It is obviously a play about the first reformer and therefore focuses on Luther's religion, but Osbourne sprinkles in enough personal relationships as to balance the subject matter, even for those like me who aren't religious. Overall I think the play was very well handled and I would like to see it some day.
A play about Martin Luther is a far cry from Osbornes works of social realism, but there is a connection between Osbornes Luther, and Jimmy Porter and Archie Rice (the protagonists of the other works). The Catholic Church in Luthers day had become corrupted by the sale of indulgences. The play quotes two examples a man refuses to pay for his wifes funeral because he has already bought her salvation, and a noble robs the clergyman who sold him an indulgence because he is already cleared from all blame by the law and god, thanks to the indulgence. On several occasions, Luther asks the church leaders to explain why indulgences are acceptable by quoting the Bible. His rebellion is borne out of self-doubt, and even at the moment of his final confrontation, he asks for a day to think about his answer. In that sense, his rebellion is not against god, but against himself and the church. It is unclear from the play where Osborne stands on the issue of Luthers rebellion. Re-reading three of Osbornes plays has proved a little disappointing. To read or watch Osborne plays is to feel like listening to a tetchy man shaking his fist at the world because he wishes to stand still, and the world does not.
I saw the movie version of Osborne's play in a Renaissance and Reformation class in college, and I liked it. I believe that Osborne also read this book because many of the events that Erikson identifies and focuses on are described and interpreted in Luther as well. The only reason that I give this three stars rather than four or five is that I felt a disconnect with the real Martin Luther as I've come to understand him. I know that Osborne's works are generally political and include social commentary, and I definitely see Luther as an allegory or analog for modern times (modern to the time of the play and even now to our time).
Reread Osborne's play for the first time in 25 years in preparation for seeing another dramatic take on Luther's life and legacy, never having seen a production of this.
In the first act, when Luther enters the monastery and later conducts his first mass, the play seems to be trying to explain him in psychological terms his relationship with his father is central.
Poor old Katie, fishing about there in bed with her great, hefty arms, trying to haul me out." - Luther in Luther by John Osborne
In a productive life of more than 40 years, Osborne explored many themes and genres, writing for stage, film and TV. He came onto the theatrical scene at a time when British acting was enjoying a golden age, but most great plays came from the United States and France.