"I just die for some authority!": Barriers to Utopia in Howard Brenton's Greenland
Written and performed just after Margaret Thatcher’s third election victory in Britain in 1987, Howard Brenton’s final play in his utopian trilogy, Greenland, is a rare example of a playwright’s attempt to construct a utopian future on stage. The second Act of Greenland partially resembles classic utopian fiction, and this staging of an alternative way of being seemed to exasperate, irritate and disturb many commentators. The Act’s absence of conflict, lack of historicism, and the contentment of its inhabitants have been cited as reasons for its dismissal. This interpretation to some extent concurs with the character, Severan-Severan, whose view is that misery and suffering are essential to the human condition and that liberation is a living death.
However, this approach neglects a more complex engagement with utopia that is present in the play. Audiences – along with the non-utopian character, Joan – respond to Greenland in a way that can be illuminated by Frederic Jameson’s idea of the ‘terror of obliteration,’ an idea that considers our hostility to utopia to be based upon the inconceivability of altogether different notions of subjectivity available in utopia. A second obstruction to engaging utopia is considered to be related to genre. In Greenland’s resemblance to the sanctioned temporary festivities of green world comedy, it undermines genre expectations by removing temporal and ideological delimitations. This article discusses ways in which Greenland exposes psycho-political and genre-related barriers to utopia, barriers that frame the audience’s view of the play, and barriers that are additionally exposed and critiqued as part of the non-utopian condition.
""I just die for some authority!": Barriers to Utopia in Howard Brenton's Greenland,"
Comparative Drama: Vol. 46
, Article 3.
Available at: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/compdr/vol46/iss1/3