose red and white eyes are reversed. She suggests, however, that this fact remain a secret, then leaves, confiding that her “real name is Sherlock Holmes.”

The Smiths re-enter and welcome the Martins. They attempt to engage in conversation, but their efforts are punctuated with silences that precede each rather pointless remark. Mrs. Smith is finally able to break the ice by encouraging the Martins to relate what “interesting things” they have seen during their travels. Mrs. Martin then tells of seeing a man bend over to tie his shoelace, an event that the rest consider rather extraordinary.

As they converse, the doorbell rings repeatedly, but when Mrs. Smith goes to the door to see who has arrived, nobody is there. This leads to an argument between Mr. and Mrs. Smith over the meaning of a ringing doorbell. The argument, becoming slightly heated, is interrupted with the arrival of the Fire Chief, who appears when Mr. Smith opens the door after the fourth ring. The Fire Chief greets everyone and is quickly drawn into the controversy over the significance of the ringing doorbell.

Once the doorbell dispute is provisionally laid to rest, the Chief, Mr. Smith, and Mrs. Smith offer a series of bizarre and discontinuous stories, interrupted by even more irrelevant responses from the other characters. The Chief exits, and the Smiths and Martins begin an exchange of increasingly ridiculous and discontinuous statements. They grow increasing hostile and aggressive, until they are all screaming. At the height of the argument, the lights go out and come back on, and the play begins again, with the Martins taking the place of the Smiths in the opening moment, speaking the very same lines.


Major Characters:

Mr. Smith : “An Englishman… seated in his English armchair… wearing English spectacles and a small gray English mustache.”

Mrs. Smith : His wife, “an Englishwoman…darning some English socks.”

Mary : Their maid, who secretly claims to be Sherlock Holmes.

Mr. Martin : A man from Manchester who may or may not be married to Mrs. Martin.

Mrs. Martin : A woman from Manchester who may or may not be Mr. Martin's wife.

The Fire Chief : A very imposing figure with “an enormous shining helmet,” he is “on official business,” looking for a fire to put out.

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