Critical Context

Bloody Poetry, like all of Brenton’s plays, has a political theme that relates to events in modern times. Brenton espouses antiestablishment social causes and revolutionary socialism in his plays. Nevertheless, he sometimes depicts his radical heroes as fuzzy political thinkers who become discouraged about the state of their revolution, and thus lapse into inactivity. Bysshe is such a hero, as are the characters Josef Frank in Weapons of Happiness (1976) and Leo Lehrer in The Genius (1983). Brenton often makes use of another kind of character, one who stands on the sidelines and observes but does not act on his convictions—through a lack of either courage or will. Dr. Polidori fulfills this function in Bloody Poetry. His counterpart in The Genius is the university bursar, Graham Hay. They are part of the “vast conspiracy of silence” that Brenton describes in The Churchill Play (1974), which allows individuals to escape guilt for acts of repression in their society by feeling that they are not directly responsible for them. Brenton expressed his continued dissatisfaction with contemporary mainstream society in his play Berlin Bertie (pr., pb. 1992), while in plays such as Pravda: A Fleet Street Comedy (pr., pb. 1985, with David Hare) and Moscow Gold (pr., pb. 1990, with Tariq Ali) he examines the communist Soviet Union in a farcical approach, continuing his large-scale analysis of power and ego.

Brenton, along with Snoo Wilson and David Hare, was one of the members of a generation of modernist English playwrights, after the movement created by Arnold Wesker, Harold Pinter, and John Osborne. His plays, such as The Romans in Britain (1980), have sometimes drawn critical reviews for being too violent. Others, such as Magnificence (1973), have been declared uneven in their dramatic style. Nevertheless, Brenton has developed a vivid playwriting style that makes a strong immediate impact.