Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 737
Edward Bond, one of the most controversial figures in drama, gained a reputation as a political activist with carefully articulated social and theatrical theories. One of four children, Bond was the son of working-class laborers. During World War II, he was evacuated to Cornwall. Upon his return to London, he attended a secondary school until he was fifteen, when he was asked to leave. Bond credited this event, and his entire background, with “the making” of his political consciousness. In 1948, he was deeply affected by a production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which convinced him that he wanted to write for the theater.
After leaving school, Bond worked at odd jobs until he was drafted in 1953. Being in the military served as a catalyst for his beginning to write seriously, and when he returned to civilian life two years later Bond found a favorable climate for new writers. The English Stage Company, located at the Royal Court, was formed in 1956 as a writers’ theater. Bond’s first play, The Pope’s Wedding, was performed there in December, 1962.
After 1966, Bond was able to live by his writing. In 1971, he married Elisabeth Pablé. His plays have won a number of awards, including the George Devine Award and the George Whiting Award in 1968. Bond was given an honorary doctorate from Yale University in 1977.
Bond gained both notoriety and acclaim with Saved in 1965. On stage, a baby is stoned to death by working-class youths who are totally disenfranchised and numbed by the society in which they live. The play was banned for its violence and earthy language, but Bond insisted that these qualities were integral to depicting the lives of these individuals. His view that “people are not born violent” but become so as a result of a capitalistic, technological society forms the premise for his entire canon.
The techniques that Bond developed for exploring his ideas are varied and reveal an extensive knowledge of such writers as Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht, and Karl Marx. In Bond’s later plays, he attempted to render his Socialist vision less obliquely and to establish his exploration of social problems more clearly in the present. In The Worlds, strikers and terrorists are pitted against Trench, a cynical, corrupt capitalist; the main problem centers on the uses of violence and whether violence can ever be condoned. Bond suggests that the end can justify the means. Red, Black, and Ignorant is a blunt attack on the barbarism of a civilization that enforces its values by threats of nuclear annihilation.
Other plays have included In the Company of Men, set in the world of big business and high finance, and the experimental and surreal Coffee, a play about the holocaust scenario of Babi Yar in the Ukraine. In The Children, a disturbed mother sends her son on a bizarre errand, with fatal consequences. In Have I None, the setting is a ruined city in the postnuclear world of 2077. The postnuclear holocaust play At the Inland Sea, written for young people, uses the vocabulary of folktale to form a story told to save someone’s life.
Bond demanded much of the theater; he saw it as a medium of communication that can and should reach the people, severing itself from its clearly patrician roots in the process. According to the critic David Hirst, Bond’s technique includes the manipulation of particular dramatic genres that are representative of the ideas of their time; in Restoration, for example, he draws on the genre of comedy of manners, in The Woman, on fifth century Greek tragedy. These dramatic strategies allow Bond to express the complexity of his ideas.
In his plays, Bond has constantly turned to crucial periods in history to examine the social, ethical, and political roots of present situations in order to alter them. As he developed his dramatic skills and political philosophy, he moved from depicting the problems of society, as in Saved, to demonstrating how these problems can be solved, as in The Worlds.
Bond became one of the leading writers of political theater. He stressed throughout his career the need “to make the analysis of politics part of the aesthetic experience.” His plays have been acclaimed by many critics, but sometimes their literariness has made them inaccessible to audiences. As he aged, however, Bond’s writing became increasingly poetic and mythological and took on a resonant power marking him as one of the great modern British playwrights.