For Edward Bond (1934-2024)


I asked the man at the crossroads why are you waiting
He said I have no shoes on my feet
My stomach is empty
My dwelling is repossessed
A man In a nice suit with heraldic cufflinks stole my wallet
And my coat is on fire
But I do not want to be an alarmist

Edward Bond (from Edward Bond Dramatist)

Tragedy discovers truth. Great tragedy is the cry of “Eureka!” uttered in pain.

Our leaders have no self-knowledge and so we will suffer for them. When society is torn by a conflict it does not understand it turns to violence to resolve it. This is the situation of western democracy.

Democracy is not just freedom of thought. It is freedom of imagination. That cannot be created by law. Yet without it there is no freedom of thought. We have hardly begun to understand this. The imagination dramatises the world. In the past it was controlled by religion and “high” art. They repressed it at the cost of a little freedom. But in our changing, insecure world it must be controlled in new ways. Consumer democracy would be impossible without TV and the other media. They constantly agitate and bewilder the imagination, brutalising everything.

When the Greeks created the first western democracy they also created western drama. Democracy and theatre always go together. When one is corrupt the other is corrupt. The imperative of Greek drama was: know yourself. Ours is: do not! TV, press, pop culture – all exist to make money, not to seek truth. They serve the culture of death by creating a sham life.

Drama deals with society and the individual. It enters the hidden places of the self, and the imagination has to respond. Like pierced skin, it becomes whole again or dies.

Edward Bond, The Guardian, [28/06/1995] 06/03/2024

For Edward Bond, for the urgency of his art and for his conception of theatrical tragedy and comedy as instruments of understanding.


by Edward Bond

HOPE Its asked of a new play “Where is the hope?” The question misunderstands drama. You are in a room. The curtains are drawn. You do not ask “Where is the sky? – its gone.” The sky is always there. You have a lottery ticket. You hope it will win. But do you hope that the number on the ticket will change so that it will win? The playwright must point to reality – to the number on the ticket. The hope is the audience.

DRAMA Drama is the text of democracy. When the Greek audience looked at the stage they saw themselves: “you saw you.” Later Rome took over. The soldiers looked at you. Later the church took over. It said the great creative fictions of Greek drama were real, were vulgar facts. Zeus was fiction, God Almighty was a vulgar fact. Oedipus was fiction who killed his father, Christ was a vulgar fact and God his Father killed him. And so on through the Greek dramatic cannon and Christian scripture. God looked at you and the Inquisition looked over his shoulder. Then science took over. The scientist looked at you. You were a specimen. Now commerce takes over: TV and film. The eyes on the screen cannot look at you – they are blind. So you are blind when you look at them. (It’s a bit difficult. It’s a mutation. Think about it. The eyes are the organ of sight. They cannot be touched, heard, smelt, tasted. Film is fiction in a particular way: film is the wink of the blind.) The modern stage is parasitic on the blindness of the screens. When it looks at the audience the blind are winking at each other. The stage has never before been so corrupt. There must be a new drama. In it the audience will look at the stage and see itself. It will be revolutionary because it will be democratic.

POLITICAL DRAMA A recent article claimed “political theatre brings subjects into public and popular debate.” The things people write in newspapers! The opposite is true. Theatre takes subjects that are already in public, popular debate. Its plays are not political. They are current affairs. We have no political theatre. Yet politics is the core of drama. Drama deals with the relation between self and society. How each creates the other. It is how we create our humanness. Political drama must look at the profoundest human paradoxes. Greek drama did this for us. All Western culture and religion are founded on this inheritance. It is our patrimony. We have exhausted it. Our theatre – our culture and politics – are dead. Post-mortem not post-modern. If we do not create a new drama we will be destroyed. Evolution will wipe us out. The times have never been so serious. It is a species crisis.

PURITY The Royal Court staged my second play half my lifetime ago. I was attacked as the ultimate degenerate vicious debased playwright. Last year the Royal Court told me my moral purity prevented me from making contact with an audience. My first play (also staged at the Royal Court) had a rural setting. There was a murder. The murderer was the good man. The complexities of humanness. Last year the Royal Court staged another play with a rural setting. In it there was a good man. He was corrupt (and a danger to his child) but he had a heart of gold. Mr Really-Nasty came along. He didn’t murder Mr Good but badly beat him up. The play was written with panache. It combined News of the World morality with Mills and Boon sentimentality. What has changed? Let us now be serious and for a start change everything.

(September 2010, revised September 2011)

Edward Bond (from Edward Bond Dramatist)

Tragedy and Politics (revised 15/06/2019)

Edward Bond

Tragedy (tragic drama not tragic events) is not self-subsisting. It interacts with politics. Drama has two forms: tragedy and comedy. Other play-forms are diluted modifications of these. Comedy is about the survival of the individual, tragedy about the survival of community.

Humans are the result of two “forces”: consciousness and nature. Nature includes human-made technology. Even slaves are human technology. Humans evolved from pre-humans. Consciousness is aware of its apparent site-and-situation and also of itself – that is, it is self-conscious. This makes drama possible and given our situation necessary. Self-consciousness is involved in and exclusive to its self. I think of it as a tiny dot in the universe. But it includes in itself the whole of the known and potentially knowable universe. The dot’s horizon doesn’t contain the dot but anticipates what is beyond it. I don’t mean the dot solipsistically. Think of the universe as a sentence and the self-dot as a full stop. It could punctuate anywhere in the sentence but because of death it is the self-dot.

