Sunday, October 17, 2010

Guilt and Madness in Bond’s Plays

(Man) is not satisfied with being a separate individual; out of the partiality of his individual life he strives-towards a ‘fullness’ that be senses and demands, towards a fullness of life of which individuality with all its limitations cheats him, towards a more comprehensible, a more just world, a world, that makes sense.
Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art.
Characters frequently go mad in Bond’s Plays. Georgina, Hatch, Clare, Greta are all destined to end up in mental institutions in the grip of their own daft fantasies. Kiro and Shakespeare may not be clinically certifiable, but they both commit suicide in moments of acute despair.
Lear and Arthur both go through a time of extreme mental torment from which they emerge with the beginnings of a new sanity. The final stage picture of we Come to the River offers a bleak image of the world, one divided between sane but dead victims and living but mad inmates of an asylum. These kinds of overt madness in Bond’s work occur when there is some violent rupture between the reality inside an individual, and the social reality he or she lives by. Georgina, for instance, goes made because her faith in God and man are simultaneously destroyed by the soldiers who kill the children she is caring for. Hatch, in The Sea, invests his life, not in God, but in small time capitalism and, as that is destroyed by Mrs. Rafi, his sense of oppression is diverted to mythical creatures from outer space. Clare, Shakespeare and Kiro likewise find that they have committed themselves wholly to absurdities, and the disappointment and shock of discovering the truth make them go mad. These are reasonably well-defined madnesses, but there are other sorts in Bond. R.D. Laing writes that ‘the condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the Bond’s plays find themselves. Cordelia and her ministers are mad, according to Lear, because they have no pity, “and the man without pity is mad”. The mad heaven of Early Morning, where mutual cannibalism is the norm, is infected by what Queen Victoria calls Arthur’s “lunacy”, but her kind of normality, identified with polite ordered, static societies, turns out to be Vicious and cruel, despite the rhetoric of common sense it claims to live by. It proves too to be deeply irrational. The world of The Swing is just such normality, as is the post revolutionary kingdom ruled over by what Lear describes as “Good decent, honest, upright lawful men who believe in order.” “I have lived with murderers and thugs,” he tells the Old Councillor, “there are limits to their greed and violence with the essentially human pressure to he happy and sane and so the plays become battlegrounds between sanity-seeking individuals, and corrupt cultures.
Madness ________ to individuals
Bingo deals with different kinds of individual madness, and with the failure of an individual to oppose corruption in his own life, thus inviting madness. With characteristic irony, it is the Old Man (who has, his wife tells Shakespeare. “the mind of a twelve year old an the needs on a man”) who probably Comes closest to fulfilling his human potential. He is, after all, the only person who takes care of the Young Woman after her first clothes and then money; but when Combe, the landowner with whom he is doing business, sets to have her recaptured, Shakespeare just complains irritably about the disturbance to his peace and quiet Judith’s ungenerous propriety is outraged by the girl who is, to her, “dirty” in all senses. But then, she has been ground down by her father’s self-absorption and the isolation to which he has unthinkingly condemned her. The Old Man is literally the victim of a violent culture, accidentally rendered subnormal by the blunt side of a fellow soldier’s axe as he was chopping up a fallen enemy. His childlike nature is a sad burden for his wife, who also has to ‘mother’ Shakespeare, but there is in his enforced simplicity a new innocence. He plays in the snow like a child, he has to be given “a nice surprise” when he’s upset, and he behaves with that attractive purity of emotional response of many mentally- handicapped people. When he realizes that the Young Girl will be hanged, his mind fills with the images and sights of the hanging and he cries at their obscenity: “O dear, I do hate a hanging people runnin, through the streets laughing an’ sportin’, Buying’ and sellin’. I allus enjoyed the hangings when I were a boy. Now I can’t abide ‘em.” He is a simpleton, like King Lear’s Fool, and that gives ineffective, precisely because he is not ‘normal’. As Judith points out, he has ‘”no responsibilities, no duties”, Society, run by men like Combe and Shakespeare, excludes him. When he is accidentally shot dead by his own son, reality, crude and violent, muscles its was into other-worldliness.
