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Three Plays: Blithe Spirit / Hay Fever / Private Lives
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Three Plays: Blithe Spirit / Hay Fever / Private Lives

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  1,694 ratings  ·  41 reviews
In Blithe Spirit, Charles Condomine receives a visit from his first wife, Elvira; unfortunately, Charles is now married to Ruth, and Elvira is a ghost. The bohemian protagonists of Hay Fever wreak emotional havoc on a houseful of weekend visitors. And in Private Lives, a recently divorced couple find themselves in adjoining hotel rooms while on honeymoon with their new --...more
Paperback, 254 pages
Published January 26th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1965)
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Hamlet by William ShakespeareThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar WildeMacbeth by William ShakespeareRomeo and Juliet by William ShakespeareA Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Best Plays Ever
133rd out of 513 books — 660 voters
Hamlet by William ShakespeareMacbeth by William ShakespeareThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar WildeRomeo and Juliet by William ShakespeareThe Crucible by Arthur Miller
Best Play Ever
180th out of 408 books — 340 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,641)
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Blithe Spirit is Coward's best play and one of the
all-time best comedies; Private Lives is a classic.
I want to focus on Hay Fever, a perfect screwballer
about a confusion of guests at a houseparty. It isnt
easy to write a play about Nothing, but Coward does
precisely that w this hilarious souffle that rises
to a tasty top.

Amateurs may find it a joy to produce, Coward warned,
but it's probably his most difficult to perform --
it has no plot and little action. So it requires superb
technique by every ca...more
This volume included a humorous intro by Edward Albee.

"Blithe Spirit." I hadn't read any Coward before, and had a notion his work would be laugh-out-loud funny, like Wodehouse's, but I found this play, although extremely literate and witty, wasn't as risible as that. It concerns a man whose first wife, after a seance, reappears to plague him and his second wife. Then the latter dies, too, remanifests, and his life becomes somewhat exasperating. A jolly good plot and all, but I can't help feeling...more
After a month of slogging through Dostoyevky's magnum opus, the Brothers Karamazov, it was refreshing to turn my attention from tragedy to comedy, from morals to manners. As Coward writes in Private Lives..."Let's be superficial and pity the poor philosophers." Amen. My son Henry introduced me to Coward by recruiting me to play two female characters in Blithe Spirit while he was practicing his lines as Charles, and it was the most fun I ever had helping out with homework. If I'd had the big buck...more
Paul Frandano
So...I bought this only for Private Lives, because I knew I'd be going to a well-reviewed DC production, and, if possible, I like to read a play before I see it - an acquired preference from classical theater and opera.

And speaking of acquired, Coward's that kind of taste, isn't he? Particularly 70-90 years after he wrote these confections? Well, it's a taste - for dry, bantering, cleverly corrosive wit - I acquired long ago, before Coward, and so I found Private Lives HOWLINGLY funny on the pa...more
Another collection so each play will be reviewed seperately.

Blithe Spirit (*****): Very funny play showing off Cowards wit on every page with a great story and intriguing characters. The theme of love is dealt with very nicely and realistically as Charles has to deal with the ghost of his previous wife, Elvira, while living with his current wife Ruth and the differences in his marriages to them.

Hay Fever(***): Personally this was the weakest play out of the three. The characters got a bit bland...more
1) Blithe Spirit - 1941 - 4 star
Awesome story that felt very comfortable to read. The storyline and characters were very entertaining and clearly brought to life. I look forward to seeing the movie :)

2) Hay Fever - 1925 - 3 star
Quirky, fast-paced and unexpected. I don't think I fully "got it", but I really enjoyed the chaotic family dynamic. Although I'd hate to be a part of their game, it was fun to read.

3) Private Lives - 1930 - 4 star
Another quirky and entertaining tale, exploring the twisted...more
Hay Fever:
As with the other plays in this collection, it's fun to read if you like very light comedy, but for my taste it's too much lacking in any kind of critical import. Its humour is a bit out-of-date and it is relying heavily on the upper class social conventions of the 1920s what with all the summer residence airs, cocktails and jeunesse blasé smugness. Most of it I find annoying rather than funny.