I write these notes as a dramatist and so necessarily with an awareness of the “sonic” horizon, the echoes, of drama and of imagination. My understanding of drama is explained in various theoretical papers, most recently in The Human Plot. I don’t repeat this understanding here. But to say anything useful I must sometimes refer to it. The present journalistic understanding of drama and humans is an unhelpful mixture of the ideas of Freud, Darwin and chat. A new understanding is needed. In the situations and events of tragic drama one or more individuals takes responsibility for the universe. I mean nothing religious by this. Religion is an ideology, drama is a story. If the story is tragic it is essentially totally free from ideology. Religion implies a creator of reality, tragic drama is the creation of humanness. It is theologically asked if God does something because it is right to do it or is it right because God does it. Tragedy is not limited to its human source. For this reason consciousness should not be thought of as another form of technology. Perhaps it is the only thing that is not technology. In technology, A causes B. The cause and reciprocation are necessary. Tragic drama is not a technology but it contains the most extreme form of necessity. For that reason I spoke of the sonic edge of drama. The discipline of the question of tragic drama is more useful than the answer. An answer would be solipsism external to itself. The problem involves human morality (there is no other sort). This is the core of human tragedy. In these notes I need to refer briefly to The Human Plot.

Evolution is an accident and has no purpose. At the most it is the logic of A and B of technology, but it’s still without purpose. The survival of the fittest is a logical accident. The fittest to survive might have been Hitler if the relation between human-technology and nature had been different. An accident is when tea is spilt (not thrown) from a cup. Imagine a train accident, a crash, in which the chaos pours tea into a cup and stops precisely at the rim. Over time pre-human beings evolved body and neural structures that enabled, forced, these beings to survive. It is a question that from a larger perspective “forced” implies that the accident is not accidental – in this sense drama (Hamlet, Antigone) is archaeology of the present. Survival and replication is secured through genes. What causes an individual to survive is genetically, morphologically, inherited by its offspring. (Mountains evolve analogously.) Since evolution has no purpose, what is the origin of purpose? In evolution prehuman beings are accidentally formed to survive in a site-and-situation – roughly the situation is the way it survives. Its offspring inherits its ability to survive but not its site-and-situation. (Nature is a maquette for the later ideological religious structure.) It is necessary to imagine the state of this new-born human, the human neonate. Its mind does nothing to survive, its physical being (and its independent progenitor) do that. There must be such a state but it’s not known how long it is – seconds, hours, days? It’s like the singularity physicists understand as the beginning of the universe. The universe may end with a whimper not a bang, but as it is in some sense conscious the human self begins with a cry — the howl evoked by Lear. Reality peeps at the neonate over the edge of its swaddling clothes. The neonate becomes conscious of reality and consciousness (its self) at the same time, consciousness creates the self. But it does not know that it and the world are different, the neonate is a site without situation beyond its self. The neonate is conscious of itself as – mistakes itself as — the whole of reality. This is what Leibnitz called the human monad. For Leibnitz each self, each human life, permanently encloses the whole of reality within itself, separate from all other selves, and only God is external. This is an ideological misinterpretation. For the neonate the state is transitory. I don’t want to call it an illusion because it is the origin of human morality: it brings purpose into reality and is the origin of drama. These last five words could be added to almost every sentence in this paragraph. It is necessary to imagine the neonate-monad state for two reasons: the neonate finds itself as the whole of reality (no difference between self and other), and its situation is consciousness. That is, it is born human. It is conscious of amorphous pain and pleasure. It chooses pleasure. Choosing pain is a strategy learned later in the need to survive in corrupt society. I will explain more of this. The point here is that the neonate knows itself as the whole of reality and when it feels pleasure or pain then reality itself is in pleasure and pain. The alternatives present choice. And, as the neonate itself is reality, then it is ontologically responsible for the pleasure or pain of reality. In the scale – confined, total and absolute – of the neonate the effects are overwhelming, oceanic and apocalyptic. Already the human self contains the dimensions of tragic drama. This is the origin of morality. One consequence is the question (that the self asks itself) that if the neonate self – the whole monad world – is in pain, then is it that the self is evil? This is the contour of shadow that haunts tragedy.

We do not have to learn to be human. It is in the neonate’s perception of reality and that is synapticly sealed in the human brain. It is not a matter of cogitation but of a more basic perception. Cogitation comes only with the beginning of language and meaningful gesture. (Analogously, when an adult sees a chair he or she does not have to say a chair to assign a purpose but knows it is a chair because he or she sits.) The consequences of this situation are enormous. The neonate is conscious of pleasure and pain. It will choose pleasure. The choice of pain – which expands into rage and many other malforms – is a later corruption acquired in needing (and in the evil, wanting) to survive in corrupt society. So, for example, hate is experienced with the same (surface) ardour as love. Ironically all human moral complications – bad and good — follow from the human imperative to be moral. Human immorality is secondary and comes not from our “animal nature” but our relation to technology in the broadest sense of the relation to things that is incorporated into the structure of society. In origin the unavoidable institution of property is imposed on us by the morphology we inherit from pre-human animals. Morality is the imperative to be human but it may change into its opposite because of the social gap between consciousness and nature. No animal is wicked but humans may become wicked by being lured by possession and destruction and inspired by the liberty and burden of wickedness. Human beings can’t revert, lapse, into the animal site-andsituation of evolution. Being human is creative, of which destruction is one form. Society (as human “things” among non-human things) must administer nature to be able to use it. But human morality is creative and often astoundingly removed from evolutionary nature. This makes us the dramatic species.