The Old Man’s son represents another kind of madness, and another of Bond’s ironic but well justified conjunctions of different impulses. On the one hand, he is obsessively religious in a puritanical, fundamentalist way. On the other, he has an acute sense of injustice, so much so that he becomes the leader of the local peasantry as they fill in the ditches dug to mark out together, of course, and his vision of just world, where rich thieves won’t plunder the common land shades imperceptibly into a vision of paradise: “I looked across a great plain into his eyes. A sword were put yand. The lord god a peace arm us. We must go back an’ fill up they ditches agin t’ night.” The Old Man says of his son: “He rage up an’ down all hours… He’s allus talkin’ t’ god –– stands t’ reason he never listen to a word I say”, and indeed the young man seems to be close to hysteria much of the time. Nevertheless his real madness is exposed in his lack of human sympathy. Looking at the gibbeted body of the Young Woman, he observes: “Death bring out her true life, brother. Look, her eyes be shut against the truth. There’s blood trickle down the cornet a her mouth. Her teeth snap at her flesh while her die.’ His final decision to go away “where no one stand ‘twcen me an’ my go, no one listen when I raise the song a praise’ fits in which his religious obsession, but it is also a kind of self-imposed autism, another outbreak of Scopey’s disease.
Shakespeare s despair is also a kind of madness. His work is the evidence that he was under no crippling illusions about human nature, but he loses control because he won’t carry his insights into his day-to-day life. His refusal to oppose the enclosures is a public sell-out to his own financial security, but his final despair is brought on by the decaying of his close personal relationships. He makes no significant attempt to protect the Young Woman from yet another whipping or from hanging, and Judith’s reproaches seem quite justified: “You sit there and brood all day… I feel guilty if I dare to talk about anything that matters. I should shut up now ––or ask if it’s good gardening weather.” Shakespeare’s arrogant counter to this is-: “You speak so badly. Such banalities. So stale and ugly.” When his human responses have been so alienated that Judith’s desperate complaints are heard only for their literary, or whose, their nuisance value, some vital moral connection in Shakespeare has clearly been broken. Bond’s point is that if he had been stupid, he could be understand, if not excused, as an ageing reactionary. But Shakespeare was far from stupid, and Bond shows him monitoring his own alienation and ‘self-hate all the way to suicide. ‘ He has, like Bond’s Cordelia, an acute sense of Justice, which is not so much reduced as institutionalized (in his case in his art, in her in political ideology) and removed from any contact with life. And all the time, being Shakespeare, he observes the truth but does nothing to fight his despair:
I spent so much of my youth, my best energy… for this: New Place, Somewhere to be sane in. It was all a mistake. There’s a taste of bitterness in my mouth… I howled when they suffered, but they were whipped and hanged so that I could be free.
Judith Shakespeare doesn’t go mad, but her human responses are so ground down at the end of the play by her loveless existence in Shakespeare house that she might just as well be. Her desperate scrabbling for a will as her father lies poisoned is, heartless and unnatural, but is, after all, perfectly attuned to her culture. Judith’s another of Bond’s damaged survivors, like patty. While Shakespeare expires in self disgust, she, because it is expected of women that they will always support and seldom be supported remains at her post supremely practical, tearing the bedroom apart for the money that will allow her and her mother to survive. But just as surely as Shakespeare dies, something human has died in Judith, too.
Madness culture and Truth
Bingo is a statement that, however terrible the pressures, it is necessary to live as close to the truth of one’s own experience as possible. When that truth conflicts with the standards of the culture we live in, then an act of individual rebellion is called for. That individual action doesn’t conflict with the need I act collectively in the case of social change because action, as opposed to religious self-purification of the kind that Basho went in for, involves other people. Shakespeare had the individual choice whether to oppose enclosure or not, but his decision not to made him part of the landowners’ collective. If he had opposed it and joined the peasant’s collective, he might have healed the broken connection between his sense of justice as a writer and as a man, and he would have had less reason to kill himself.
The Fool takes the dialectic between individual and collective sanity still further to show, how the accumulated weight of a culture, its history, belief and social mores, press on and distort the individual personality. The idea of culture is of great importance to Bond. It signifies both the character of a society, its ideas and values, and its artistic expression. In his introduction to The Fool, he talks about the interwoven relationship between individual human nature and social culture:
We don’t have a fixed nature the way other animals do. We have a ‘gap left by our freedom from the captive nature of other animals, from the tight control of instincts. The gap is filled by culture. Human nature is in fact, human culture.
That last idea makes the decisive link with Bond’s ideas about religion and politics because if human nature is provisional, if it can be altered according to choice or circumstance, if we, and not some supernatural being, are solely responsible for our fates, then we have a responsibility to change society so that we may change ourselves. That is a responsibility, which Shakespeare evaded.