Private Lives:
Another Noel Coward light comedy full of flippant, blaisé, young characters eng...more
I didn't enjoy Noel Coward's work as much as I thought I would. I really like comedies, but I was expecting something more along the lines of The Importance of Being Earnest, and that wasn't really the feel I got from Coward--maybe it was just my reading, but I didn't see these plays as particularly witty. The one I did enjoy though was Hay Fever, but I didn't think much of Private Lives or Blithe Spirit (and of course, Blithe Spirit is Coward's most well known play, so presumably it is generall...more
Sarah Ryburn
i've been a fan of noel coward since seeing a production of relative values many years ago at the alabama shakespeare festival (we saw a shakespearean production, too, of course, but coward looms much larger in memory). i assigned blithe spirit as a summer reading option for my ap students this year, and i really hope some will read it, although all three selections are clever, witty, and hilarious. more so if i could take them to a live production. i remember laughing out loud almost continuous...more
Malvina Yock
My first Noel Coward, and - well, such fun! Am going to see a production of Blithe Spirit, so after reading it I'm very much looking forward to the stage version. Loved the wit and snappy dialogue, and the impossible supernatural situations. I'll read the other two plays when I've put a bit of space between readings.
Coward wrote the most amusing, fast-paced dialogue ever. If you haven't read his plays, you're in for a treat. Even the few specifics of the times don't date them. They glitter.
Five stars for Private Lives, ten million stars for Blithe Spirit! I didn't care for Hay Fever at all, which feels strange considering how much I adored the other two.
Mar 06, 2009 Chris rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: drama
While I don't think I can argue against Coward's clever dialogue and sharp wit, my ultimate enjoyment of these plays was diminished by what felt like an authorial mean-spiritedness or disgust with human nature. Was Coward a misanthrope? I don't know enough of his biography to discern the spirit in which his Blithe was intended. Maybe I just don't get him, or should have seen these performed rather than reading them...but as this collection was offered up as an alternative to (the superlative) Wo...more
Snehal Bhagat
Within the performing arts, drama calls for the greatest suspension of disbelief, and given that audiences are willing to make the effort, it is interesting that the most successful plays seem to be those that require the least of it.

Take a bunch of witty characters, stick them in a situation and allow them to indulge in repartee - a winning formula, and one that Coward employs to good effect in the three plays here, all of which have their moments and would make for pleasurable viewing in the...more
Mar 22, 2009 MKat marked it as to-read
Shelves: drama, comedy
I read "Private Lives" and was decidedly unimpressed. I pretty much actively loathed all the characters, finding them all selfish and annoying.

Then I saw the play and my opinion did a 180. Done right, this is one of the funniest and most delightful farces I've ever seen. Sometimes you really can't just rely on the book.
Patricia Soriano
Have seen all three performed but enjoyed reading plays as some lines are dropped in performance. Also enjoy savoring tg e clever language particularly in Private Lives were some of the dialogue is spoken quickly or overlaps that of other actors.
First learned about the playwright on Economist. Also learned that he wrote Private Lives at the Peace Hotel in Shanghai.
More spirited (and less refined or elegant) than Wilde's plays. Sometimes it reads like a romantic movie script. Might check out the movie version sometime.
All the plays were entertaining and easy reading. Interesting views of relationships given by Coward in his writing. I'm fascinated by the fact that in all three plays he either directed, staged or starred in the premiers. Makes me want to know more about him personally.
Aug 21, 2014 M. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: farce
I have not seen these performed on stage (but did watch the film version of Blithe Spirit) but found them to be rather dated at this point. I didn't find them as interesting as his more substantive work (for film: In Which We Serve, Brief Encounter, That Happy Breed).
Karen S
I really liked Blithe Spirit when I saw it as a play. Reading them 'by myself', the plays don't seem quite as funny. Veddy upper-class British, but sometimes I enjoy that. Would probably prefer to see any of the 3 produced more than I enjoyed reading them.
Nov 16, 2007 Maria rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes to laugh
No one does flippant like Noel Coward. But rather than seeming superficial, there is a righteousness to the point that he often makes between the lines. Fast, easy, satisfying reading. Fans of Oscar Wilde and others of that comedic ilk will be delighted.
Ground Zero for witty plays that were written in the Twenties or early 30's. Very classic in its style, and biting dialogue. Coward overreached in many cases, yet one realizes that there is only one Noel Coward, and that, is not a bad place to be at all.
Hank Lin
The lightness of Coward's satire and frivolity is so breathtaking (a tradition Neil Simon would continue), you forget his characters are monsters of addiction and betrayal. He has a master's touch (also a great lyricist!).
I just saw Private Lives in London! Terrific play and one of his best. I was just reminded of why his plays live on and always seem fresh while set in a different period. So witty and true. Love Blithe Spirit too.
Joey Gamble
Splendid! Coward's the master of the drawing-room.
out of the three i've only read private lives so far plus i recently saw it at london's gielgud theatre and i giggled merrily for two straight hours. this is so very english and very satisfying.
I only read Hay Fever. Why are funny plays always about actors and writers? Isn't the rest of the world sick of self-referencing playwriting?

Having said that... the play was really funny.
My first taste of the witty Noel Coward, yay! I loved his dry, biting writing style and sense of sarcasm. "Blithe Spirit" was definitely my favorite of the plays.
Jenny U
Oh, Noel Coward, how I love you. I especially liked Blithe Spirit. Coward is so original, and this selection of his plays can't be beat. I loved this book!
Blithe Spirit is such a classic play. You can see why it is so popular with community theatre groups. I also enjoyed Private Lives and Hay Fever was ok too.
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Sir Noël Peirce Coward was an English actor, playwright and composer of popular music. Among his achievements, he received an Academy Certificate of Merit at the 1943 Academy Awards for "outstanding production achievement for In Which We Serve."
More about Noël Coward...
Blithe Spirit Private Lives Hay Fever The Letters of Noel Coward Design for Living

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