Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

David Edgar has said he would like to be remembered, like Honoré de Balzac, as the secretary of his times. In the case of both Balzac and David Edgar, “recording angel” might be more accurate, since each takes on the burden of attempting to present a grand synoptic view of his era. In Edgar’s case, however, the view is largely circumscribed by politics, since he clearly subscribes to Thomas Mann’s dictum about the destiny of humankind asserting itself in political terms. Still, his attempt to take the grand synoptic view means that his works must be read collectively; they complement and reinforce one another, much like those of Balzac. Like his great predecessor he finds it impossible to get said what he feels must be said in one work, or perhaps even in one life.

Edgar has written scores of one-act and full-length plays, including the major political dramas Destiny (pr. 1972), Maydays (pr., pb. 1983), and The Shape of the Table (pr., pb. 1990), as well as the hugely successful The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (pr. 1980, pb. 1982). He has written extensively for radio and television and has done film work. He is the author of a number of essays and reviews exploring the relationship of politics and theater and is a major force at Manchester University in fostering young playwrights. A man on the move and an inveterate sponsor and attendee at international conferences, he is a sophisticated and widely read student of political theory and a political activist with Marxist leanings.

Several works have followed Pentecost, but critics agree that Pentecost is his crowning achievement. It develops the themes of his other plays—the adversarial relationship between self and state, the place of the arts in an increasingly politicized age, the changing definitions of revolution and the conflict of the hard and soft Left, the power and impotence of the individual vis-à-vis history, the void left by the collapse of the Soviet empire—and refocuses them in an unprecedented and brilliantly original fashion. Pentecost is indeed a parable for the modern era and presents its themes with rare dramatic boldness, sweep, and power. It ranks among the most ambitious, the most complex, the most profound, and the most successful political plays of twentieth century drama. It also proves an invaluable study for understanding some of the consequences of the fall of Soviet communism.