Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The title of the play is taken from “The Second Coming” (1922), a poem by W. B. Yeats that reveals the theme of the play: “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” The play registers a powerful protest against man’s inhumanity to man while suggesting that this inhumanity is inescapable and irrepressible.

The very structure of the piece underlines the inevitability of violence, for it is set on the eve of a new war. When the play moves backward in time to the period of peace, it is with the sure knowledge that this peace will soon end and will lead back into the wars that have been ravaging England for hundreds of years.

The play provides an expression of how fragile peace is. Ronald Ribman points out how many forces are working against peace, how violence and acceptance of violence can corrupt even those who fight hardest for peace and civility, and how in the move toward war the most innocent will be brushed aside and trampled underfoot.

The virulence and depth of the reaction against the treaty with the Danes, nourished by an ignorant racism and a shallow love of glory, indicate that the proponents of peace are a minority and will have to battle against deeply rooted human emotions. Only by creating a temporary, unstable alliance with the Church is Ethelred able to force his family and other nobles to abide by the terms of the truce, and they will do everything they can to...

(The entire section is 547 words.)