Authors: John Arden

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Author Works


All Fall Down, pr. 1955

The Waters of Babylon, pr. 1957

Live Like Pigs, pr. 1958

When Is a Door Not a Door?, pr. 1958

Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance: An Unhistorical Parable, pr. 1959

The Business of Good Government, pr. 1960 (with Margaretta D’Arcy)

The Happy Haven, pr. 1960

Ironhand, pr. 1963 (adaptation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen)

The Workhouse Donkey, pr. 1963

Armstrong’s Last Goodnight: An Exercise in Diplomacy, pr. 1964

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis, pr. 1964 (with D’Arcy)

Fidelio, pr. 1965 (adaptation of libretto of Ludwig van Beethoven’s opera)

Left-Handed Liberty, pr., pb. 1965

Friday’s Hiding, pr. 1966 (with D’Arcy)

The Royal Pardon, pr. 1966 (with D’Arcy)

The Vietnam War-Game, pr. 1967 (with D’Arcy)

Harold Muggins Is a Martyr, pr. 1968 (with Cartoon Archetypal Slogan Theater and D’Arcy)

The Hero Rises Up, pr. 1968 (with D’Arcy)

The Soldier’s Tale, pr. 1968 (adaptation of libretto by Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz; music by Igor Stravinsky)

The True History of Squire Jonathan and His Unfortunate Treasure, pr. 1968

The Ballygombeen Bequest, pr., pb. 1972 (with D’Arcy)

The Island of the Mighty, pr. 1972 (trilogy; with D’Arcy)

Henry Dubb Show, pr. 1973 (with D’Arcy)

Portrait of a Rebel, pr. 1973 (with D’Arcy)

The Non-Stop Connolly Show, pr. 1975 (6 parts; with D’Arcy)

The Little Gray Home in the West, pr. 1978 (with D’Arcy; revision of The Ballygombeen Bequest)

Vandaleur’s Folly: An Anglo-Irish Melodrama, pr. 1978 (with D’Arcy)

Fire Plays, pb. 1991 (with D’Arcy)

Arden and D’Arcy Plays, pb. 1991

Plays: One, 1994

Plays: Two, 1994

Long Fiction:

Silence Among the Weapons, 1982 (also known as Vox Pop: Last Days of the Roman Republic, 1983)

Books of Bale, 1988

Short Fiction:

Cogs Tyrannic, 1991

Jack Juggler and the Emperor’s Whore, 1995


Soldier, Soldier, 1960

Wet Fish, 1961

Radio Plays:

The Life of Man, 1956

The Dying Cowboy, 1961

The Bagman, 1970

Keep Those People Moving, 1972 (with Margaretta D’Arcy)

Pearl, 1978

To Put It Frankly . . . , 1979

Don Quixote, 1980 (2 parts)

Garland for a Hoar Head, 1982

The Old Man Sleeps Alone, 1982

Whose Is the Kingdom?, 1982 (9 parts; with D’Arcy)


To Present the Pretence, 1977

Awkward Corners, 1988 (with Margaretta D’Arcy)


John Arden was part of a major theatrical movement of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s which addressed large political and social issues from the world stage. Along with his colleagues from Great Britain’s “fringe” theater, such as Harold Pinter, John Osborne, and Arnold Wesker, Arden reestablished the stage as a forum for collective cultural debates among members of the audience and theater practitioners. Born in a middle-class section of Yorkshire and educated in a private boarding school during World War II, Arden did not share the immediate working-class background of other playwrights of the so-called New Wave. His University of Cambridge education in architecture, together with his love of history and classical literature, gives his work a structure and texture more refined than the rough-cut language and settings of Pinter, Wesker, or Henry Livings. He was no less dedicated to the pacifist ideals of young postwar England, however, from having come to them through intellectual deliberation rather than childhood deprivation, and his most famous work, Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, still stands today as the most powerful antiwar play from the period.{$I[AN]9810001412}{$I[A]Arden, John}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Arden, John}{$I[tim]1930;Arden, John}

Arden’s career took an odd shape, partly because of his (and London’s) indifference to the financial successes by which plays are so often judged and partly because Arden himself divided his attention, first advocating social reform, then criticizing the exploitation of socialism by the working class (his three “socialism” plays, published in the 1960’s but produced before Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, are ambivalent in their viewpoint). At the same time, Arden sees the danger to the artist in a socialist state, where conformity is valued above individual freedom of expression.