The process by which the neonate monad passes from knowing itself as the whole of reality, and so as being morally responsible for it, creates and opens the space of imagination and gives it the potential of what was the power of the imperative. The neonate grows and becomes aware that its past awareness of itself as the whole of reality was mistaken. But the moral imperative remains in its subjective self, as part of its structural coherence, and is proof of both the validity of the first error and of the new understanding. In this way its humanness and morality are not abandoned: the error authenticates its correction. And this (in reverse) is precisely the process of drama when through the exposition of its story the play inducts the audience’s creativity to enter the play’s reality – it is the social inheritance of the uninterrupted humanness of the neonate. We cannot cease to be human. A play is not “play”! – and this is the only reason I know for sane audiences’ paradoxical attraction to tragedy. The space of Imagination is created by the neonate leaving its monadic reality and entering our common shared reality. It was in the urgency of this, in its political crisis, that Athens created both democracy and its drama. Tragedy survived, and withstood the manipulations of ideology, for the last two and a half centuries. It is now endangered by being under attack.

Tragic drama is not an aestheticism concerned with itself. The Greeks created it as a logical interaction with society. The self makes morality immanent in itself and this makes it inherent in the human situation. The self and morality are shared and inseparable. As an image, It is as if one and one knew they made (not were) two. The adult is subject to the moral weight of its neonate self. The socialisation of the self is the epic of the infant becoming adult. Cynicism is a moral infracture of humanness. In corrupt society the self’s immanent morality can be perverted, by attack or in defence. No human society has escaped this corruption and so drama remains necessary.

Antigone defies Creon but not for her own sake. She transfers her immanent morality to God so that it is God’s law that her brother is humanely buried. She makes the gesture of his ritual burial and then kills herself. (Her suicide sets questions of motive that are not public but private.) Her moral act is political. She claims responsibility for it and wants her reasons to be known even if not at once understood. Tragic drama is political because it concerns the justification society gives itself, and it does this because morality as created in the neonate is political. Evolution is not political but creativity is. Antigone’s refusal to share with her sister responsibility for her decision has to do with her need to respect, protect, morality’s origin and implacability in the self. Morality cannot be seen as a conventional or even sympathetic act, it lies in the imperative of choice. Sophocles is being scrupulous. Brecht wanted to make being human a sensible choice not an imperative act. That would weaken society. Morality is not personal and cannot be adequately rationalised. A modern society that tried to rationalise morality would become barbarous. Reason can be a faked-up form of evolution. There is no reason why Nazis should not gas Jews. When Lear nurses and mourns over dead Cordelia – one corpse holding another — he has turned the little “self-dot” inside out and as he dies holds the universe in his arms. Aristotle associated tragedy with pity. Brecht asked his possible audiences to have pity on themselves. Intellectually that was smart and cute but morally corrupt, the guile of a salesman. Self-pity is a bourgeois foible. Antigone’s sorrow for herself (which may be an interpolation) on the way to the suicide cave does not relate to her moral act but to Creon’s tyranny. To anticipate a little, the Christian God’s murder of His son and the virginity of the son’s mother could be thought of as an ideological reconciliation of the crises of Medea, Argave, Dionysus, Orestes, Clytemnestra and Apollo, though not through a miracle but through magic — ideologies can work as spells. The Ideological-political could be understood in this way. The neonate self is (to itself) total reality but so is God (in Leibnitz’s error). The neonate repeats the origin of human imminent morality and the imperative to be human. Greek tragedy held disaster at bay by combining Medea and Argave in one person. But that is chaos. But tragedy is neither ideology nor a spell. Tragic drama is ontologically logical and Ideology is magic. Modern tragedy could bring order to our chaos if that were still possible. Ultimately chaos comes from relating the two forces of consciousness and nature (society and technology) ideologically. That is the modern political problem and all other more directly human problems are related to it. The Greeks created the tragic stage to resolve the problem but instead it has produced modern chaos. It is a human and social problem that reason and science can’t solve. Its attempts to do so (ideology, exploitation, medical experiments at Auschwitz) aggravate it — horizons have no maps. The solution must be created from the discomforts and pains of the problem. Perhaps civilization is ending.

The crucial play for the last century was Antigone. The crucial play for our century is Medea. Euripides wrote Medea when he was young. Athens was victorious, optimistic, creative and newly seeking democracy. When he was old Euripides returned to the problem of Medea. By then Athens was pessimistic, politically at war with itself and on the edge of defeat by Sparta and other Greek 4 cities. Athens was losing its last great tragedian. Euripides was in exile, perhaps as a fugitive looking for a place in which to be free to write as he wished. Medea had been created to elucidate normality. From the new play he wrote in exile (The Bacchae) its clear that he knew he had not resolved the problem or answered the questions raised in Medea. Perhaps he solved them in his very last play. It is unlikely and it is improbable that his contemporaries would have understood the solution. Suspiciously that last play is lost. Solutions have waited for two and a half millennia and sketches for them have been scrawled in the human blood spilt in that time. The problem is now the cause of our society’s and our drama’s chaos. Fundamentally it has to do with the relation between consciousness and nature, society and technology. All comedy is potentially tragic – think of the banana skin. Comedy is resolved in laughter — if you cry in relief it is over some hidden loss. Comedy thrives on repetition, every tragedy is unique. Comedy can be turned into tragedy, tragedy can’t be turned into comedy. When authority or terror tries to, as in public executions, it is a training in evil.

