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Narrow Road to the Deep North


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A: Edward Bond Pf: 1968, Coventry Pb: 1968 G: Drama in 2 acts S: Japan, late 17th–19th c. C: 16m, 4fBasho, the great poet, journeying to the north of Japan to seek enlightenment, sees a baby abandoned by the riverside. Basho returns 30 years later to find a city where there was once only a village. It is ruled over by a cruel tyrant Shogo. Two years later, Basho is arrested and brought before Shogo, who orders him to bring up the child of the emperor he deposed. Basho, dismayed at Shogo's cruelty, conducts the tyrant's prime minister to a leader ‘five times more ruthless than Shogo’. This is the Commodore, a British colonialist, who with his evangelical sister Georgina will invade the south and depose Shogo, with promises of restoring the infant Emperor to the throne. Shogo escapes, disguised as a priest. Georgina reorganizes the city and renders the populace submissive by converting them to Christianity. Shogo mounts a counter-attack, and unable to identify the young Emperor, kills all five children under Basho's protection, driving Georgina insane. The Commodore, using gunboats, regains control, and Shogo, who is revealed as the abandoned baby by the riverside, is brutally executed for his atrocity.

A: Edward Bond Pf: 1968, Coventry Pb: 1968 G: Drama in 2 acts S: Japan, late 17th–19th c. C: 16m, 4f

Subtitled ‘a comedy’, this minimalist almost cartoon-like version of 17th-century Japan combined with 19th-century British colonialism examines the interplay of power politics. The European concern with justice and order, coupled with missionary zeal, all supported by a ruthless army, are seen to be as oppressive and objectionable as the crude violence of the peasant-born tyrant. Bond rewrote the play in 1978 as The Bundle, transposing the action to modern Asia, and it could now usefully be employed as a commentary on the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Edward Bond (b. 1934) English dramatist


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