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John Arden Biography

(1930– ), Live Like Pigs, Serjeant Musgrave's Dance, The Happy Haven, The Workhouse Donkey

plays regarded yorkshire

British playwright, born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, educated at Cambridge University and the Edinburgh College of Art; he briefly practised as an architect. His principal plays are Live Like Pigs (1958), about conflict between the ‘deserving’ and ‘underserving’ classes on a housing estate; Serjeant Musgrave's Dance (1959); The Happy Haven (1960), in which a group of old people rebel against their patronizing doctor; The Workhouse Donkey (1963), about a puritan police chief attempting to bring order to a corrupt Yorkshire town; Armstrong's Last Goodnight (1964), which some critics view as Arden's best play; Left-Handed Liberty (1965), his portrait of King John and what he regards as the failure of Magna Carta; and the sprawling Arthurian epic Island of the Mighty (1972), written in conjunction with his wife, Margaretta D'Arcy. The Hero Rises Up (1968), about Nelson and Lady Hamilton, The Ballygombeen Bequest (1972), about Irish absentee landlordism, and other works are the fruit of the same collaboration. The theme of Arden's earlier work is the difficulty of coercing, constraining, or otherwise controlling the unruly human animal; at best it combines exuberance and colour with intellectual complexity and a refusal to countenance rigid moral absolutes. In the 1970s, however, Arden revised his dramatic beliefs, a process discernible in two radio plays, the autobiographical The Bagman (1970) and Pearl (1978), about a dramatist trying to forge links between anti-royalist factions in the seventeenth century. What he regarded as widespread social injustice decided him to write committed, polemic plays rather than the intellectually balanced ones for which he had become highly regarded. His first novel, Silence Among the Weapons (1982), was followed by several others, including Jack Juggler and the Emperor's Whore (1995).

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