"Momently threaten; then fall..."

I've just finished reading Stephen Spender's 1938 play Trial of a Judge, so much of it seeming to be an obsessive, stylized portrait of the specter of fascism. The cast includes blatantly symbolic characters, including a liberal judge, his communist fellow cell mates, all jailed by the black-shirted fascist youth of an unnamed European city. At key scenes, we see black shirts and red shirts on opposite sides of the stage, slogans and conspiration.

Spender as a playwright in the 1930s is like watching John Turturro in Barton Fink. Trial of a Judge tries to encompass an entire continent's political nightmare and obviously fails. But with some good lines in speeches, Spender's typically convoluted vocabulary:

"Civilization which was sweet
With love and words, after great wars
Terrifies; architraves
Or flowering leaf of the Corinthian capital
Momently threaten; then fall
In marble waves on life. [...] "

The only problem is that this is supposed to be spoken by one of the young revolutionaries, as he and his group have been surrounded by fascists and are appealing to the judge for justice. The multiple editions Faber & Faber published of the play in the decade after it was produced, mean it was once relevant for certain audiences. I do think he evokes the paranoid and oppressive sense of a nation collapsing toward a political abyss.

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