These are the reasons why Euripides when aged returned to the problem of Medea. She had already murdered her brother and then in the play she murders her two young sons and tortures to death her husband’s new bride. The sun God has lent his chariot to Medea and she flies in it to Athens, where the play is being performed. This is not pre-Christian forgiveness. Is it a criticism of Jason’s politics? Or condemning Medea to suffer a lifetime of remorse? – hardly, because later she murders again. Euripides seems to have sensed some meaning or movement on the horizon of neonate reality. “Sensed” because it still exceeded the structure of the society the neonate will grow into. The aged playwright sought creative peace, a resolution that ideology can’t fake. He failed.

Euripides returned to the Medea problem in The Bacchae. Argave’s son Pentheus has political power that Jason would have wanted. Argave and the Bacchantes run wild on the mountain. Argave spots Pentheus (dressed as a woman) spying on her from a treetop. The tree sways in the way of a cradle. She murders him, cuts off his head and runs with it as if it was a religious trophy. Here the text is lost – accidentally? Medea knew she was murdering her sons, Argave didn’t know she was murdering her son. She thought she sacrificed an animal. Her religious frenzy was inspired by Dionysus, a new God from the east. He would be publically worshipped, as if the problem could be buried in bureaucratic faith. Dionysus caused Argave to murder her son — but he punishes her. Why? She is sent into exile and Cadmus her father turned into a snake, a reversal to evolution. It is the moral chaos of the Gods.

In Euripides’ Electra Agamemnon has killed his daughter Iphigenia. It was a strategic move. A Goddess demanded her death. It freed Agamemnon to destroy Troy. He returns home to Mycenae. While he was away at war his wife Clytemnestra had married again. She murders Agamemnon to avenge his murder of Iphigenia, her daughter.. When Orestes was a child his sister Electra had sent him away to safety – perhaps in part to prevent his being murdered to avenge the murder of Iphigenia. Orestes returns as an adult. Apollo has ordered him to kill his mother to avenge her murder of his father. Orestes asks his half-brother Pylades if he should kill her. Pylades says he must obey God or society would fall in chaos. He says its better that all men should be your enemy than to make an enemy of God. Orestes kills his mother. Immediately he collapses in panic and despair. The God Castor punishes Orestes with exile. Orestes ask why he is punished for obeying God’s order? Castor says Apollo made a mistake — but keep it quiet (this in front of the audience).This Is sacred diplomacy. Society is based on the reality of the neonate’s moral imperative to be human. But society imposes morality on the self in the form of its own laws. But society is unjust and, as such, its laws are unjust. It is as if each of two parallel train lines sent the train in opposite directions. That is chaos. Or does human creativity harbour evolution in itself so that creativity is corrupt, an accident with a purpose? That would be nihilistic — a version of Freud’s death instinct. This is the problem of drama and the reason why imagination is normative reality.

Earlier Aeschylus wrote a version of the Oresteia. In it Orestes kills his mother and immediately goes mad. Demons chase him. He flees to Athens. Twenty years before Aeschylus wrote the play Athens founded its first urban democratic institution. In the play Orestes flees to Athens. He asks Athene to pardon him. She does, with a casting vote. The demons are outraged. To placate them Athene founds a new law court on the Acropolis. The demons will be its permanent guardians. The Goddess kicks the can down the road. Societies are not for long – if at all – the just places Athene imagines, and anyway Athens itself will soon be ruined. Its as if the neonatal horizon becomes the grubby wall of a town house that the Gods have scrawled with slogans and graffiti.

Tragic drama has survived in chaos. It has not answered its moral questions, they are the basic questions of the human neonate monad. The human species isn’t burdened with animal-recidivism or a death instinct. Our problem is social and political. Politics itself can’t create a just society, there has to be a source of morality outside societies administrative structures. Only two are conceivable, or even nameable: one is a supernatural world outside this world, the other is the monad reality of the neonate human that marks us off from all other beings. The last Greek play was written by Christianity. Audience became congregation, it did not have to create but believe. Christianity said the events of its play, the Christian story, were not fiction but real. As God and Heaven are real, hell must be real. It was a practical administrative requirement of the state, and the church reflected it in its ideology. Rome – state and church – turned the Athenian Theatre of Dionysus into the Roman arena, the theatre of torture and death. This was possible and eventually inevitable because when imagination is denied moral responsibility then reason becomes intolerant and destructive, and if we were still in evolution we would have been destroyed. Human imagination combines reason and reality (the structure of nature) into humanness. Together reason and reality create a human logic that material reality tests. The danger is that ideology may turn the logic into madness. In this way the boundary between imagination and reality was breached. All this is astonishing but simple. The profound consequences affect all parts of our life, how we understand and live, even the basics of cause and effect. One simple instance is Euripides journey from optimism to despair. Our situation worsens because, as I shall explain, we have now ceased to create humanness.