One deadly enemy of a unified, healthy culture is class. In The Fool Bond shows how a developing middle-class culture, the first shoots of modern capitalism begin to whittle away at the living working-class culture that had been able to survive under feudalism. On a winter’s evening, a group of Mummers come to act out their traditional St. George and the Dragon play for their master, Lord Milton, and his guests. When their play has finished, both the Parson and Lord Milton use the occasion to lecture their workers on the need for pay restraint. It is an act symbolic of the changing nature of master/ man relationships, there goes a robbery by enclosure and drainage of the common land, which has always provided a minimal independence for the rural working class. This theft of land has immediate repercussions in the farm-workers riot. (There was in fact a wave of these food and enclosure riots in the nineteenth century. Bond’s historical model is the rioting at Little port in Cambridge shire Several rioters were hung at Ely, and a plaque is to be seen still over the porch in Ely Parish Church showing where the bodies were dumped overnight before burial.) The result of the riots is death and deportation for the farm-workers, but the results of the loss of their culture are more fundamental and widespread, and they find expression in the fate of John Clare. In the condemned and widespread, and they find expression in the fate of John Clare. In the condemned cell at Ely prison, the men who performed plays for their master at Christmas-time are visited by Clare and Patty. In their conversation, Patty tells her sister Darkie that John’s “scribblin’ come ‘t summal Gen’ man bin. Talk ‘bout a book.” Miles asks him, “what you write boy? Write ‘bout this place. What goo on”, but Clare’s answer “Who’d read that?” is an ominous forecast of his later predicament Walking in Hyde Park with his patroness Mrs. Emmerson, the working-class poet is shown to have been taken up as a fad by precisely that class, which was destroying the economic base on which he depended for a living. Mrs. Emmerson’s very silly nation of Clare the poet is as someone inspired to soar on wings of verse by grass and tress: “It is my ambition to be at your side when the muscle calls. I shall take down your words as you cast them on the air.” The Admiral, who provides the financial muscle for Mrs. Emmerson’s philanthropy, approves condescendingly of Clare’s poetry: “Great charm there. True melody. Fine love of English landscape.” But there are things he doesn’t like: “I have one reservation. Not serious. The fault of a narrow horizon. Those remarks in –– poem named after your village –– which criticizes the landowning classes –– smack of radicalism.” The pressure on Clare. Financial and political, begins to build. Mrs. Emmerson asks Clare naively. “How does it help to Shakespeare your Fist at heaven when some homeward wending swain perishes in the snow?” and Clare’s brusque reply. “The had a winter coast they on’t perish”, suggests the growing gulf between the work Clare’s rich London readership want from his and his own creative drive. Scene Six that gulf has led to the beginnings of his madness, to bitter resentment from patty, and to state of near-starvation for to whole family. “on’t goo back labourin’,” Clare tells his wife. “On know what I’m at out in the fields. Goo sit hack the hedge an’ write on me hat.” For Mrs. Emmerson, Clare’s art is decoration, and patty it is the fatal scribbling which stops him doing proper work and bringing wages in, but for Clare it is the only activity which it makes any sense for him to do: “Can’t help what I ant’ God know I wish I couldn’t write me name! But my mind git full a songs an I on’t feel a man if I on’t write ‘em down.”
As guilt about his family increases, as polite society begins to reject his poetry with its occasional radicalism and its dialect words, Clare sinks into, illness and fantasies. He believes himself to be a boxer like those he saw in Hyde Park while Mrs. Emmerson was hovering in expectation of an “effusion”. The black man and the Irishman, traditional victims of English exploitation, were able to earn money by knocking each other senseless for polite people to bet on, so why shouldn’t he?: “Us’ll hey t’ git a proper job. Something drastic t’ bring in proper money. Set up boxin’. They git paid for hem knocked about. I git knock about. Why on’t I paid for it?” Clare realizes that his culture’s highest values are money-values, and he gives in to them; but capitulation takes his mind with it. In the asylum, Lord Milton and Care, each wrapped in his own sense of failure, together locate the changes that have occurred in their culture. Clare sits in a bath chair, “a shriveled puppet”. Mumbling, and Milton talks about the changes in the village, about his-wife’s death, about his son “in love with his factories.” Clare is the inhabitant of the asylum, but the dislocations in Milton’s, and Patty’s life, remind us of his cry of outraged common sense just before being taken away in a straitjacket “Hey the world gone mad? No. wonder they say I’m a clown!”
