Study Guide

Edward Bond

Edward Bond Essay - Bond, Edward (Vol. 4)

Bond, Edward (Vol. 4)

Bond, Edward 1934–

Bond is a controversial English playwright whose brilliant but violent and cruel plays were twice banned by Lord Chamberlain. He is best known for Saved, one of the formerly censured plays. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28.)

In retrospect one might guess that Saved represents a transitional phase in Bond's work, one in which he is, more or less consciously, striving to free himself from the naturalistic style of The Pope's Wedding, with its meticulous notation of local country speech and recreation of a recognizably real world for its characters to live in, and reaching out towards the overtly non-realistic manner of Early Morning…. Saved could have made a thoroughly effective play in Bond's entirely naturalistic manner, or, seen in a different light, if he had managed to divorce it entirely from naturalism. But the text as it stands seems to me an interesting but finally unsatisfactory compromise. No question of compromise with Early Morning, though. Here naturalism is thrown right out of the window, and Bond is able to get straight down to what he has to say, without the necessary periphrases of superficially naturalistic drama.

Which is just as well, seeing that what he has to say is quite complex enough without the superimposition of purely technical subterfuges as well. If The Pope's Wedding and Saved can be seen as about—among other things—the corruption of man's natural innocence by 'upbringing and environment', which is to say by the forces exerted on him by abstractions like society, Christian mortality, the repressive rule of order, Early Morning moves a stage further, or if you like starts at the other end. The two earlier plays are about the suffering classes; Early Morning is about those who impose the suffering, exert the pressures. The play is a nightmare comic fantasy….

The themes are completely consistent from The Pope's Wedding to Saved and from Saved to Early Morning. Each has an innocent (or relatively innocent) martyr-figure who with saintly or perhaps merely masochistic devotion opens himself to the worst that life has to offer. Each assumes some pervasive Oedipal situation in which humanity is seen as divided into put-upon, ill-used children and cruel, arbitrary, inscrutable parents who mete out punishments and occasional rewards with the savagery and unassailable authority of Old Testament gods. And each allows us to suppose that something may remain uncorrupted, some shred of natural goodness may survive; there is always a straw, if no more than a straw, to clutch at….

It is easy to accuse [Early Morning] of naïvety. And of course on the level of ideas it is naïve; so are all Bond's plays. Life is not quite as simple as all that: society is not just Us and Them, the tyrants and the tyrannized, parents and children. Nor is it quite so easy for most of us to assume the position of lofty dissociation from it all that Bond seems to assume in Early Morning, remote from human sympathy, tolerant, if at all, because the human beings shown are as small and insignificant as the flies Queen Victoria is constantly swatting. But happily in the theatre such considerations have little to do with the case. It is not so much the abstract validity of the image presented, its power to change our own ideas on the subject, as the effectiveness of the image in itself—something which comes from the strength of the author's conviction in what he is saying, his complete commitment to his own position, however remote it may be from yours or mine. And here Early Morning really scores. It is not, heaven knows, a likeable play (none of Bond's, I think, is), but it packs a formidable punch in performance, and even in reading, because the strength of Bond's own obsession bludgeons us into suspending disbelief….

Early Morning, of course, had even more trouble with censors and the censorious than Saved. And yet somehow, as has so often happened in the new drama in Britain, things were subterraneously working in Bond's favour, so that what started as incomprehensible, shocking, inducive of immediate, unthinking fury gradually came, without anyone's knowing quite how, to be accepted as, at the very least, an inescapable fact of theatrical life, so that even those who did not like Bond's plays very much found themselves agreeing to his importance….

[Narrow Road to the Deep] marks a new stage in Bond's mastery of his material and his ability to display it to best advantage. The dialogue is pared to the bone, and placed with a poetic wit and economy which shows the hand of a master stage craftsman—something which before one would hardly have put in the forefront of Bond's qualifications as a dramatist. And above all, the play bears the mark on every page of Bond's maturing as a dramatic thinker, his increasing awareness of the complexities of life and moral decision.

John Russell Taylor, "Edward Bond," in his The Second Wave: British Drama for the Seventies (reprinted by permission of Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; copyright © 1971 by John Russell Taylor), Hill & Wang, 1971, pp. 77-93.

[Bond is] a dramatist whose talent has never been in question, though the uses he has put it to have satisfied only sensationalists. But in The Sea Edward Bond displays a range of human sympathy brutally overlaid in most of his earlier work. True, he has not yet got back to writing about the three-dimensional people he presented in The Pope's Wedding and indeed in Saved; but the characters in The Sea have a faceted complexity, a comic ambiguity, which is quite new in Bond's work, and very welcome. No less so the almost total absence of that slavering cruelty which has marred, even ruined, much that has gone before….

I should not care to describe The Sea as a well-made play, but it has about its many fine moments, both comic and pitiful, a stature which Bond has never touched before.

J. W. Lambert, in Drama, Autumn, 1973, pp. 14-16.

It goes without saying that this Shakespeare [in Bond's Bingo] won't be very easily reconciled with the one who rounded off The Winter's Tale so serenely, or, for that matter, the one who appears to rejoice at the prospect of Iago being exquisitely and endlessly tortured to death. A despairing, disgusted suicide seems scarcely less historically credible than a lesbian love-affair between Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale. And yet, whether he's writing of the treatment of vagrants in 17th-century England or the details of Shakespeare's own dealings in Stratford, Bond consistently aims at an authenticity he never contemplates in that mad fantasy, Early Morning. Even the saloon-bar binge with Jonson has a basis in tradition, though Shakespeare's fatal acquisition is supposed to have been a fever, not a phial. Indeed, his account of the enclosure controversy seems rather more accurate than that of the redoubtable Rowse, who misreads a vital document in order to be able to claim that Shakespeare was opposed to the land-grabbers. Bond isn't interested in offering us a fictional archetype of suffering mankind, like his own (or Shakespeare's) Lear: he wants our attention for a specific period, an actual person. How is it (we're to ask) that a man whom we worship for his humanity could bear to live in a society we know to have been so cruel? How can we, his descendants, bear to live in a society directly derived from it?

This is the sort of question that Bond asks again and again, in play after play. All, from Saved to The Sea, may be seen as the dramatic equivalents of those insistent Oxfam ads which thrust children with sparrow-legs and pigeon-bellies under our well-nourished noses. Each insists that we face the kind of realities that make us instinctively drop our eyes and change the conversation; each consciously, perhaps presumptuously, attempts to make us more sensitive and responsible to the world's suffering.

Benedict Nightingale, "The Bourgeois Bard," in New Statesman, November 23, 1973, p. 783.