Arnold Wesker Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although known mainly for his stage plays, Arnold Wesker has also written poetry, short stories, articles and essays, television plays, and film scripts. His poems have appeared in various magazines. Collections of his short fiction include Six Sundays in January (1971), Love Letters on Blue Paper (1974), Said the Old Man to the Young Man: Three Stories (1978), and Love Letters and Other Stories (1980). A number of his articles, essays, and lectures have been published; representative collections include Fears of Fragmentation (1970), The Journalists: A Triptych (1979), and Distinctions (1985). His autobiography, As Much as I Dare, was published in 1994.

Two of Wesker’s television plays have been presented by British Broadcasting Corporation television: Menace (1963) and Love Letters on Blue Paper (1976, adapted from his short story). Wesker also wrote the script for the film version of The Kitchen (1961).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Arnold Wesker presents the disheartening spectacle of a playwright who was an immense success at first but has since fallen from grace—a socialist angel with clipped wings, at least in his own country. With John Osborne, Harold Pinter, John Arden, and others, Wesker was a leading figure in the New Wave (or New Renaissance) of English drama centered on London’s Royal Court Theatre in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The New Wave quickly swept the provinces and universities. Wesker was a star, for example, of the 1960 Sunday Times Student Drama Festival at Oxford University, where he gave an enthusiastic talk and where there was a rousing performance of The Kitchen. Wesker was the theatrical man of the political moment—a playwright of impeccable working-class origins whose naturalistic, socialistic drama seemed to define the true essence of the New Wave. In Wesker, a dynamo of commitment incarnate, there was no suspicious vagueness or wishy-washy wavering: The conditions, dreams, and frustrations of the working class were clearly laid out in The Kitchen and in subsequent dramas that rolled off Wesker’s pen.

A quieter presence at the 1960 Sunday Times festival was Arden, a dominating presence at the next year’s festival in Leeds, where a Leeds University production of Arden’s Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance (pr. 1959) won the first prize. Students were beginning to discover Arden, Bertolt Brecht, and even William Shakespeare; Wesker was already fading from memory. As for Wesker himself, his commitment began to take the form of direct social action, ranging from demonstrations against nuclear weapons to management of vast projects to bring the arts to the working class. When new plays finally came from him in the mid-1960’s—The Four Seasons and Their Very Own and...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Alter, Iska. “‘Barbaric Laws, Barbaric Bonds’: Arnold Wesker’s The Merchant.” Modern Drama 31 (December, 1988): 536-547. Traces some of the intertextual ambiguities, especially concerning the insistent use of the law by Shylock. Wesker’s historical research is noted to shift the play from Romance to political realism.

Brown, John Russell. Theatre Language: A Study of Arden, Osborne, Pinter, and Wesker. London: Allen Lane, 1972. Brown analyzes the language of Roots, The Kitchen, and Chips with Everything, dealing particularly with the way Wesker maintains theatricality by substituting talk for action in his drama.

Dornan, Reade W. Arnold Wekser Revisited. Boston: Twayne, 1994. An overview of the critical reception of Wekser’s major works, biographical chapters, and a useful bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Dornan, Reade W., ed. Arnold Wesker. New York: Garland, 1998. One of the Casebook series, it consists of eighteen essays on various aspects of Wesker’s plays by an international array of critics.

Hayman, Ronald. Arnold Wesker. 3d ed. London: Heinemann, 1979. This volume in the Contemporary Playwrights series includes chapters on specific plays, two interviews with Wesker, and a clearly written, informative introduction to the earlier Wesker. Bibliography, biographical outline, and photographs.

Leeming, Glenda. “Articulacy and Awareness: The Modulation of Familiar Themes in Wesker’s Plays of the Seventies.” In Contemporary English Drama, edited by C. W. E. Bigsby. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1981. Leeming reviews the development of Wesker’s drama from The Old Ones through The Merchant. She sees particularly an interiorization of a number of themes. The protagonists’ awareness of their own suffering is located as the axis for the development.

Leeming, Glenda, ed. Wesker the Playwright. New York: Methuen, 1983. This volume is probably the fullest account of Wesker’s work written up to the date of its publication. Contains a chapter on each of his plays, an appendix, a select bibliography, an index, and photographs.

Leeming, Glenda, ed. Wesker on File. New York: Methuen, 1985. This invaluable small collection consists both of reviewers’ and Wesker’s own comments on his plays as well as on his work in general. Chronology and select bibliographies.

Wilcher, Robert. Understanding Arnold Wesker. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991. An analysis of the plays and stories. Originally a series of lectures by the Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham, England.