Themes and Meanings
The Ruling Class is first and foremost a scathing indictment of the English aristocracy and the insanity of a world dominated by a class whose only qualification is an accident of birth. The play is also a look into the worlds of fantasy and of the subconscious. It may also be construed as a statement by Peter Barnes about his interpretation of the ruling order of the universe.
The very phrase “the ruling class” has a connotation in Great Britain that those not familiar with the country cannot understand. From the medieval period to the present day, British politics and society have been either dominated or strongly influenced by the principle of deferring to one’s “betters.” One was born into a particular class, and one usually remained in it. Status was determined by who was born where and in what order. From the opening scene of The Ruling Class to the last scene, it is clear that Barnes finds all of this to be absurd. He is appalled that a tiny part of the population owns a grossly disproportionate share of the wealth and power in his country. His intent, then, was to satirize this situation as savagely as he could. In this he succeeded.
The fourteenth earl of Gurney symbolizes all that is wrong with the system. Because of primogeniture, this benevolently mad individual inherits great wealth and power. Indeed, according to Barnes, the earl typifies the insane decadence created by the power of generations past....
(The entire section is 570 words.)