Art’ Madness and creativity
Today art no longer holds central position in society, except as a palliative or diversion, whose effect, conscious or otherwise, is to soothe disc and discourage critical thinking. The fact that art now exists as either a part of the consumer leisure industry or as an embattled fringe activity critical of society as a whole, is more than just as shame. It is evidence of a dangerous internal flaw in society.
In The Sea Bond uses Mrs. Rafi to show how creativity can be subverted and misused, and to demonstrate of Willy and Rose are a social embarrassment because they cause questions to be asked which reflect on the town. The divert that potential criticism, the death is sentimentalised and its meaning denied by the dishonest ceremonial of a bankrupt Christian morality. The ceremony bids fair to impressive enough, with its heavily embroidered church banner and fine funned hymns. But those hymns turn out to be the battleground over which Mrs. Rafi and Mrs. Tilehouse struggle for power, the vicar’s sermon is full of a simplistic symbolism which obscures the real effect of Colin’s death on those close to him and Mrs. Rafi’s absurd encomium on Colin is a parody of Victorian tragic verse, whose laboured couplets enfeeble any pretension to gravity or sorrow.
Men who live out their little year
Are diamonds polished by their labour here
Fire has burned! It gives no ashes grey!
Diamonds only from this mortal clay!
The whole scenario, so carefully prepared by Mrs. Rafi is rendered overtly ridiculous by Mrs. Tilehouse’s rebellion, and by Hatch’s entrance. The whole funeral scene criticizes the use of art and imagination to smother thought, to mystify reality, and so evade responsibility for the life of the community. Written and directed by Mrs. Fari, the scene is part of a socially-correct death-rhythm opposed to the struggling life-rhythm of the growing consciousness within Willy and Rose. Mrs. Rafi’s taste for grotesque celebrations of death is made still more explicit in Scene Four, which shows rehearsals for an entertainment to raise money for the coastguard including the unhappy figure of mad Hatch. The occasion will, by this irony, at best reinforce the tendency to self-destruction in the town, by maintaining Hatch in a position of influence. In the same way that Hatch’s appearance on the cliff top undermines the pretensions of the funeral, so Rose, although grief-stricken and struggling to find some way to comprehend her loss, criticises by her very presence everything that takes place in the rehears room. Mrs. Rafi works away attempting to divert attention from the embarrassing tragic centre of Rose. The curtains are drawn, against Rose’s wishes, so that she will be kept from the sight of the sea. Bond studs the actual rehearsal with jokes and comic business, which demonstrate the absurdity and lack of credibility of the art. Mrs. Rafi dominates everything and everyone. It’s clear that the performance is for her gratification alone, and the others have to find their satisfaction within her structure. When Willy enters, his presence, complementing Rose’s, is used by Mrs. Rafi to spur what she calls their “creativity” (in fact the opposite––the cheap exploitation of old cultural conditioning). Mrs. Rafi as Eurydice is about to cross the Styx “made from the tears of the penitent and suffering, which is interesting”, and the nicely comic bathos of that last clause locates for us the level at which Mrs. Rafi’s art deals with tears and suffering, which is interesting”, and the nicely comic bathos of that last clause locates for us the level at which Mrs. Rafi’s art deals with tears and suffering. When Jilly bursts into tears, moved by Mrs. Rafi’s rendering of the bizarrely-cliched lines, “Eurydice let me clasp your marble bosom to my panting breast and warm it with my heart,” She does so in the presence of Willy and Rose, who have real cause to weep. After Jilly has been dispatched with a servant for some comforting tea and cake, Mrs. Rafi bashes on with her rehearsal, still imagining that she is uniquely close to the heart of things and Jilly is simply hysterical: “Never mind books now Vicar. We’re struggling with life.”
In the character of Hatch, Bond embodies an important irony. He is, in Mrs. Rafi’s words “over-imaginative for a draper”, and he reckons himself ‘more in the creative line”. But however appropriate these statements might be (and Hitch’s invention of creatures from space who come down in airships to take people’s brains out deserves some kind of recognition!), the maturity of his imagination is plainly stunted. Hatch, oppressed by Mrs. Rafi and repressed by himself, invents a fantasy of revenge and aggression, which enslaves both himself and men like Hollacrut. His imagination has been etiolated and made eccentric by the social stratification in the town, and by myths, but she can see no way out of them: “I’m tired of being a sideshow I!’ their little world. Nothing else was open to me…Of course I have my theatricals’ Her theatricals, and Hatch’s fantasies, actually grow out of the same alienated world.
