Chekhov's Gun

Is the report real? Or is the Bandar offer, as the Telegraph suggests, possibly Iranian disinformation? Well, who knows? But the whole thing is playing out a little too smoothly, and has the air of a script. And for that very reason it is perhaps well to remember Anton Chekhov's dictum about dramatic props. A gun that comes onstage in the first act must absolutely be fired before the third act ends.

Assad's chems have been on the table for a while, lying beside the teapot and the cup. When they will they be poured into the brew? Or have they already?

We are now coming up to the denouement of the script. Yet as in all suspenseful plays, the essential question is still unanswered: how does the story end? Which character is led away in handcuffs before the final curtain? And does the hero get the girl? What was the drama all about?

Sometimes these questions are left unresolved or we are left to puzzle them out ourselves. But that we should take an interest is only natural, for we are in truth not onlookers in some make-believe theater, but real minor personages on the actual stage of history where the tale -- a real tale with an unknown ending -- is unfolding. The questions for us are actual. Do we survive? I mean really survive. Or are we led away in handcuffs or in a coffin before the end?  The consolation is that the conclusion partly depends on us; it isn't written yet, and we may have a line to speak before the finish.

For it's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? ... Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't.

And that's because in plays of this sort it is  -- you, I, we -- the whole inconsequential lot of little people who in the aggregate determine the ending by the sheer outworking of numbers.  What ought to give the Bandars, Putins, Obamas and Erdogans of the world pause is we are all, as it were, like Chekhov's famous gun: all portentous props standing on the stage wondering why we are there. And we will be fired or act our part before the end. Everything that comes on in the first act will have a role to play before the third.

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