‘Experienc’d Age knows what for Youth is fit’?

Generational and Familial Conflict in British and Irish Drama and Theatre

by Katarzyna Bronk-Bacon (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection XII, 342 Pages


Over the centuries, drama has been an influential and imaginative medium for presenting, analysing and offering ways of resolving real or fictional battles. This volume provides readers with a timely study of inter-generational conflicts and crises as seen through the eyes of male and female British and Irish playwrights from the medieval period to the twenty-first century. The contributions suggest that at the heart of inter-generational discord lies various crises between (the) age(d) and youth or, more generally, the idea of what is «old» and «new». The interaction and co-existence of age and youth in their embodied, symbolic or conceptual forms is the topic of this volume. The collection is built around the words «age(d)»/«young», which denote both the biological age of the characters and the more conceptual potential of these terms. Ultimately, the contributors to this collection of essays analyse not only the idea of inter-generationality within selected dramatic works but also inter-generational conflicts seen in clashes of cultures, artistic visions, concepts and aesthetic idea(l)s.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction (Katarzyna Bronk-Bacon)
  • Part I Conflicted (St)ages: From Medieval Theatre to Nineteenth-Century Drama
  • 1 Fergus and the Virgin in Late Medieval York: Spectators and Inter-Generational Conflict (Jamie Beckett)
  • 2 ‘My Father is Deceas’d’: Kingship, Patriarchy and Inter-Generational Conflicts in Edward II by Christopher Marlowe (Nizar Zouidi)
  • 3 Of Fathers and Sons: Inter-Generational and Intrafamilial Loyalties and Conflict in Shakespeare’s Elizabethan History Plays (Murat Öğütcü)
  • 4 Once upon a Time Admired, Now Disregarded: Paternal Anguish and Loss of Authority with Old Age in The Merchant of Venice and King Lear (Özge Özkan-Gürcü)
  • 5 Lessons on Age(ing): Inter-Generational and Intrafamilial Conflict in Thomas Shadwell’s The Squire of Alsatia, Susanna Centlivre’s Love at a Venture and James Miller’s The Man of Taste (Katarzyna Bronk-Bacon)
  • 6 Fashionable Confrontations: Decoding The Conscious Lovers (Máire MacNeill)
  • 7 ‘Not of an Age, but for All Time’: Intergenerational Reflections of Shakespeare in Civil War Virginia (Jess Hamlet)
  • Part II Inter(-)generational Strife and Cultural Revolutions in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
  • 8 The Anglo-Irish Big House and War Memories in Three Plays (Wei H. Kao)
  • 9 John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and Inter-Generational Discontinuity (Takeshi Kawashima)
  • 10 Semi-Patriographic and Pathographic Beckett: The Politics of Son’s Writing Father and Family in Endgame (Önder Çakırtaş)
  • 11 After such Knowledge: Ageing as Agency and Agony in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker (Christian Jimenez)
  • 12 ‘Trans’ Generations in Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine (Lisa Siefker Bailey)
  • 13 Discrepancies of Embodiment: The Ageing Body and Fraught Familial Narratives in Two Plays by Enda Walsh (Deirdre O’Leary)
  • 14 ‘Your Generation Curse’: Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Staging of West Indian Fatherhood in Britain (Victoria Pettersen Lantz)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

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I would like to thank my contributors for their academic professionalism during the completion of this collection. Furthermore, I am grateful to Marta Frątczak-Dąbrowska, Joanna Jarząb-Napierała, Urszula Kizelbach and Justyna Rogos-Hebda for sharing expertise and helping to improve the quality of the book. I also wish to thank the anonymous reviewers whose comments, hopefully, allowed me to make the volume a more interesting study. I likewise want to thank Laurel Plapp and her team at the Oxford branch of Peter Lang for their guidance and assistance in producing the book. It is always a pleasure to work with them, Lang’s finest.

I wish to express gratitude to my parents who supported me more than any grant ever will. The same needs to be said of my husband whom I would additionally like to thank for his help with the final version of the book. Thank you for your advice and patience, and for motivating me to work … by writing and publishing more and faster than I ever will. Our children, Sebastian and Maja, will continue to be an inspiration, especially in terms of inter-generational conflict and, fortunately, resolution.