The neonate is the origin of humanness. Consciousness creates it by combining itself with nature and technology. History is the record of this union. A plough or spear or gun combine technology and art. A specific art-work is also, in addition, directly about the maker. Neither could be without the other. This is true of drama. The relation to natural-nature and our manmade technology is both utilitarian and cultural. Medea Argave Clytemnestra Orestes, each kills with a weapon. That “image” is a vignette, but it is as basic as the “human dot” that contains the universe. We teach our consciousness to be us. All societies are unjust – that is in the nature of things. Leibnitz mistakenly made God an exception, an authority outside the neonate cosmos. To an extent the state can, under pressure of the struggle to survive, reformulate the neonate’s morality and distort its effect. But the human imperative remains in the self, even macabrely in the distortions. That imperative is not a force. The state requires force to organise the recalcitrance it creates by its injustice. The force may corrupt. The calamity is that the state can incorporate corruption into ideology and practice as morality. Societies can’t long survive in this way. There are physical rewards and punishments but the extremes are heaven and hell. The self must find itself in this chaos. Social morality is entangled in immorality. Hence the turmoil of corruption, crime, reaction, revenge and altruism. Such things exist in the Greek plays I’ve described. Immorality makes morality do its, immorality’s, work. History is destructive but in tragedy we have, as the creative species, clung adequately enough to humanness. Technical-technology doesn’t make us human, we are human because we make nature our technology. Our constant practice and observation give us reason and science. But science produces weapons and reasoning may be mad. We may combine things creatively but the essential creation is the self. Creativity “stabilizes” consciousness and may even balance some illusions. All this is the substance of formal drama. Without it we could not be human or protect civilization. Now we are in crisis because we have ceased to be creative and instead have reverted to evolution. The consequence is absolute. We have ceased to create humanness.

Society is now not creative but evolutionary. Manmade technology has exploded as a revolution in evolution, as an age of new natural monsters. It is as if humanness is being turned into its own technology. In the Wealth (not Well-being) of Nations Adam Smith taught that if each pursues their own self-interest all will benefit: as a consequence, morality is supposed to follow in the way that in a train crash the teacup is filled exactly to its rim. That is simple and untrue. Knowing it is untrue makes us moral. Morality combines imagination and reason. Adam Smith used the account of the factory manufacture of pins to explain the eventual relation of specialisation to exchange and profit. He might have used the manufacture of nails. Nails are used to build houses and to crucify. Neither manufacture specialisation nor building house abolishes crucifixion. Adam Smith sees industrialised capitalism as the means to increased well-being. Even that is not true, but in any case well-being is not humanness. That is why the last century – the capitalist century – was the bloodiest and most destructive in history. The consequence of the system is not what the theory claims – and even worse, the system creates its own pathogens: crises, catastrophes, necessary poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Capitalism is not creative but, like evolution, inventive. In the span of history Capitalism is still in its infancy but already it destroys the world, the environment on which evolution works. The situation escapes notice only because it is so obvious. For the present, society retains a semblance of morality by living off the moral reserve (culture, customs, institutions) accumulated in history. It exhausts that reserve just as it does the natural reserve of raw materials. Worse, capitalism has systematically ceased to create humanness. Morality cannot be replaced or restored by anything other than morality – that is a law of reality. Why is this so? Why can’t we replace humanness?

The reason seems fragile compared to the power of modern society and modern technology. It is in the nature of drama: comedy may become tragedy but tragedy cannot become comedy. But surely technology can be used to repair the damage technology causes? That could ensure only well-being but not humanness. Just as only morality can create morality, so only humanness can create humanness. “Technology-know-how” has long since out-run humanness in its race to reach self-understanding and the conditions of civilization. It follows that society, humans, will use technology abusively — a form of cultural self-harm. The relation between technology (and nature) and humanness is fragile. Technology must be mediated by conscious humanness embodied in culture. But Capitalism is a form of technological evolution. The Capitalist economy machine must be let free to function as a machine. Then it maximises the machine’s product – eventually profit and its investment. So Capitalists will not restrain or guide the machine, machines must forge their own destiny. Capitalism talks of well-being but the Capitalist machine subordinates its users to its own well-being, “well-functioning.” Capitalist economy is the perfect Faustian trap. It is healthy only when it is sick. It is a “thing” and subject to the logic of things. And the logic of things is evolution. It is also the logic of entropy and death. Don’t confuse the economy with the user. For humanness to be creative there must be tragic drama. It is the only means human beings have of resolving the paradoxes and contradictions of their being. But surely authority would at least be canny enough to take over the theatre of drama? – just as in history religion was active and even dominant in amoral times and able to consort with force. But religion is a covert form of drama. It could claim to be politically powerless (“my kingdom is not of this world”) but paradoxically in unjust society this gave it great political power, power without responsibility – the wish of every dictator. Christianity in itself is not a technology (it is too close to story to be that). Capitalist economy is a technology. Its early factories were called hell. If it could Its necessarily ruthless dynamic would set-up shop in hell. A technology is in evolution, it must seize whatever is at hand. The market’s customers are its raw material to be always recycled. Evolution combines ingestion and excretion in a continuous cycle. Inevitably the Capitalist market takes over tragic drama and reduces it to entertainment, sport, TV, film, spectacle, gambling . . . The great creative age of Greek drama lasted some a hundred years from its foundation to Euripides’ death. Capitalist theatre, film, TV, Broadway, West End, with all its outlets, has not produced one work that even begins to compare with the creative power and moral intensity of the drama of the small city of Athens.

