Edward Bond Bond, Edward (Vol. 23) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

John Worthen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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 them as simply distasteful, as belonging not to them but to other people; and so have neutralised the plays.

It is hard to watch the baby being stoned in Saved. But people often feel that there must be something hardboiled in the dramatist who chooses to put it in a play. Bond puts the stoning into Saved precisely because he finds it revolting and intolerable; but he finds what happens to the baby no more revolting than what happens to its mother and father, Pam and Fred, even though they remain alive. He knows that we would normally assume that their lives, even in deprivation, were "better" than the state of the dead baby. He questions that, and makes us ask if our compassion and shock at the baby's death are simply going where habit and sentimentality make it easy for them to go. Bond finds both things horrible: the lives of Pam and Fred, and the family if anything more horrible. He challenges an audience that would like to find horror only in the death of the baby. And the violence in his plays is always a statement or question about us, about our relative valuation of violence, about our own judgement of our behaviour. If we see Fred and Pete and Colin and Barry and Mike in Saved simply as young thugs who need putting away, then we have missed the point—though that is a natural and conventional reaction. If we say, alternatively, that they are poor unfortunates who need doctors, not prisons, then we have missed the point just as much. If we have to confess that our reactions worry us, then we are getting somewhere. More is involved than horror or distaste or judgement if we are responsible members of our society, and know what we do as fathers and mothers and governments. Our reaction of horror lets us off too lightly, and isolates us in a secure sense of what is proper. And Bond is always challenging our sense of what is proper: proper as hope, proper as tragedy, proper as ourselves.

He can do this because he is so good at creating "the kind of situation in which violence occurs." The situations at the start of his plays are directly responsible for the situations at the end, even though the plays often begin quietly and normally. When we see the provincial vicarage society of The Sea, or the group of boys at the start of The Pope's Wedding, or Pam and Len at the start or Saved, or the autumnal calm at the start of Bingo, then we tend to accept them as 'normal' situations. But Bond is working out his sense of the horror and deficiency of what can be seen every day; for instance, Scopey's lunatic situation at the end of The Pope's Wedding, with a month-old corpse on the floor beside him, follows implicitly from his reaction to the life we saw in that first, 'normal' scene. Not that Bond's audience has generally managed to see that direct relationship on its first viewing of the plays—it has complained, instead, that violence erupts spontaneously and gratuitously in Bond. Audiences at first tend to see one thing, to which they have a shock reaction, and to stop there. But the theatrical experience encourages us to get over our first reactions to both 'normal' and 'abnormal', and to see something else instead. The family of Saved, which we thought at first was just ordinary, turns out to be appalling; and we want to say something like "what a way to live—how unbearable—thank God I don't have to live like that." In the end, however, the play forces us to say something like "that is life for people in my society: and people like Len can bear it, and live well in it." Bond is always wanting us to see things more fully than our normal habits allow us to and, so, to realise the terms of our lives more acutely; and so, to know better what we need…. In short, the violence—or the apparent abnormality—is designed to provoke an awareness in us, and to make us recognize what we normally prefer not to recognize. We recognize things in the same way, and at the same rate, as the characters on stage can.

The Pope's Wedding, staged in 1962, contains within it the germ of almost everything Bond has done. It is an intensely intellectual play which is yet not in the least didactic; it has the fluid sequence Bond prefers for the kind of play he wants to write (for his plays do not develop, in the usual sense, but group and regroup until their conclusions become inescapable); it has the innovations of staging—here, the cricket match; it has the dialogue which looks so clumsy on the printed page but which is utterly precise and direct; above all, the concerns of the play are made wholly theatrical. The familiar scene with which the play starts turns out to be, itself, something horrifying. Scopey is a farm-worker with no sense of a life outside the routine of getting up the next day for work; we see him with his mates who have, like him, no solutions apart from going on to the next day. He marries Pat, an eighteen-year-old with no parents, and similarly without a future…. They have sex to look forward to, and that is practically all, apart from the vague hope of getting a house of their own. They just go on together, as they had previously gone on separately. Normally we accept the fact that there are thousands of married couples like Sco and Pat; we may thank our lucky stars that we are not like them, but they are common enough. We forget that life lived in such...

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Tony Coult

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Oliver Taplin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 543 words.)

Philip Roberts

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 testing reality via theatre, of moving in a precise, measured way towards the ideas which lie at the heart of The Bundle and The Worlds. The plays subsist not upon the comparatively safe refuge of set ideologies, nor upon a romantic assertion of the perfectibility of man, still less upon anything approaching a deterministic view of human nature. Rather, they explore the fundamental problems and dilemmas of the age and the practical means of resolving them with the optimism of a writer who, despite the prevailing view, has never written a pessimistic work in his life. (pp. 83-4)

Philip Roberts, "'Making the Two Worlds One'—The Plays of Edward Bond," in Critical Quarterly (reprinted by permission of Manchester University Press), Vol. 21, No. 4, Winter, 1979, pp. 75-84.

Leslie Smith

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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;...

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Daniel R. Jones

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 861 words.)

Mick Martin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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 …,...

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Robert Cushman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

['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...

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Eva Figes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 294 words.)