1 minute read

Peter Barnes Biography

(1931–2004), The Ruling Class, Leonardo's Last Supper, Noonday Demons, The Bewitched

British dramatist, born in London, educated at Stroud Grammar School. He was a film critic, a film story editor, and a screenwriter before he turned his attention to the theatre. His first successful work was The Ruling Class (1968), a ‘baroque comedy’ satirizing a supposedly decadent and moribund British aristocracy in scathing terms. It was followed by other plays ambitious in terms of both style and content, several of them dealing sceptically and sardonically with political and religious subjects, many of them consciously indebted to the Jacobeans, particularly Ben Jonson, and most of them set in relatively remote periods and distant places. These include a double bill (1969) comprising Leonardo's Last Supper, a gothic comedy about the Renaissance painter, and Noonday Demons, about two wrangling fourth-century holy men; The Bewitched (1974), about the last of the Spanish Habsburgs and the era of the auto-da-fé; Laughter (1978), two linked plays, one about Ivan the Terrible, the other about Auschwitz, each attempting to explore the nature and limits of humour; Red Noses (1985), about a troupe of clowns wandering through mainland Europe during the Black Death; and Sunsets and Glories (1990), about the thirteenth-century hermit who became Pope Celestine V. Among his many adaptations are Wedekind's Lulu plays, and Jonson's The Devil Is an Ass and Bartholomew Fair. He has also written for television, in 1992 celebrating the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America with a characteristically harsh and cynical play, Goodbye Columbus.

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Houston A. Baker (Houston Alfred to Sally Beauman Biography