And, finally, I would like to acknowledge that the research for all my contributions to this collection has been made possible thanks to the grant from the National Science Centre, Poland, number 2014/13/B/HS2/00488, titled ‘Embodied Sites of Memory? Investigations into the Definitions and Representations of Old Age and Ageing in English Drama between 1660 and 1750’. Heartfelt gratitude is also due to my University – Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland – and the Faculty of English in particular.

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‘Experienc’d Age knows what for Youth is fit’? Inter(-)Generational and Intrafamilial Conflict

Old Gravello of Susanna Centlivre’s The Stolen Heiress: Or the Salamanca Doctor Out-Plotted (1702), plans to get rid of his disobedient daughter, Lucasia, by marrying her off to the highest bidder. The candidate of choice, Pirro, is more interested in the dowry than the girl, but he is willing to play the required role to fool the elderly father. Lucasia, like many daughters in English comedies before and after the eighteenth century, dares to disagree, and objects to the future designed for her by the old guardian. While she prefers to spend her life with Palante, Gravello denies her any right to a personal opinion, not to mention choice, claiming that ‘Experienc’d Age knows what for Youth is fit’.1 One does not have to know the rest of the plot of this particular comedy to anticipate that Gravello will soon be proved wrong. Intrafamilial conflict is inevitable when the (aged) parent disregards their offsprings’ right to fashion their own identities and lives, and the comic genre requires the old character to accept their loss of authority ← 1 | 2 → and lose the prerogative to actively shape the future generation. As such, comedy is fuelled by inter(-)generational discord as well. Comedies like Centlivre’s suggest that only once the representatives of the older generation admit their defeat, in social and familial terms, and become observers rather than primary actors, may they avoid being booed off the stage. Plays like Centlivre’s, and Gravello’s motto, more specifically, engender interesting research questions: do older generations have the monopoly on wisdom and have the right to offer it to or force it on the younger ones? Can the younger generations govern themselves without such an alleged moral compass offered by the previous generations? Is inter(-)generational conflict inevitable in introducing change? Are ‘new’ ideas better than the ‘old’ ones, those of the past, those of the previous periods? Is there a plane on which members of different generations can peacefully coexist? Concluding, is it really true that ‘Experienc’d Age knows what for Youth is fit’?

Concepts and Definitions

The short introduction above uses three key concepts that inspired the volume and the contributions within: generation, family and age. In essence, however, the term ‘generation’ itself encompasses the other two. It has been variously defined, and according to David Kertzer, even sociologists do not always find their way out of the polysemous manner in which the term has been conceptualised.2 To give a few examples: Karl Mannheim studied the topic of generations based on biological rhythms, and in particular the one of birth and death; for Rudolf Heberle, ‘A generation is a phenomenon of collective mentality and morality’.3 This definition was used in Philip Abrams’ historical sociology. For Gunhild Hagestad and Peter Uhlenberg, there are three ways of understanding and applying the ← 2 | 3 → word generation: as age group, birth cohort and hierarchy of descent.4 This is partially how Kertzer suggests to group all the 1980s theories on the notion of generations. However, in his opinion, which is reiterated in other contemporary studies,5 the definitions fall into four categories: ‘generation as a principle of kinship descent; generation as cohort; generation as life stage; and generation as historical moment’.6 As such, the term ‘generation’ may denote 1) the lineage within a family (the so-called ‘family generation’ – grandparents vs parents vs children); 2) individuals born in the same era, entering the same life stages together; and 3) people ‘who live through a period of rapid social change’ and so develop a new identity as a result, such as the post-Second World War generation.7 And importantly for this particular study, 4) ‘considered collectively, a particular generation first constitutes the age group of the young, then that of the mature, and finally that of the elderly’.8 As suggested earlier, then, to talk about generations is to likewise talk about intrafamilial dynamics and the specificity of various age groups. It is also to discuss what is important for members of societies that are temporally more remote from each other.

