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A: Edward Bond Pf: 1971, London Pb: 1972 G: Pol. drama in 3 acts S: England, indeterminate period C: 48m, 5f, extrasLear is a tyrannical king of England who has built a huge wall to keep out his enemies, the Duke of Cornwall and the Duke of North. His daughters Bodice and Fontanelle rebel against Lear's despotism, marry the two Dukes, and lead armies against him. Warrington, Lear's aide, is captured and is horribly tortured by Fontanelle and Bodice, who drives knitting-needles into his eardrums. Lear, defeated, dishevelled, and mad, seeks refuge with a Gravedigger's Boy. Soldiers arrive, kill the Boy, and rape his wife Cordelia. Lear is captured, judged to be mad, imprisoned, and has his eyes removed in a surgical operation. Cordelia leads the fight against Bodice and Fontanelle, proving to be as ruthless as her opponents. Lear, freed once more, rejects both the totalitarian methods of Cordelia and the temptations offered by the Ghost of the Gravedigger's Boy to live his life in peaceful isolation. Instead, he returns to the Wall, makes a brave gesture by beginning to dismantle it and is shot. As the Workers are led off, ‘One of them looks back.’

A: Edward Bond Pf: 1971, London Pb: 1972 G: Pol. drama in 3 acts S: England, indeterminate period C: 48m, 5f, extras

Bond, unhappy with the ‘idea of total resignation’ which he believed Shakespeare's King Lear to propound, decided ‘to rewrite it so that we now have to use the play for ourselves, for our society, for our time, for our problems’. Using an epic structure, forcefully minimalist language, and his notorious ‘aggro-effects’ like the blinding of Lear, Bond created a contemporary masterpiece, in which the Wall stands as a symbol of oppression justified in the name of national defence (a clear reference to the nuclear deterrent on which post-war world powers depended). After Lear's tyrannical rule is replaced first by his daughters then by the Stalinist figure of Cordelia, he is faced with the choice between withdrawing from political life, embracing the violent rule and maintenance of the wall by Cordelia, or making a powerful non-violent political gesture by inviting death as he begins to dismantle the wall. It is a small but not futile gesture, and at least one worker ‘looks back’. It is a myth for our age, expressing what Bond has called ‘pessimistic optimism’.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

Reference entries

Edward Bond (b. 1934) English dramatist

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