After a decade of writing realistic plays, Arden began to explore the stage possibilities of the artificiality built into the theatrical language. His work became much more stylized; it is significant that his work is discussed in volumes on modern drama focusing on realism and on expressionism. Without reverting entirely to verse, Arden makes use of an enriched language not only to evoke the sense of historicity but also to enlarge the human dimensions of his characters, two features of his plays that separate him from his peers and add a universality to his message. For example, the trilogy based on the Arthurian legends, The Island of the Mighty, which he wrote with his wife, Margaretta D’Arcy, is set in medieval times but speaks directly to the question of the relationship between art and power in any society. Among the adaptations on which he and his wife have collaborated are reworkings of an early Renaissance satire and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen (pb. 1773). This kind of intellectual exercise is outside the dramatic interests of the other British playwrights who constituted the New Wave of drama emerging from the fringe theater of London in the early 1960’s. A further demonstration of this was his absorption in his work with Irish theater between 1972 and 1982, especially with the Galway Theatre Workshop.

Overintellectual and overstructured in his approach and lacking the creative dramatic voice of his contemporaries, Arden will always be difficult to classify. Even his “poetry” in such middle works as Armstrong’s Last Goodnight is countered by a more propagandistic style in later works, especially The Non-Stop Connolly Show, a six-part extravaganza produced in 1975 and published in five volumes from 1977 to 1978. His work is performed more often on college campuses than in commercial venues, another clue to the complexity and nonconformist artistic vision of Arden’s work. Added to his already confused aesthetic profile is the combative relationship he maintained with the press. His future importance in the study of modern English drama and in theater in general lies in the fascination this same complexity and range of imagination provokes in scholars and readers.

BibliographyAnderson, Michael. Anger and Detachment: A Study of Arden, Osborne, and Pinter. London: Pitman, 1976. Places Arden in a wider literary context, comparing him with John Osborne and Harold Pinter.Gray, Frances. John Arden. New York: Grove Press, 1983. The introduction points out the inherently noncommercial “manner” and “matter” of Arden’s structure, subject matter, and cast of characters, and it uses the theme as an organizational device for discussing Arden’s work. Brief bibliography and index.Hunt, Albert. Arden: A Study of His Plays. London: Eyre Methuen, 1974. A good source.Malick, Javed. Toward a Theater of the Oppressed: The Dramaturgy of John Arden. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. This study examines the plays of Arden, looking at the theory behind them and the way they were performed. Closely examines Island of the Mighty. Bibliography and index.Page, Malcolm. John Arden. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A concise biography of Arden that examines both his life and his work. Bibliography and index.Page, Malcolm, comp. Arden on File. London: Methuen, 1985. A compilation of facts on Arden’s productions (twenty-one plays described and annotated), themes, growth as a writer, and self-evaluation through the course of his career. Easy to use, full of names and dates, and the pith of reviews. Contains a chronology and a select bibliography.Shaughnessy, Robert. Three Socialist Plays: “Lear,” “Roots,” “Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance.” Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1992. Shaughnessy looks at the political thought expressed in Arden’s Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, Arnold Wesker’s Roots (pr., pb. 1959), and Edward Bond’s Lear (pr. 1971). Bibliography and index.Wike, Jonathan, ed. John Arden and Margaretta D’Arcy: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1995. This casebook looks at the works of Arden and his wife, D’Arcy. Bibliography and index.
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