Plays for the market must be sentimental, comic, horror, adventure, domestic-epic, medical. Cops and crime replace justice. Who dunnit, not what is it. In Greek drama morality may at the same time be immorality. This is because in unjust society law – even good law – must work in unjustly.. This is true in the Greek plays I have described. The Greek question is what is justice? Capitalism must violently reject this question because Capitalism is itself unjust. It follows that Capitalist politics must slide towards reaction and in crisis or opportunity to something worse.

The relation between politics and drama is decisive. Until our present crisis politicians and political institutions, and tragic drama, have both deal with the same profound problems of the human tragedy. But now politicians are themselves products of the market. The consequence is inevitable, they cannot deal with the problems of drama or politics – so they become comics, clowns. In the USA Trump and his cabinet, in the UK Johnson, Farage, Gogh, May, and so on in much of Europe. It is the cause of the slide towards racism and reaction that after the last century seemed impossible. I have stressed the connection between tragic drama and politics because the connection is the core of tragic drama. If we cant recreate tragic drama politics will become farce. It happened when society became chaotic and the stage of Dionysus became the Roman Coliseum and Its entertainments. Evolution could not give us the biology or neurology to stop ourselves sliding into this trap. We were saved by our creativity. But in Capitalism, Capitalism is the problem – human beings become the instruments of technology. We will remember we were once human but not know what humanness is. Society collapses. How do political clowns cope with the collapse? They become extremists. Evolution replaces creativity, and evolution is mechanical. When farce deals with the tragic the punch-line is death. On the edge of cities and in waste places death camps will be founded. Of course I know that is impossible. Humanly impossible. But read on. The impossible has already happened. Hitler’s death camps were industrial murder factories lethally supplied and equipped by the Capitalist market. Human parameters shift and change and when we revert to evolution we find that nature has no scruples.

I told a drama group that nuclear bombs would be exploded. They shook their heads, they were incredulous, some were angry, some tittered. I said in war they have been exploded twice.

A summary. The Capitalist economy has become evolution. Evolution works through accidents. Accidents cause change but not humanness. Capitalist economy is a self-sustaining accident. It reverses the natural evolutionary relation and seeks to turn the terrain and the beings on it into one. Humanness is maintained only by the direct assertion of humanness, of neonatal-monad morality. Now the whole of society reverts to evolution. It falls apart. Politicians cannot cope with the crisis because they are synonymous with the cause of the crisis. They become comics. Evolution’s basic dynamic is aggression and violence. When politics become reactionary they are violent. Finally they are nihilistic. That is fascism. Hitler didn’t pursue victory but destruction.


Medea is the site of our problem. It involves the relations of individual, family and society. The work needed will be large and radical. The important point is that Medea, Argave, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Orestes will no longer be victims of their gods or we of politics. There will be another reality. Medea will understand her own problem.

My play Dea – Medea with the Me removed – starts when Dea kills her two infant sons. Johnson her husband loved them. He finds their bodies. Seconds later he forgets them. He reverts to a war. He is running over the faces of dead children in a trench. Then he returns to the present. This sets up the structure of the whole play. No critic noticed it.. The structure didnt trouble the actors. In rehearsal they had found the neonate reality (the triple-brain). Holding the bodies of his sons Johnson asks Dea why she killed them. She says because you wanted me to. In rage he rapes her. She is put in a madhouse. Years later it is bombed. She returns to the murder house. Johnson rapes her again. She kills him. Her son is a twin born from the first rape. Dea commits incest with him when he is in a comatose sleep. He wakes. He accuses her of incest. She would be put back in a mad house. She tells him he murdered her husband, his father. The son accuses her. Holding up his trousers he says: You killed him. Then you did this. You put your son in your mouth. After you killed my father. You killed my brothers and –

In fury she tells him.

Yes yes the garbage life throws under our feet! Say it! And then you’re let off—out of it—free – no guilt. You know everything? You know nothing! You take everything from me! All of you! You murder me every day! I live my suffering every day! There must be some peace for me somewhere! Something holy! Pure! Human! Some joy! You thought I was a tart you brought up from the street? Liar! You knew I was your mother and you came in my mouth! (She rolls the spit in her mouth. Spits it at him) Believe what Ive told you. There will be more.

She kills him.

(The triple brain. The first brain is the audience’s. The second the actor’s. The third is not the play but the stage. Greek society created the stage as the site of the neonate brain, to enact on it the human imperative. All humans are born in that site. In tragic drama the three brains become one and acting becomes enactment.).

Euripides ends Medea with the Chorus Leader’s equanimity.

Zeus on Olympus has many things in his treasure store house and the gods accomplish many things against our expectations. What men look for is not brought to pass but a god finds a way to achieve the unexpected. Such is the outcome of this story.

The last act of Dea is in a waste dump. The second twin son was an army officer. His severed head orders a soldier to shoot Dea. The soldier tries. He only wounds her, He must obey the order. He begs Dea to help him kill her. Dea says No let me live a little longer – breathe for you. All that time you won’t have killed me. My death wont be on your hands. I know that little time. It lasts forever. Full of peace. Till it ends. Then you suffer. We carry death inside us.

The soldier leaves. Dea is alone. She says They cant go on. People cant. No more. She dies.

Two pictures. The Mona Lisa. Inscrutable , calm as The Chorus Leader. Picasso’s Weeping Woman in a Red Hat. Face smashed smithereens of many faces. She looks away at the sufferings of war .At the same time she looks directly at the spectator.

But now we must be realistic to show hidden normality.

We must create a new tragic drama.

