Edward Bond

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Edward Bond has adapted or translated classic plays, published several volumes of poetry and essays, and written a number of screenplays; he cowrote with Michelangelo Antonioni the screenplay for Blow Up (1967), also directed by Antonioni. Generally, Bond’s essays deal with politics and the political responsibility of the artist.


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Edward Bond’s first major achievements occurred in the law court and in Parliament. His play Saved was the last British play prosecuted for obscenity; his Early Morning, the last banned entirely by the Lord Chancellor’s office. The controversy stirred by these two plays focused attention on Britain’s censorship laws and helped rally support to repeal them. Because of this notoriety and his association with London’s Royal Court Theatre, long the home of experimental drama, Bond’s detractors now dismiss him as an enfant terrible intent on shocking a complacent middle class. This view not only underestimates the excellence of Bond’s early work but also denies the scope and richness of what has followed. A serious leftist, Bond has been concerned to show how social conditions generate moral ideas and how the past weighs on the present. Not surprisingly, then, Bond’s later work has concentrated on mythic or historical subjects; he has written a play based on the Lear legend (Lear) and another about William Shakespeare in retirement (Bingo). Early Morning is set in Victoria’s reign and The Sea in Edward’s; The Fool is about the Romantic poet John Clare. In short, no other contemporary British playwright has explored the British past as thoroughly as has Bond in his search to find the sources of British ideas.

Bond disparages his film scripts because he believes that work in this medium cannot escape commercialism. Nevertheless, two of his screenplays, Blow Up (based on a story by Julio Cortázar) and Walkabout (1971), deserve mention. In Blow Up, a photographer discovers that he has accidentally taken a picture of what appears to be a murder. The film then explores the reactions of the photographer and his friends to this act of violence. This theme seems very close to those of Bond’s major works. Similarly, Walkabout, the story of two children lost in the Australian Outback who are befriended by an Aborigine, is informed by Bond’s notion that innocence is available to primitives and children in a way that it is not available to civilized adults.

His plays have won a number of awards, the earliest being the George Devine and the John Whiting Awards in 1968. However, perhaps because of his enfant terrible reputation, other honors were slower in coming to Bond. In 1977 he was awarded an honorary doctorate at Yale. Also that year he was appointed Northern Arts Literary Fellow of the University of Durham and Newcastle. In 1982 he became theater writer-in-residence at the University of Essex, and in the next year, visiting professor at the University of Palermo, Italy. Since the 1980’s, he has gained recognition as being a major, if not the major, voice in contemporary British theater, though his refusal to join the mainstream of theater life has left him too marginalized to gain any sort of overall popularity.


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Coult, Tony. The Plays of Edward Bond. London: Methuen, 1978. An early and important study of Bond’s work. The book is designed as a companion critical reader to Bond’s plays, with a valuable introductory essay. Coult takes a thematic approach, concentrating on Narrow Road to the Deep North, Lear, Bingo, and The Sea. Supplemented by a chronology.

Hay, Malcolm, and Philip Roberts. Bond: A Study of His Plays

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Bond: A Study of His Plays. London: Methuen, 1980. This study places Bond in a distinct scholarly category in which he is compared with his contemporaries. The chapters are arranged by plays, with a chronological list, a strong introductory essay, and two sections of production stills.

Hay, Malcolm, and Philip Roberts. Edward Bond: A Companion to His Plays. Rev. ed. London: Methuen, 1985. A companion volume to the preceding title, it includes a chronology, a bibliography, a section on Bond on his own plays, and plays in production.

Hirst, David L. Edward Bond. London: Macmillan, 1985. Contains three main sections: techniques of subversion, tragedy and comedy, and epic theater, including Lear and The Bundle. Hirst likens Bond to George Bernard Shaw, in that both seek a method of building a new world out of the ruins of the old. A good introduction.

Lappin, Lou. The Art and Politics of Edward Bond. New York: Peter Lang, 1987. The book analyzes Bond’s drama in relation to his left-wing political viewpoint.

Mangan, Michael. Edward Bond. Plymouth, England: Northcote House, 1998. An excellent introduction to Bond, done with his active cooperation. It stresses the interrelatedness of all of his plays, and the recurrence of certain themes, images, and characters.

Peacock, D. Keith. Radical Stages: Alternative History in Modern British Drama. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. In a chapter on Bond’s historical allegories, and in his introductory essay, Peacock finds Bond’s “alternative and iconoclastic interpretation of history” at the center of his art. Strong critical discussion of Bingo (on William Shakespeare) and The Fool (on the Romantic poet John Clare). Usable general bibliography.

Roberts, Phillip, ed. Bond on Fik. London: Methuen, 1985. An extremely valuable collection of resources relating to the plays, up to The Tin Can People, including reviews, excerpts from letters, interviews, and good play synopses.

Scharine, Richard. The Plays of Edward Bond. London: Associated University Presses, 1976. A strong study of Bond as a revolutionary. The first chapter, an introduction to Bond, and the last, a summary of themes and techniques, bracket six chapters on specific plays and one on “incidental dramatic works.”

Spencer, Jenny. Dramatic Strategies in the Plays of Edward Bond. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. An insightful and well-theorized study that deals with the “poetic materialism” of Bond’s work up to The War Plays.

Stuart, Ian. “Answering to the Dead: Edward Bond’s Jackets, 1989-1990.” New Theatre Quarterly 7 (May, 1991): 171-183. Examines the theory and practice of “theater events” and “theater acting” and discusses a specific acting style necessary to realize Bond’s plays, exploring the work in progress. The New Theatre Quarterly and its predecessor, Theatre Quarterly, began concentrating on the development of Bond’s career in 1972.


Critical Essays