The Habit of Art
The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett dramatizes an imaginary meeting between Benjamin Britten and W. H. Auden, to fashion a play about two difficult men, the ethics of biography, growing old, creativity, and the habit of art.
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Auden often said that metre and rhyme led him down unexpected paths to thoughts he wouldn’t otherwise have had, and in this respect versification and fornication are not so different.
Benjamin Britten, sailing uncomfortably close to the wind with his new opera, Death in Venice, seeks advice from his former collaborator and friend, W H Auden. During this imagined meeting, their first for twenty-five years, they are observed and interrupted by amongst others their future biographer and a young man from the local bus station.
You are a rent boy. I am a poet. Over the wall lives the Dean of Christ Church. We all have our parts to play.
Alan Bennett’s new play is as much about the theatre as it is about poetry or music. It looks at the unsettling desires of two difficult men, and at the ethics of biography. It reflects on growing old, on creativity and inspiration, and on persisting when all passion’s spent: ultimately, on the habit of art.
‘In the end,’ said Auden, ‘art is small beer. The really serious things in life are earning one’s living and loving one’s neighbour.’
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