(Edward Bond (from Edward Bond Dramatist)

How do you view those problems impacting our contemporary world and indeed its possible future?

They are essentially the problems of Oedipus and Orestes. Oedipus is the problem of the self and Orestes (and Antigone) is the problem of the relationship to authority and the community. Of course, both of these problems overlap but that is the basic conflict. However, they couldn’t put the two together. The reason that they couldn’t put the two together is that then they would have to start to ask the very fundamental questions about their own democracy. As they couldn’t deal with these problems, I think they stood in the way of the development of theatre. They couldn’t bring these two questions or issues together so that eventually they stopped writing plays. Greek theatre ends its radical phase with the death of Euripides and it was Euripides who had pushed these two questions very, very far. What I realized … was that I would have to try and put the problems of Orestes and Oedipus together. That is absolutely the expression of the problems we face.

We have technological problems-the machines we make are too powerful for us. Instead of, as they did in the past, enabling us to improve our relationship with nature, they now damage our relationship to nature. And so whereas tools were the makers of humanness now tools are becoming anti-human. We have to work out what the relationship of the individual to the community is. What is our relationship as individuals to State authority? How do human beings create themselves? I don’t think that we are the products of genetic determinism. I think if that were so, we would no longer be in history but in nature. We’d be in evolution. The only way that we can create humanness is not by saying I’ve got a machine that enables me to till the earth: a plough. I’ve got a machine that enables me to go the Moon. In itself these things do not create humanness, they create new problems for humanness. The only way that you can create humanness is by dramatizing the self. We should be dramatizing the conflicts within the self and what art and drama should be doing is increasing human self-consciousness. That’s not an abstract matter. Once you engage in that process you have to start asking, why am I committed to humanness? I can’t say, oh, I can’t decide whether or not to be human, I’ll sort that out tomorrow, in the sense that one might say: I don’t know whether I like classical music or not, I’ll try listening to some tomorrow. If you are a human being, you are committed to it; there is an imperative to being human.

Could you develop this concept of the “human imperative” further?

You cannot simply ignore that imperative. It’s not of course human solely in terms of: I’ve got to have clothes to wear, I’ve got to have sex. Because some people are prepared to give those things up for causes that they believe deeply in. In the human, therefore, there is an intellectual dimension. It’s not just about the emotional or the physical; the mind has an intellectual imperative to be human. It does this because of what is already in the neonate, the newborn child. It isn’t a matter of some human essence but rather of the situation-its site, and I think in modern drama site plays the role of what character did in, for example, Ibsen. The neonate seeks to be at one with the world, at home in the world, which is its site. The cause of this is biological, but the effect is what I call an “intellection,” an imaginative-rational process. The ultimate effect of this is that later the post-neonatal, the child and eventually the adult in society seek justice. This is the origin of all drama. But justice is highly paradoxical. We live in unjust societies and so ultimately laws are historically “justified” but morally unjust. The law has a judge but justice has no judge. Instead it has drama, because justice is created in the site where the self touches society.

I call this the “Hamlet question”: that all creativity is poised on what I call the “Hamlet-colon.” This problem is furthermore very clearly posed by Nietzsche when he kills God and this gave him a problem: I’ve no longer got God to tell me what to do and make me do it. I no longer believe that God creates me but that I create myself, and this leads to modernist aesthetics and modern thought. What Nietzsche says in the conclusion to his Ecce Homo (his autobiography) is: “Have I been understood? I am Dionysus against the Crucified One.” What he is saying of course is not only about himself but also poses the question: what are human beings? Having arrived at the crisis of the nineteenth century and the crisis of the Enlightenment, he then says: is it this or is it that? Am I Christ or am I Dionysus? What are human beings? That of course is really the “Hamlet-problem.” Hamlet asks “To be or not to be?” Then you say, to be what? Just to say will I face the problem or will I not face the problem or can I erase the problem by killing myself? Hamlet goes around looking for accidents to save him from having to make decisions because the decisions are so momentous. What he’s saying is that on one side of the colon I am the regicide who kills the King and I know who I am and I know what I do, I act. Or on the other, I do not know who I am; I think and contemplate between Dionysus and Christ.

This is something I think that Nietzsche probably gets from Hegel because Hegel has this idea of the “unhappy consciousnesses.” Consequently, for example, I am a member of the universe. I can understand the universe. I am ontological in that way, but I am also this miserable worm that is absolutely nothing. Which is your identity? Nietzsche says I am Dionysus, the Beast, and the Superman. Why did Nietzsche then go mad? Well, it was because he saw a horse being viciously mistreated in Milan and he couldn’t bear that, he broke down. Now, the devotees of Dionysus were encouraged by him to pull living animals to bits. So Nietzsche is lying. Nietzsche does not know whether he wants to be Dionysus or Christ. The only thing that he can be certain of is that he doesn’t want to be Parsifal. Parsifal is a necrophile pretending to be interested in the light. It’s a form of spiritualization of existence and that’s a cop out. That was why Nietzsche quarreled so much with Wagner; initially he’d thought that Wagner was going to be the modern equivalent of Greek drama.

Is it possible to reiterate the nature of the central problem that faces us as human beings at the start of the twenty-first century?

