Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Les Wade


This dissertation examines the subject of political and social power in the plays and prose of John Arden and selected works co-authored by Arden and his wife, Margaretta D'Arcy. Particular focus is given to the institution of Christianity and how it may either be used as a tool for the maintenance of established authority or as a vehicle for rebellion. Arden's collected essays, along with a personal interview conducted in August of 1990, provide the starting point for a discussion of four specific works, pieces in which Arden most closely explores the political involvement of Christianity. These four works, The Business of Good Government (1963 by Arden and D'Arcy), The Island of the Mighty (1973 by Arden and D'Arcy), Whose is the Kingdom? (1973 by Arden and D'Arcy), and The Books of Bale (1988 by Arden), serve as the bases of this study's individual chapters and are examined chronologically to reveal how Arden's theory of history and social power has developed over the course of his literary career. John Arden has used Christian communities and their myths to explain a three-sided power struggle which he believes recurs throughout the history of Western society. Arden identifies different forces vying for power: established authorities, rebellious anti-authoritarian forces, and the victimized, indigenous underclasses. This historical model first appears in Serjeant Musgrave's Dance (1960), develops throughout Arden's partnership with Margaretta D'Arcy, and finally receives its fullest and most detailed expression in the historical novel, The Books of Bale. Throughout his career, Arden has attempted to balance his urge to criticize and censure the social process with his genuine faith in mankind's redemptive and creative potential--a paradox that has led many critics to find his work difficult to categorize. In sum, Arden's artistic development is marked by a nagging social conscience, one that severely indicts the institution of Western civilization. Nonetheless, Arden's stridency is ultimately checked by a deep-rooted optimism in the perseverance and indomitable nature of the common man.