Many of Wesker's plays have underlying political themes, and Wesker himself is open about his admiration of the working class side of the 'class struggle'. Wesker joined with enthusiasm the Royal Court group on the Aldermaston March in 1959. Another of the Royal Court contingent, Lindsay Anderson, made a documentary film (March to Aldermaston) about the event.
Wesker's play The Merchant (a play which he also called "Shylock") tells the plot of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice from Shylock's point of view. In this retelling, Shylock and Antonio are fast friends bound by a mutual love of books and culture and a disdain for the crass anti-semitism of the Christian community's laws. They make the bond in defiant mockery of the Christian establishment, never anticipating that the bond might become forfeit. When it does, the play argues, Shylock must carry through on the letter of the law or jeopardize the scant legal security of the entire Jewish community. He is, therefore, quite as grateful as Antonio when Portia, as in Shakespeare's play, shows the legal way out. The play received its American premiere on November 16, 1977 at New York's Plymouth Theatre with Joseph Leon as Shylock, Marian Seldes as Shylock's sister Rivka and Roberta Maxwell as Portia. This production had a challenging history in previews on the road, culminating (after the first night out of town in Philadelphia on September 8, 1977) with the death of the exuberant Broadway star Zero Mostel, who was initially cast as Shylock. Wesker wrote a book chronicling the entire process from initial submissions and rejections of the play through to rehearsals, Zero's death, and the disappointment of the critical reception for the Broadway opening called The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel. The book reveals much about this playwright's relationship to director John Dexter (who had been the earliest, near-familial interpreter of Wesker's works), to criticism, to casting, and to the ephemeral process of collaboration through which the text of any play must pass.
In 2005, he published his first novel, Honey, which recounted the experiences of Beatie Bryant, the heroine of his earlier play Roots. The novel broke from the previously established chronology. Roots was set in the early 1960s and Beatie is 22, in Honey she has only aged 3 years yet the action has been transplanted into the 1980s. Other oddities are that the timeframe includes the Rushdie affair and John Major's fall as recent events and yet the action is concerned with the dotcom boom.
He was knighted in the 2006 New Year's Honours list. He was the castaway on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 17 December 2006.
In 2008 Arnold Wesker published his first collection of poetry, All Things Tire of Themselves (Flambard Press). The collection dates back many years and represents what he considers his best and most characteristic poems. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Jewish Renaissance magazine.
Born May 24, 1932
1950 - 1952
1978 - 1982
1979 - 1983
2000 - 2000