The central problem remains: Do I understand what I am doing and if I can understand what I’m doing, how the hell can I do it? (Returning to the Hamlet-colon) I can see the consequences of what I will do, or do I act and don’t take cognizance of the consequences of my action which I cannot control? You could toss a coin, except, as I said, there is intellectualization in the human mind which involves a value and the value is justice and that is ontological and that makes it much more difficult. As a human being what I have to do is to enact and enunciate justice, and that really is the colon, you see? Creativity is poised on that problem: how can I

perform justice and that of course is what the theatre is about. That takes different historical forms. Different communities, societies, and cultures work out a modus vivendi: not just how to live, but how to live with themselves. Drama comes to a crisis it cannot solve without destabilizing society instead of freeing it from ideological rigidities. For instance, Greek drama couldn’t deal with slavery as an institution, not the domestic slavery of women in The Trojan Women. Philosophy has to replace drama at these crises. Aristotle can say slaves should be grateful cattle; a dramatist can’t say this, can’t stage such slaves-their misery would have to be made comic. In fact, Greek philosophers couldn’t resolve this problem either. Instead religion took it over. Religion banishes drama anyway because it wishes to reify it and monopolize it. Then religion breaks down in the Renaissance because the Reformation questions religious authority, and inevitably it seems that we need drama again to look at this problem because people no longer have an authoritative statement from philosophy. Descartes who is a contemporary of Shakespeare is saying exactly what Shakespeare is saying, but Shakespeare is much more radical. Drama has to be more radical because it is an act. Descartes can sit in front of the fire and say, “I think and therefore I am.”

So you have to re-dramatize and recreate human consciousness, recreate humanness: this is what Shakespeare is about. Then he can hand over to the Enlightenment and philosophy can take over again and start speculating about this problem because drama can’t take it any further at that time. Philosophy takes over can follow this pattern through to the end of the nineteenth century, with like Strindberg and Ibsen. They try to keep these two problems alive for us. It’s like Ibsen says, I want to think about this in a very rational way; I want to think about this in a very rational way; I want to exclude the irrational-although he regrets this decision later on. It’s very interesting. He begins by saying how do we bring water to the community but in the water but in the later plays water becomes very dangerous – it’s what you’re drowned in. Meanwhile Strindberg says, well this isn’t really telling us what we need to know, its not dealing with the problem of Orestes and Oedipus. I call this the “Problem number 5” – it’s a bit mischievous of me – yet scene five in Born is very critical in relation to this. Strindberg says I’m going to write the Dreamplays; he split the problem into two manageable sections but the colon is no longer there, it’s no longer active. It becomes a barrier, no longer a confrontation. This will not work.

How does your understanding of Marx and his political philosophy, and its significance in terms of twentieth-century history, contribute to this critical dilemma?

The limitation of Marxism in the Victorian period was that it offered a mechanical interpretation of human nature. Marx turns Hegel upside down and says it’s actually to do with material reality and not the spirit because what Hegel will finally do is to reconcile the dichotomy – the Hamlet-colon – by saying that the “World Spirit” will take care of this and resolve this for us. We are just these functions for the world spirit. Marx is absolutely true in saying that history is a product of our material relationship to the universe but I also think that imagination is material and I think it’s false to make that distinction or division. It’s just an ideological contrivance. Marx is right about this but he doesn’t sufficiently explain how this happens and that’s why we get Stalin on one side of the colon and the Gulag on the other, because the problem has not been faced.

Human beings are not given the stages, the spaces, and the drama in which they can create a new form of humanness. One can talk about the culture of socialist man but I’m not talking about culture, I’m talking about humanness. Culture will sustain itself but humanness must be re-created. … How did one resolve the challenge of the Hamlet-colon? If we can’t do that, then we can’t remain as human beings because this problem is not a genetic inheritance but is rather an effort of will and understanding and of submitting yourself to dramatic processes. That then takes you not necessarily to the problems of the contemporary world because people used to talk about geo-political problems but they’re now chrono-political problems. This is because in the present it seems that the clock has not only two hands but six, seven, or eight – different parts of the world are living in different times. I said some years ago now that if a medieval Pope had the atom bomb, he would be obliged to use it. That would be his religious duty. He would have to use it so that the Infidels could be killed and sent off to Hell. Our problem now is a political and administrative problem in that history has fallen out of sync with itself and this creates very, very dangerous practical problems.

Those are slightly different from the problems of reconciling Oedipus and Orestes. That’s necessary because if you don’t do that, you cannot have a being in a new and changing world. So one is faced with trying to write a play that is going to integrate all cultures into this problem set by the Greeks. It is not a practical possibility but it is absolutely necessary for human beings that they understand themselves. This is very dangerous and this is what I am always looking to point out in my writing, which is that there is no guarantee that we will remain in history. We may return to evolution and what evolution then becomes is the way that machines administer human beings. In conclusion, what I am trying to do … is actually to enact what it means to be a human being.

(from “Drama and the Human: Reflections at the Start of a Millennium: Edward Bond in conversation with Peter Billingham”,  PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Sep., 2007), pp. 1-14)

Edward Bond: ‘I want to set light to people’s souls’ – video interview (The Guardian, 28/02/2012)

An extract (from a series available on YouTube) from a talk by Edward Bond in the Maria Casarès hall of the Théâtre National de la Colline on the occasion of the creation of the Crime of the 21st Century by Alain Françon (2009).

For further reading:

Edward Bond: ‘If you’re going to despair, stop writing’ – Interview with Michael Billington, The Gaurdian, 03/01/2008.

“Edward Bond, blazingly original British playwright, dies aged 89”, Claire Armistead, The Guardian, 05/03/2024,

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