Red Noses

Barnes, Peter

Primary Category: Literature / Plays
Secondary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: May-02-2006


France, 1348: the Black Death rages and the playwright takes his reader into the midst of the cynicism, racism, panic, and religious fervor that characterize human response to catastrophic events that they don’t fully understand. The characters are caricatures of social types whose actions were apparent during the medieval plagues: religious figures, flagellants, grave robbers, well-poisoners, finger-pointers. The message sent by the words and actions of these characters is a satire on human behavior--the best and the worst as they are wont to surface during an epidemic. Many of the lines are very funny, but the humor is dark.


The script for this play was available in 1978, but no one was interested in producing it because, presumably, of its lack of timeliness for a 20th century audience. Then AIDS surfaced as a significant problem, and this play about society beset with a "plague" became suddenly eminently translatable into the 1980s. It is a very useful study of predictable human nature,featuring, among others scapegoating, running and hiding, using religion as an excuse to abuse one’s fellow man, and taking desperate measures for self-protection.


Faber & Faber

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Secondary Source