Bond, Edward (Vol. 23)
Edward Bond 1934–
English playwright, poet, scriptwriter, and translator.
Bond's strong opinions and ideals concerning politics, religion, and human relations are manifest in the themes of his controversial and thought-provoking plays. Bond writes extensive prefaces to explain the overwhelming violence, absurdity, and allegory of his plays, and to outline his belief that the inherent function of the theater is to provoke social change. As the program notes to Saved explain, "Unless we can use the theatre as a platform on which to demonstrate the serious problems of today, particularly violence, we feel that we are not serving a useful purpose in society."
(See also CLC, Vols. 4, 6, 13 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)
[Bond makes] a vital distinction between himself and those writers who use theatrical violence—or sex, for that matter—to outrage an audience and to give it, as it were, a necessary kick. Such writing and staging implicitly affirms that the staged action is aimed at an audience by one who feels superior to it. One of Bond's more remarkable qualities is that he assumes he is like his audience, and that his concerns are the same as its own…. His critical reception, however, has certainly not borne out his confidence that he is a typical member of his society…. [Despite] the welcome relaxation of hostility in the last two or three years, Bond's public reputation as a dramatist still hardly compares with that of Arden, or Pinter, or ever Wesker or Osborne…. Even the mostly favorable reception of The Sea in England stressed, time after time, that for once the audience could rest assured that it wouldn't be shocked and horrified. And the publicity that surrounded the London production of Bingo continually underlined what was seen as shocking and iconoclastic in the play. In a sense, these reactions are right; Bond has succeeded in catching his audience on one weak spot after another, which suggests that he has been right in writing the plays he has. But in another way, such reactions are quite wrong, because such attention shows that his audiences have not recognized or experienced the situations in his plays; they have seen...
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The problems Bond has had, and still has, in finding acceptance as a writer of great quality may have to do with his ease of passage from one theatre form to another. Another obstacle to easy acceptance is that he dares to make large theatrical statements about the kind of complex issues which a basically philistine and fragmented culture such as ours finds it embarrassing or portentuous to discuss.
What is Bond, then? A philosopher or a propagandist? A theatre technician or a literary artist? The truth is, of course, that he is a playwright, like Brecht, who combines all these skills. Like Brecht, he turns his hand to many different forms, and like Brecht, his writing can be complex to express the complexity of an issue or simple to express its urgency.
When he started seriously to write for the theatre, Bond saw a span of plays that began with The Pope's Wedding and ended with The Sea. After that, he wrote three plays, Bingo, The Fool, and a new play The Woman—Scenes of Freedom, set in the Trojan Wars. These are historical plays, whose function is to demythologise eras which might tempt us to see them as 'golden'. That series of three plays is now over, and Bond has embarked upon a third phase of writing, beginning with a reworking of the Basho story, and entitled The Bundle. The distinguishing feature of this third series of plays seems to be a growing sense of confidence: "We...
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At the end of Edward Bond's impressive new play The Woman there is blood on the stage and the courts and temples of capitalism have begun to crumble. The Dark Man, a nameless runaway cripple, his skin blackened by a life of slavery in the silver mines, has killed the all but nameless Heros. Who is Heros? The richest and most handsome man in Athens, imperial centre built of silver from those mines. The play is political allegory and would be incoherent in any other terms. But Bond is too perceptive to present the issues in black and white—or rather silver and black—and the complexity of image and ideal is the work's great strength. But this makes it difficult—scarcely accessible to the common people it champions….
The Woman has a Timon-like split structure, divided between war and peace, culture and nature, blindness and vision….
[It] tries hard to be a feminist play. The men are brutish and callous. Hecuba and Ismene are subtle, imaginative and uncorrupted. I oversimplify in order to argue that this underlying contrast is nothing new (it is common in Greek tragedy); nor is it very helpful. It does not help women to find real influence in addition to moral superiority, nor does it help men to yield privilege or to live down their inherited burden of guilt. The cause of women is not served by the simple expurgation of the great sexist myths, in annihilating Clytemnestra or by turning...
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The concerns of The Bundle (1978), the play written after The Woman, are in many ways similar to its predecessor, but with one vital difference. Where previously the action taken against injustice was contained in the revolt by certain individuals and therefore was to some extent isolated action, in The Bundle, a group of individuals combine to overthrow another group of oppressors. Change is shown as a practical reality…. In The Bundle the causes of evil are dealt with by the guerrillas led by Wang, the child abandoned by the river. In one of the most deliberately shocking scenes of the play, Wang hurls an abandoned baby into the river to die, for the alternative is to do good in the apparent world. It is a scene which demands of its audience an enormous effort of concentration and judgement in order to see the distinctions and the analysis made then by Wang. He goes on to lead a successful revolution and the final scene of the play pictures the victors resting between building up the river bank to prevent flooding. It is a post-revolutionary scene, not utopian, but charged with a sense of the opportunities now available. Bond does not naively suppose that the act of revolution solves the problems. It does, however, remove the causes of the repressions. What then follows depends upon the consciousness of the new order. (p. 83)
The evolution of Bond's plays from 1962 to the present day is based upon...