This book and the examples provided within it are purposefully based on all four meanings of the concept of ‘generation’, as collated by Kertzer. This multi-directionality has benefits as well as poses certain dilemmas. While it offers an in-depth insight into the meanings behind the term ‘generation’, showing how foundational but also spacious a concept it is, it requires an explanation in the use of terminology. This collection is titled ‘Experienc’d Age knows what for Youth is fit’?: Generational and Familial Conflict in British and Irish Drama and Theatre, but the prefixes ‘inter-’ and ← 3 | 4 → ‘intra’ will be used to facilitate a more precise discussion on the political, social, ideological, interpersonal and artistic conflicts occurring between both the members of the analysed generations and well as the historical, cultural and literary periods themselves. Only in this way may the three leading notions at the core of this book – generation, family and age(ing) – be encompassed.

In this volume, the word intrafamilial is used interchangeably with ‘family generation’ and pertains to interactions and relationships between various members of families. The new and old generation denotes representatives of age groups, or young and old-er people respectively, and the relationship between them will be indicated as inter-generational. In this book I use the unhyphenated intergenerational only when it pertains to larger groups or societies (social or historical generations) divided by much longer periods of time. This is due to the intricacies of the concept of intergenerationality, which, as has been kindly pointed out to me,9 has a very specific usage. Inter(-)generational will be sparingly used when the idea can be used in both conceptual contexts.

Inter-Generational and Intrafamilial Conflict and Concord

Sociological studies indicate that dependency on mutual benefits is the foundation of an effective inter-generational contract. If the conditions on which inter-generational relationships are built – social, political, cultural – are questioned by any of the involved parties, the inevitable conflict arises.10 Samuel Johnson saw it even more pessimistically when he wrote in The Rambler: ‘This one generation is always the scorn and wonder ← 4 | 5 → of the other, and the notions of the old and young are like liquors of different gravity and texture which never can unite’.11 As one of the most important voices of the English Enlightenment, Johnson was specifically alluding to the eighteenth-century crisis in inter-generational relationships, a concern he was not the only one to voice. Daniel Defoe likewise noticed that ‘There is nothing on Earth more shocking, and withal more common, in but too many Families, than to see Age and Grey Hairs derided, and ill used’.12 This criticism comes despite suggestions that a more empathic attitude towards one’s elders, or family life in general, developed in the eighteenth century in many European countries, thus, apparently, changing human relations within basic social units.13 The aforementioned comments from the two most important representatives of the English Enlightenment, itself the onset of early modernity, show that despite the alleged sentimentalisation in the perception of family and ageing,14 reality has always been far from the preached ideals of generational co-existence. Eighteenth-century polemics on the demographic future of ageing societies has continued, and has never been more valid than in the modern era.

Today, the relationships between representatives of various generations, especially interactions between and within age groups and ‘family generations’,15 are most often mentioned in the context of conflicts rather than cooperation and fair exchange. To give a few examples, Brexit revealed the deep-running ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’ divide, juxtaposing young(er) and old(er) people, millennials and baby boomers, sons/daughters and their ← 5 | 6 → parents, and the newer and older immigrants (i.e. Brexit also saw various forms of the hierarchisation of immigrants), etc. More globally, and tragically, fundamentalism and its resultant acts of terrorism are based on the (questionable) idea that contemporary reality, the ‘new’ world, is functioning in conflict with the tenets of the past (religious) laws, and that the past can and should be re-created. Religious conflicts at the core of fundamentalist ideology aim at distancing the members of the younger generations from their actual and symbolic parents, often channelling the disappointment and disaffection that the youth in certain countries feel about the world they find themselves in.16 Divides between generations keep expanding, while bridges are collapsing.

As past and contemporary sociological and demographic studies indicate, ‘Within the microcosm of the family […] the responsibility for intergenerational solidarity is usually attributed to the younger generation’,17 while the representatives of the older generations are expected to reciprocate with advice and various forms of support. This exchange lies at the heart of social progress but, although seemingly ingrained into the collective consciousness, such obligations still need to be rehearsed, promoted and perpetuated. As Lynn Botelho says, studying the history of old age in the British context, ‘Learned treatises reminded the young that God’s wrath would be sure to follow any violation of the strict moral code that governed the exchanges between the generations’.18 Apart from secular and religious conduct texts, the code of inter-generational interaction has ← 6 | 7 → been relentlessly taught, perpetuated and criticised via artistic endeavours. Theatre and drama have proved to be one of the most potent media of this socialising process.

