Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, aged 73, rises in his tent on the morning of a battle. He is bent, snarling, formidable and sardonically funny. He addresses his army and rouses it to savage fury, then, receiving a message, commands its retreat. He will leave the battlefield to go home and bury his dog. To his General's astonishment, he does, and riding home, we go back with him through his life. We see Frederick the artistic young prince, locked in unequal combat with a brutal, adored father. We see him a young king, forsaking music and poetry and philosophy for naked aggression. We see him a mature monarch, exchanging friendship and fury with Voltaire, and demolishing the Holy Roman Empire with dazzling military genius. Finally, his journey ends. Over the body of a pet greyhound, he reveals how completely he has been the victim of his life and what the Village Voice called "the inescapable legacies of fathers." The play is a tour de force for actors, while its performance—its contrapuntal tragedy and humor—relates it to the profoundest sympathies of an enthralled audience.
Many productions of this monumental play in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Austria and West Germany have received the highest critical and popular acclaim. The actors playing Frederick, among them John Wood, Fritz Weaver, Donald Davis and Austin Pendleton, won high praise. "An interior psychodrama about what goes on in the crumbling mind of a philosopher-king, the play is a rare example of historical drama by a contemporary dramatist that commands our attention through its intelligence and theatricality." —NY Times. "An enormous, major play. It moves in a series of tense, gracefully shaped scenes whose quotient of brilliant writing is staggering." —NY Magazine. "Linney is a writer in the grand tradition, using the techniques of high theatre to deal with great ideas. His plays achieve size without pageantry through the heroism of their thoughts, the substance of their passions, the striking quality of their stylizations." —NY Post.