There are at least two contexts in which The Karl Marx Play can be examined. One is that of a subgenre: biographical plays focusing on the lives of pivotal historical figures. Other plays of this type, for example, would include Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo (pr. 1943), John Osborne’s Luther (pr., pb. 1961), and Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons (pr. 1960). One of the aims of all these plays, The Karl Marx Play included, is to put a human face on the political and social struggles faced by a protagonist whose persistence in the face of adversity changed world history. Common to all these plays is a concentration on the protagonist’s internal struggle, his weaknesses and self-doubts, even as he challenges the authorities and dominant social structure. However, The Karl Marx Play differs from most plays of this sort. As the title suggests, Owens is more interested in presenting a “play” than in accurately depicting the life of a historic figure. Her play draws upon “the circumstances and events, factual and imaginary, of the life of Karl Marx.” It is a biographic play that does not seem biographical. Marx’s principal interactions are with his family and an imaginary person from the future.
While The Karl Marx Play does explore the struggle between the individual and society, society is a force within Marx rather than an external force opposing him. Finally, Marx’s great contribution,...
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