Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Robert Oxton Bolt was born in 1924, the younger son of Ralph Bolt and Leah Binnion Bolt. His family lived in the small town of Sale in Lancashire, England, where his father owned a shop carrying mostly furniture, glass, and china. His mother was a schoolteacher. The playwright described his parents as loving, concerned, and not unduly strict, despite their high standards. Though Bolt described his religious position as between agnosticism and atheism, he was reared a Methodist. He stated, “I ought to be religious in the sense that I’m comfortable thinking in religious terms and altogether I seem naturally constituted to be religious.”
Despite his good home background, Bolt distinguished himself as a youngster by constantly getting into trouble and remaining at the bottom of his class in the Manchester Grammar School until his graduation in 1940. Not really prepared to enter any career or qualified to go on to a university, he became an office boy for the Sun Life Assurance Company in Manchester in 1942—a position he thoroughly loathed. Determined to escape from this whole way of life, he leaped at the opportunity to study for a degree in commerce under special wartime arrangements for admission to a university program. Through intensive preparation for his Advanced Level examinations, he gained a place in an honors school at Manchester University rather than the school of commerce. There, he began work for a degree in history in 1943. During this...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Robert Oxton Bolt was an intelligent craftsman and a traditional playwright whose greatest literary achievements depict strong, well-developed characters facing moral dilemmas within a tumultuous historical setting. His fame rests as much on his highly successful screenplays as on his stage plays. He was born in Sale, Manchester, the son of a shopkeeper. He was educated there, and in 1940 he began a career as an insurance agent. While still in his teens, he joined the Communist Party, an affiliation he later rejected, deciding that it had “nothing to do with democracy or freedom.” In 1943, he began his studies in economics at Manchester University. From 1943 to 1946, he served in the Royal Air Force, stationed in South Africa and the Gold Coast. After World War II, he returned to Manchester University, receiving a degree in history in 1949. After earning a teaching certificate at University College, Exeter, he taught in Devon and Millfield. During his teaching career, he began writing plays for children and also a variety of radio plays for the British Broadcasting Corporation.
The Critic and the Heart followed the plot and structure of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1921 play The Circle. Flowering Cherry, a domestic comedy, was Bolt’s first success. His protagonist, a dissatisfied insurance salesman, is, according to Bolt, a “man who substitutes violent words for action.” The play, which is reminiscent of the work of Anton...
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Robert Bolt led a life very different from his sixteenth-century hero. After what he calls a "gloomy" childhood and a poor academic career, he spent a mind-opening year at the University before being recruited into the British army. A committed Marxist who considered the working class "morally and aesthetically beautiful" and Ascot (his emblem of the elite) "overprivileged, ugly, and pretentious," he joined the Communist Party in 1942, but quit after five years, disillusioned with the Party's inability to live up to his absolutist ideals (Hayman 10). Upon returning from service in World War II, he completed his university studies and earned a teaching diploma. Then followed eight years of school teaching. Bolt's first theatrical work, a children's nativity play, resulted in "an astonishing turning point" in his life. He made a conscious decision to make play writing his avocation and enjoyed his first success with Flowering Cherry in 1957. He wrote a radio play of A Man for All Seasons in 1954, then wrote the stage version in 1960, which was met with critical acclaim in London and New York. From then on he split his time between the stage and film, producing a successful film version of A Man for All Seasons in 1966 after having written two hit screenplays, Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 and Dr. Zhivago in 1965. His plays and films have earned awards—Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay (A Man for All Seasons) and Best Picture, among others. A common theme that runs through each of his works is the "drama of the threatened self" wherein a protagonist must choose between honoring his own integrity and bending to the demands of his society. The protagonist defends his choice in polished, witty dialogues that display admirable and rare moral fiber, scenes of remarkable dramatic clarity. After a disabling heart attack and stroke his productivity declined and he died in 1995.