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Though Robert Bolt did not match the success of A Man for All Seasons in his subsequent dramas, he effectively employed the open or epic style of that work to explore other historical subjects in Vivat! Vivat Regina! and State of Revolution. He also continued to use the technical devices associated with a consciously theatrical style of dramaturgy for carefully planned effects. Bolt never lost his concern for a realistic examination of human behavior or his ability to interweave close connections between plot and character. He was one of the most skillful craftspeople in contemporary British theater, a popular playwright who took drama seriously and merits serious regard.

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The full range of Bolt’s achievements can be illustrated most effectively through a more detailed consideration of four major plays. The Tiger and the Horse demonstrates the “uneasy straddling between naturalism and non-naturalism” that he found in his earlier plays. It also represents one of his attempts to give his contemporaries the larger-than-life significance he finds appropriate in theatrical characters. Marking a significant development in Bolt’s dramaturgical skills, A Man for All Seasons shows how he turned to historical settings to escape the pitfalls of naturalism and to present individuals of significant dramatic dimension. The play remains his most penetrating examination of the individual in conflict with society. In Vivat! Vivat Regina!, he draws on the artificiality of the theater in presenting the conflict between two striking historical figures. Finally, State of Revolution represents a serious attempt to explore some decisive events in contemporary history and the towering figure who gave them shape.

The Tiger and the Horse

The Tiger and the Horse is a well-plotted domestic drama in which a petition to ban the bomb serves as a major catalyst in the action; its effects are skillfully interwoven with the crises of a seduction and growing insanity to provide some intensely pitched action.

The title alludes to an aphorism by the poet William Blake, from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790): “The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction,” which suggests that the logic of the heart can express a higher wisdom than can the reasoning of the mind. In his review of the play, Richard Findlater aptly summarized the theme embedded in the drama “as the relative values of commitment in private and public life, and the balance of power between heart and head among members of the English thinking class.” Through Bolt’s craftmanship, public issues and private concerns are skillfully intertwined in the development of the plot.

Jack Dean, the Master of a university college who is in line for the vice chancellorship, is the horse of the play. Though a kindly, tolerant, and highly principled man, he has developed as his personal philosophy a detachment that is essentially a refusal to become involved, an emotional neutrality that he unwittingly carries over into personal relationships as well as into his approach to larger issues. Even his having abandoned astronomy to take up philosophy becomes significant in Bolt’s careful delineation of his character. When his daughter Stella is looking through his telescope and taking comfort in the order she finds in nature, Dean launches into one of the “big speeches” found here and in Flowering Cherry: He speaks of the darkness, “ignorant of human necessities,” that fills the spaces between the stars, and he adds that what appears to be a meaningful pattern in the universe is actually merely “Scribble.” Thus, staid, imperturbable Dean reveals the terrifying vision of the existential void that led him to turn away from investigating the world around him and to take refuge in abstract philosophical speculation.

When Louis Flax, a research fellow from a working-class background, circulates a petition urging...

(The entire section contains 4794 words.)

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Bolt, Robert