Play # 79: Preordained

Note: The play is based on a discussion in Chapter XVIII of My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin (London: The Bodley Head, 1964) where Chaplin muses that “there are philosophers who postulate that all is matter in some form of action, and that in all existence nothing can be added or taken away.  If matter is action, it must be governed by the laws of cause and effect.  If I accept this, then every action is preordained.  If so, is not the scratching of my nose predestined as much as a shooting star?  The cat walks round the house, the leaf falls from the tree, the child stumbles.  Are these not actions traceable back into infinity?  We know the immediate cause of the fallen leaf, the child stumbling, but we cannot trace its beginning or its end” (p.313).

The curtains open to reveal a comfortable living room, in which, on a large flowered sofa, sit a middle-aged couple.  They are both in a ruminative mood, and both are carefully watching everything that takes place before them—as if they were onstage.

[The man suddenly scratches his nose]:

The Woman:  You see?

The Man:  What?

The Woman:  That’s an antique act…an ancient event!

The Man:  What is?

The Woman:  Your scratching your nose.

The Man: How do you mean?

The Woman:  Well, it’s as if you’ve really been doing it forever.  Scratching your nose forever.  To infinity— backwards and forwards.

The Man (slightly defensive):  Just like your sitting there on the couch. 

The Woman (looking down):  What?

The Man: Your sitting there on the couch—but for ever, for always!  

The Woman (determined to be rational): I’ve only been here for a few minutes!

The Man: Well, it’s no different than my scratching my nose.

[A cat walks through the room]

The Man: And now a cat walks through the room!

The Woman: Just as it always has, is that what you’re going to say?

The Man:  Well, it’s another action.

The Woman (also feeling defensive):  So is your next breath!

The Man:  Yes. Exactly!  And because these are actions, they are all preordained.

The Woman (irritated):  So the cat’s not making much progress.

The Man (with satisfaction):  Nor is anything else.

[Suddenly, a leaf falls from somewhere above them, gently landing on the carpet]

The Woman (enchanted):  The leaf!

The Man:  I saw one fall yesterday as well.

The Woman:  Oh that was the same leaf.  It falls everyday at precisely this time.  It always has.

The Man (amazed): And always will?

The Woman: Oh yes, always always always.