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Forty Years On


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A: Alan Bennett Pf: 1968, London Pb: 1969 G: Com. in 2 acts; prose and songs S: Assembly hall of English public school, 1968, and a historical review 1900–45 C: 5m, 2f, 20 schoolboysThe Headmaster gives a speech of farewell, concerned that he is handing over to Franklin, a liberal successor. Preparations are made to stage the school play, Speak for England, Arthur. This begins in the basement of Claridge's hotel, London, at the outbreak of the Second World War, where Hugh, a Conservative MP, his wife Moggie, and son Christopher are sheltering. The time shifts back to 1900, to the end of Victoria's reign, discussed in Wildean pastiche, then to Lawrence of Arabia travelling to Mesopotamia in 1909. In 1940, Christopher gets left behind during the Dunkerque evacuation. 1913: Lady Sybilline Quarrell agrees to an assignation with Bertrand Russell. 1914: young men are swept up into the First World War. In the interval, the Headmaster complains to Franklin about the content of the play, which continues with mourning the fallen in 1918. Time-switch to the London Blitz, then back to 1922 and the founding of the Bloomsbury Group. In the 1940s, Christopher is a German prisoner of war. Franklin now shocks the Headmaster by enacting a class on sex education. 1936: the Abdication of Edward VIII. Neville Chamberlain is put on trial in the court of history for appeasing Hitler. The school play ends with victory in 1945, but the Headmaster laments the post-war loss ‘of honour, of patriotism, chivalry and duty’, ‘great words’ that ‘came to be cancelled out’ because social justice was neglected.

A: Alan Bennett Pf: 1968, London Pb: 1969 G: Com. in 2 acts; prose and songs S: Assembly hall of English public school, 1968, and a historical review 1900–45 C: 5m, 2f, 20 schoolboys

By means of an episodic, funny, and frequently interrupted school play, Bennett's first work for the stage offers a 20th-century retrospect that combines nostalgic regret with a recognition of the errors made by British public figures. While offering a lively experience to a predominantly young cast, there is sometimes too much clever talk in place of stage action.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Authors

Alan Bennett (b. 1934) English dramatist and actor


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