With these two characters Bond is drawing a most important distinction between fantasy on the one hand –– the false inner world which people create when they have lost touch with reality –– and, on the other hand, imagination’ The imagination, and its denial, is what Bond’s work is about, not because he sometimes writes about writers, hut because the failure of his characters fully to realize their humanity is the result of a failure of imagination, which then leads on to a moral or a mental collapse. Imagination is out most essentially human faculty, because it allows us to predict the results of our actions, to see the connection between cause and effect. It thus has a vital moral dimension. A sense of responsibility is the result of a cultivated imagination, and a society which devalues the imagination or which allows it to develop in children in the wrong way, will have a greatly diminished sense of morality. That is the basic of reasoning on which, I believe. Bond’s moral force as a playwright rests, and these are the ideas which, as well as underpinning his arguments about the importance of art in a culture, are given vivid theatrical expression in the plays.
Thoughtlessness and cruelty, Bond shows, come about not because human beings are by nature thoughtless or cruel, but because their capacity for sympathy, their ability to imagine the feelings and the suffering of other, has been restricted and withered by the culture they live in. Given a culture where fantasies of aggression and the conservative ethic of individualism, competition and emotional self-suffering of other, has been restricted and withered by the culture they live in. Given a culture where fantasies of aggression and the conservative ethic of individualism, competition and emotional self-sufficiency are transmitted at every level –– in the home, at school, at work, in art, in political debate –– it is hardly surprising that is will produce a Peter, who is Scene Three of Saved, attempts to elevate his running down of a child in the road into a fantasy of deliberate child-killing. His mates support his bravado with their own defensive jokes, but Barry isn’t convinced that Pete acted deliberately. The others kid him, and he has to retrieve his status by claiming: “I done blokes in… More’n you ‘ad ‘ot dinners. In the jungle shoot in’ up the yeller-niggers. An’ cut em up after with the ol’ pig-sticker.” This, too, my be just a fantasy, but Barry could have seen Army service abroad in any one of a number o guerrilla wars. Either way, violence and, later, sexual hatred expressed in jokes are the tools in the culture with which its members have to back out some foothold of status and self-regard for themselves. What then takes place in Scene Six is a logical extension of this dehumanising process’ Len and Fred talk about Pam while they fish, but they make no effort to imagine her feelings. “I thought she was goin’ spare,” says Fred, s if she were a chair.
When Pam arrives with her baby to spoil Fred’s pleasures with her demands, she is on some kind of pills, presumably tranquillisers, and she has also given aspirin to the child to get some peace from the crying, which she cannot understand. When the baby peace from the crying, which she cannot understand. When the baby and the young men are eventually left together, the combination is ominous. The baby has been drugged into senselessness, and so cannot trigger any protective instincts in the young men, who are themselves drugged by a culture which values aggression before tenderness. As their treatment of the baby escalates from mild teasing to spitting, punching and hair-pulling, the values of that culture surface in their words.
COLIN… Mind yer don’t ‘urt it.
MIKE. Yet can’t.
BARRY. Not at that age.
MIKE. Course vet’ can’t, no feelings
PETE. Like animals… Cloutin’s good for ‘em. I read it… Yer got a do yer duty.
Similar words were very probably spoken at Fred’s trial.
There are other symptoms of anaesthetized imagination throughout the plays –– for example in the Fourth Prisoner’s blinding of Lear as a diplomatic manoeuvre to bring himself to the authorities’ notice. The death of imagination and its replacement by fantasy conspire to destroy the human values of society, it is a process which Bond sees happening today, especially as technology grow more powerful, to fight these plagues, he finds antidotes only in a fully democratic, classless politics and vigorous cultivation of creative imagination, whether in art, technology, politics or education. Bond is an artist, someone who makes professional use of his creative imagination; art is there fore his main weapon in this struggle. In the programme note to We Come To The River composer and librettist together write:
But art isn’t about itself, it’s about how men relate to the world and each other; it’s not a private or even individual experience, but one of the ways society creates its identity; it’s not primitive and dark, but rational and constructive.
Because Bond’s art has radical social change as a conscious goal, his art (and perhaps all art) is inseparable from politics: Asking artists to keep politics out of art is as sensible as asking men to keep politics out of society. Men without politics would be animals, and art without politics would be trivial.

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