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Imagine, if you will, a mixture of the plays of Brecht and Strindberg, Brecht's social and political purposiveness allied to Strindberg's tormented vision of man's self-destructiveness, and you will get some idea of the double vision that informs Edward Bond's dramatic world. It is a world in which a sombre sense of man's inhumanity to man co-exists with hopefulness and a strong socio-political awareness. Bond has a great playwright's ability to express this double vision in dramatic images, in dialogue and action that have extraordinary force and power. (p. 65)
Bond has pondered deeply the question of the artist's relationship to society. To be an artist, a dedicated "being apart," is not enough; for Bond the artist is a man among men, and he must be a functioning part of the moral structure of society. (p. 67)
When Bond conceived the idea of doing his own version of King Lear, he did so with a very real sense of its disturbing power as a play…. But he also approached the play in a questioning and sceptical spirit directed particularly at traditional responses to it…. [What] an audience gets from a traditional production of the play is the sense of a man ennobled by suffering, who initially brings that suffering upon himself. Lear's progress through the play is a kind of purgatorial pilgrimage in which his arrogance, moral blindness and inhumanity are stripped away, and a fundamental humanity is left. The...
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Daniel R. Jones
Developing logically from the earlier Bond characters who painfully acquire knowledge about society and slowly commit themselves to action are Wang and the Ferryman in The Bundle…. Wang is not a devoted revolutionary in the beginning of the play. He learns gradually, like Lear, the basic lesson that all suffer and that only action relieves suffering. The Ferryman has a more difficult time accepting this new activism because he has always lived with society's repressive morality. Nevertheless, he rejects his old way of thinking to accept a new one…. [His] willingness to toss an oar into the water as a warning to Wang and the other revolutionaries typifies the positive gesture that Bond's heroes eventually make. The radical politics of these two characters, especially Wang, are more extreme than the behavior of many of the earlier characters (Wang sacrifices the life of one child to save the lives of many others), but the roots for such behavior have been in Bond's characters all along. In The Bundle, however, the characters' actions succeed as never before. Still, the revolution, an open-ended process in Bond's earlier plays, is by no means complete in this play. A socialist utopia is not achieved. The landowner still resides in a Provincial capital protected by the Emperor's soldiers, and San-Ko, one of Wang's fellow workers, makes it clear that they have only begun building up the river bank, and much remains to be done....
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[In] The Activists Papers (published with, and constituting, the author informs us, an introduction to his play The Worlds) [Bond] entreats: 'We mustn't treat personal dramas which are only a consequence of political dramas as if they were themselves full political dramas.' It is indeed a fundamental axiom of the theories set out by Bond in The Activists Papers that actions which derive from a private source cannot properly be held to demonstrate or represent political truth. For Bond the individual is a valid dramatic focus only when his individuality is transcended by the nature and pattern of the wider generality it represents.
In Bond's own play The Worlds …, individuality is not so much transcended as submerged by the rigidity with which the author relates the dramatic tools at his disposal to an implacable political purpose. Essentially the play portrays the confrontation between the management and workers of a company called TCC in the context of a strike, and highlights their respective reactions to the intrusion into the situation of a group of terrorists…. The structure of the play is extremely neat: the device of introducing the terrorists not only gives Bond a vehicle for the direct expression of his own political views, but at the same time furnishes the means of throwing into relief the nature of the other two 'worlds' in support of those views.
Certainly the author...
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['The Worlds' seems to be based on Shakespeare's 'Timon of Athens.'] Mr Bond's Timon figure is an industrialist named Trench who is kidnapped by terrorists and who discovers when released that his subordinates have taken advantage of his absence to vote him out of office. Like Timon he invites them to a farewell party in order to insult them, and then disappears from society…. In exile he re-encounters his former captors who now have a new prisoner and, in a bored disinterested way, offers them sanctuary. As he says, unlike his supposed friends, 'those people told the truth: they said they were my enemies.'
Like Shakespeare, Mr Bond runs into trouble finding things for his solitary misanthrope to do and fitting him with a credible opposition, but he does tell a better story than Shakespeare. The play has the customary Bondian virtues of speed, clarity and economy.
All the same Trench's gratified bitterness, as he sees violence conquering on all sides, threatens to take over the play. He manages somehow to welcome the chaos while despising its activators; and he has an important dramatic advantage which the author may not have calculated. He is always alone. He may behave smugly to his colleagues while still in power but they are characterised as creeps who deserve it.
When threatened by the terrorists he stands his ground, and his scorn for his supporters ('One advantage of being chucked out of my...
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Edward Bond's new play [Summer: A European Play] … is set in an unnamed country which seems to be Yugoslavia; a sunny Mediterranean land with a growing tourist industry, occupied by the Germans during the war and subject to a social revolution after it. Three middle-aged survivors of that distant time confront the past and each other….
When Bond is producing his best work, as in this play, his debt to Shakespeare is both obvious and enriching. Apart from his use of poetic imagery, he gives us a sense of action taking place at several levels and, perhaps most important of all, that a tension between irreconcilable opposites is of the very essence of drama. Tensions are manifold: between order and anarchy, justice and mercy, and—in this particular play—between life and death, light and dark: Marthe is dying, and tells us that it is death which gives us our enjoyment of life. The physical emphasis in the play is on such things as light, warmth, simple pleasures: the remembered horrors are all in people's heads, and in their speeches.
Summer is a modern rendering of The Tempest: the age-old quarrel between the exiled dispossessed Prospero and his kinsman is enacted by Xenia and Marthe; the boorish German soldier turned tourist with an appetite for sandwiches and ladies in bathing costumes is Caliban; and Ann and David are Ferdinand and Miranda, for whom youth and love transforms the world…....
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