Finale of "Private Lives" by Noel Coward

Themes and Characters

The following plot summary covers the events during the last part of Act Three of Noel Coward's comedy, Private Lives. The play, written in 1930, details the humorous encounter between two ex-spouses who decide to run away together and give their relationship another shot, much to the shock of the newlyweds they leave behind. Read the plot summary of Act One and Act Two.

Act Three Continues:

Outraged by Elyot's insults at Amanda, Victor challenges Elyot to a fight. Amanda and Sybil leave the room, and Elyot decides not to fight because it's what the women want. Victor plans to divorce Amanda, and he expects that Elyot will remarry her. But Elyot claims that he has no intention of marriage and he sulks back into the bedroom, and is soon followed by the eager-to-please Sybil.

Alone with Amanda, Victor asks what he should do now. She suggests that he divorce her. For her sake (and perhaps to spare his own dignity) he offers to stay married (in name only) for a year and then divorce. Sybil and Elyot return from the bedroom, pleased with their new found arrangement. They also plan to divorce in one year's time.

Now that they know their plans, this seems to ease the tension between them, and they decide to sit down for coffee. Elyot tries to converse with Amanda, but she ignores him. She won't even serve him coffee. During the conversation, Sybil begins to tease Victor about his serious nature, and when he becomes defensive, criticizing her in return, their argument escalates. In fact, Victor and Sybil's heated bickering seems very similar to the antics of Elyot and Amanda. The older couple notices this, and they quietly decide to leave together, allowing the blossoming love/hate romance of Victor and Sybil to develop unabated.

The play does not end with Victor and Sybil kissing (as I had guessed it would when I first read Act One). Instead, it ends with shouting and fighting, as the grinning Elyot and Amanda shut the door behind them.

Domestic Violence in "Private Lives":

Back in the 1930s, it may have been common in romantic stories for women being violently grabbed and tossed around. (Think of the famous scene in Gone with the Wind in which Scarlet fights Rhett as he takes her upstairs to the bedroom, against her will.)

Noel Coward was not trying to endorse domestic violence, but it's hard not to read the script of Private Lives without applying our 21st Century views regarding spousal abuse.

How hard does Amanda strike Elyot with the gramophone record? How much strength does Elyot use to slap Amanda's face? How violent is their ensuing struggle. These actions can be played for slapstick (Three Stooges), dark comedy (War of the Roses), or - if the director so chooses - this is where things can suddenly become quite serious.

Most productions (both modern and from the 20th century) keep the physical aspects of the play light-hearted. However, in Amanda's own words she feels that it is "beyond a pale" to strike a woman (though it should be noted that in Act Two she is the first to use violence; therefore she seems to think it fine for men to be victims). Her words during that scene, as well other during other moments in Act One when she recounts her tumultuous first marriage, reveal that, despite Amanda's infatuation with Elyot, she is unwilling to be submissive; she will fight back.

Biography of Noel Coward:

Born in 1899, Noel Coward led a fascinating and surprisingly adventurous life. He acted, directed, and wrote plays. He was also a movie producer and a song-writer.
He began his theatrical career at a very young age. In fact, he played one of the Lost Boys in the 1913 production of Peter Pan. He was also drawn into lascivious circles. At the age of fourteen he was lured into a relationship by Philip Streatfield, a man twenty years his elder.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Noel Coward's plays became smashing successes. During World War II, the playwright wrote patriotic scripts and witty comedies. Much to everyone's surprise, he worked as a spy for the British Secret Service. How did this flamboyant celebrity get away with such a coup? In his own words: "My disguise would be my own reputation as a bit of an idiot ... a merry playboy."

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Your Citation
Bradford, Wade. "Finale of "Private Lives" by Noel Coward." ThoughtCo, Sep. 23, 2021, Bradford, Wade. (2021, September 23). Finale of "Private Lives" by Noel Coward. Retrieved from Bradford, Wade. "Finale of "Private Lives" by Noel Coward." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).