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Romans in Britain


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A: Howard Brenton Pf: 1980, London Pb: 1980 G: Hist. drama in 2 acts S: River Thames, 54 bc; Britain, ad 515; Northern Ireland, ad 1980 C: 49m, 9f, 3 children (1m, 2f)Envoys come to a Celtic village on the Thames to warn them of the advance of the Roman army. But the villagers are too concerned with hounding two Irish criminals on the run and with past quarrels with neighbouring tribes to get their young men to defend the land. Three off-duty Roman soldiers murder two young Celts and attempt homosexual rape with Marban, a young Druid priest. Roman troops burn the village and murder the Mother, its chief. Julius Caesar, leader of the invasion, is displeased with the ruthlessness of his army. Marban commits suicide, and one of the escaping Irishmen is killed by a slave. Suddenly it is 1980: Roman forces in British army uniforms arrive and shoot the Slave. Thomas Chichester, an undercover British soldier, is conducting a secret operation near the Northern Irish border. The time reverts to ad 515: Celts are brought news of the Saxon invasion. When Cai, a veteran fighter, refuses to acknowledge the danger, his daughters kill him. 1980: Chichester, full of self-doubt about the British presence in Ireland, reveals his identity to his intended IRA victim. Just before he is shot, he denounces all forms of imperialism. 515: a cook turned poet invents the legend of the Celtic King Arthur.

A: Howard Brenton Pf: 1980, London Pb: 1980 G: Hist. drama in 2 acts S: River Thames, 54 bc; Britain, ad 515; Northern Ireland, ad 1980 C: 49m, 9f, 3 children (1m, 2f)

Although the play became best known for the absurd legal action that was brought against the director Michael Bogdanov ‘for procuring an act of gross indecency’ in the scene of attempted homosexual rape, it stands as one of the finest of many political pieces dealing with Britain's relationship with Ireland. By depicting the Roman and Saxon invasions of Britain, Brenton was able to show that the audience was once on the receiving end of the kind of imperialism which Brenton saw in the British presence in Northern Ireland. Significantly, no Protestant voice is heard in the 1980 scenes, so that the republican Irish can be portrayed simply as victims.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Authors

Howard Brenton (b. 1942)


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