Violence : Best Reaction to Violence ?

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Edward Bond’s Plays 2

Violence : Best Reaction to Violence ?


        Throughout Bond’s plays there is an analysis, sometimes implicit, of the nature of violence, its causes and its consequences. Each of the plays takes the analysis a step further. I have chosen to concentrate on Lear because it is one of  the most representative pieces of work about violence in our society. In this play Bond’s humanistic philosophy is clear : “aggression is an ability but not a necessity”. He condemns our society which uses violence supposedly for the wellbeing of people, but without worrying  about the disastrous consequences. In this paper, I shall argue that violence is not the best reaction to aggression. And I shall describe its causes and its consequences throughout Lear; though giving some examples from The Sea and Narrow Road to the Deep North to demonstrate all the facets of this aggressivity. 

        The violence that Bond condemns is not violence in general but specifically social injustice and war. It is present from the very beginning of the play in the summary execution of a worker accused of sabotage. This already sets the tragic mood of the play. One of the great debates of Lear is the question: “do the ends justify the means?” This is one of the big problems of our society. The play mainly shows that the nature and interaction of social and personal circumstances are the leading element of any action. Indeed, people have good intentions but their means to achieve them are often based on violence and thus lead to war.

        In Lear the symbol of this violence is the construction of the wall. In fact, Lear  claims that what he is doing is good and correct. Lear’s actions are those of a man utterly convinced of his own rightness. And therefore he justifies his cruelty by saying that killing a worker is only a useful act in order to give his people freedom and security. Here, ends justify means: the execution of a worker is useful because it will speed the work up on the wall. Indeed, “otherwise [his] visit’s wasted”(I.i.18). However, his justification is paradoxical because with the construction of this wall, he is doing exactly the opposite, i.e. instead of making people free, he is imprisoning them. So Bond wants to demonstrate that recourse to violence as the means to realize our ambitions has  tragic consequences  even though we act for the best, out of the best feeling.

        Moreover, Bond’s philosophy is often transcribed through Lear’s speeches: “It is perverted to want your pleasure where it makes others suffer” (I.i.21). Here his daughters, marrying his enemies, have betrayed him. He is the victim of their ambitions. However, here he is once again contradictory because he is doing exactly the opposite of what he is saying. In other words, Lear by ordering a “drumhead trial” even though there won’t be any, is unjust. He makes the decisions and nobody can say anything. This problem of despotism will be treated later on the essay.

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        Bond speaking of “ends and means” is extremely contemporary. Nowadays, this problem still exists. People think that the only answer to an attack is to make war or throw bombs on the enemy even though we make it worse. For example, what president Bush is currently doing demonstrates it very well: his ambition, fighting terrorism, is very good but the means he uses, i.e. war, in other words violence, is the worst we can imagine. In conclusion, ends here don’t justify the means because it doesn’t solve anything but makes it worse: violence only engenders more violence.

        It must further ...

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