Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Plays Three - Edward Bond

Bingo was the one here that I already knew. I bought a copy when it first came out in the Seventies, but it was fun to read it again after more than half a lifetime.

Bingo, a title with no apparent sense to it, is about the death of Shakespeare.  The great man has retired to Stratford to ignore his demented, bed-bound wife, fall out with his daughter Judith, get embroiled in unpopular enclosure and generally upset the local puritans.  His one visitor is Ben Jonson, who is a complete boor, and after an evening with him the Bard of Avon decides the only answer is to kill himself.

I was big on Shakespeare back when I was a fresher at Hull.  Four graduations later, I no longer care if I never see one of his plays again.  There are three I would be willing to attend if pressed, but the rest...  No thanks.  The problem, however, with having studied the life and works over a period of I some fifty years, I know too much to be able to ignore the liberties Bond has openly taken with the facts.  Ann Hathaway might well have been ga-ga for all anyone knows, and it is an effective way of establishing the considerable age-gap between the spouses; Judith may well have been a scold; but Shakespeare is shown as old, forever complaining about his age, drained of inspiration and even meaningful conversation.  But as we all know, until the day he died he was only fifty-one, and having been watching and reading his plays for longer than that, I can confirm that fifty-one is not old.  More importantly, it wasn't in Elizabethan times either.  We are taught, or allowed to believe, that the human span was shorter then.  Bullshit.  The average age at death was lower because well over half the children born died in infancy and a woman could expect, sooner or later, to die in childbirth.  Disinfectant put a stop to all that.  But for those who survived to the menopause, and all men, the length of life was more or less what it is now.  Most could expect to live to seventy and very few septuagenarians, then as now, are senile.  That said, Bingo is full of dramatic set pieces - the gibbeted girl, Shakespeare lost in the snow.  I enjoyed it yesterday every bit as much as when I bought it hot off the press in 1974.

Next up is The Fool, written around the same time and also featuring a troubled bard - in this case John Clare, who also finds himself embroiled in the agrarian revolution.  In his case it is the destruction of the traditional rural life (labourers and lords of the manor), which literally drives him mad. To my surprise, I found it more enjoyable than Bingo.  The characters are better drawn and I for one was drawn in emotionally as well as intellectually.  As to whether it is more accurate than Bingo, I have no idea.  All I know about John Clare is that he wrote pastoral verse and died in an asylum.

The third play is The Woman, the one I knew nothing about, the one I bought the collection for.  I hated it.  It is based on Greek legends of the Fall of Troy, which is something I have often toyed with doing myself and which I am always fascinated with.  It is an attempt at epic theatre.  Again, something that appeals to me.  And I say again, I hated it.  It has the unforgivable flaws of boring one dimensional characters who arguing absurdly over something of no consequence whatsoever, a votive statue of a female deity.  Did I mention I hated it?

On the other hand, the final playlet, Stone, which is something I normally avoid, I thoroughly enjoyed.  It is another of Bond's pseudo Brechtian works, in this case a parable for the theatre, but redeemed by not one but two charismatic characters, the Tramp and the Girl.

The book is padded out, unnecessarily, with various essays, stories and poems.  These add nothing and in my opinion are best avoided.

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