The Question of Age(ing) in Theatre and Drama

Theatre has inherently been a site of struggle and conflict, where ideologies, concepts, trends, philosophies and aesthetic ideals compete not only for audiences’ financial favour, but for their minds and hearts, reflecting and shaping personal viewpoints as well as socio-cultural constructions of knowledge. Over the centuries stage and printed drama developed to be influential and imaginative media for presenting, analysing and often offering ways of resolving real or fictional battles. Drama allows for an exploration of various inter-generational dynamics, most often reified as crises and conflicts, running along the intersectional lines of age, gender, race, class and/or religion. The history of British and Irish drama, which we offer herein as the research material for diachronic study of inter(-)generational and intrafamilial conflict, shows that, in essence, at the heart of such contentions lie various crises running between the binary poles of (the) age(d) and youth. Importantly, the concept of age and ageing may also be seen in terms of ‘old-ness’ and the ‘new-ness’, both of which may exist in their embodied or symbolic/conceptual form. This is due to the fact that, historically, staged and printed drama has discussed conflicts not only between actual and fictional members of various generations (embodied), but has also posed as evidence for the inter(-)generational wars of ideas occurring across the ages, and, in theatre, across periods. To give a few examples: allegorised, Catholic ‘characters’ struggle against new Protestant tenets in late medieval and early sixteenth-century medieval morality plays; youth conquers old(er) age in Renaissance family-themed plots; younger and more progressive characters triumph in the Restoration political heroic tragedies or libertine comedies; the aged, more experienced heroes/heroines reclaim virtue and dispense punishment in eighteenth-century sentimental ← 7 | 8 → and affective drama; sentimental comedy competes with the older forms and types of humour on English stages; the Angry Young Men blame the earlier generations for ruining their chances for happiness, while their plays shatter the old illusion of theatre as an idealised space; within plays and cultures religious dissension rips families and countries apart, while freedom and independence are conceptualised differently by younger generations; Oedipal crises tear families apart from the inside, while cultural and sexual revolutions embolden and enfranchise daughters and sons who question the rules of the normativity of their parents’ generations; and, more recently, sons and daughters reject the cultural and religious identities and values cherished by their parents and choose more extremist ways of living. Interestingly, yet often tragically, progress, change and artistic revolutions are fuelled by conflict more often than inter(-)generational concord.

The present collection of essays19 uses British and Irish theatre and drama as the platforms and optics for a diachronic study of both inter(-)generational as well as, almost inevitably, intrafamilial conflicts and crises as seen through the eyes of male and female playwrights from various centuries, from the medieval period to the twenty-first century, and especially those who could not remain silent when facing the ever-growing divides between families, genders, religions and societies. Altogether, this volume features stories about families and discusses intrafamilial dynamics, as well as analysing interactions between members of new and old(er) generations, seen as the ‘succession of people moving through the age strata, the younger replacing the older as they all age together’.20 Importantly, then, it focuses on the age of the members of particular generations, and contemplates what it means to be a part of that particular age group. As such, it asks whether chronological and physiological aspects influence relationships between representatives of those various age groups. And, finally, it touches upon members of generations linked by historic events, in search of information on how they are experienced by individuals from these generations, ← 8 | 9 → and whether togetherness or conflict result from such punctums. What is equally important in the context of all these theories of generationality, and the present volume itself, is the metatheatrical aspect of the study of inter-generational succession. In essence, many contributions additionally investigate the historical and cultural transformations in theatre itself, exploring how the representatives of new generations reacted to ‘old’/existing forms of drama, both as authors and audiences, and, conversely, how the ‘old(er)’ generations perceived and reacted to the theatrical revolutions.

To accommodate all the aforementioned definitions of the term ‘generation’, and to discuss the issues of inter-generational and intrafamilial conflict and the question of age(ing) in it, the volume is divided into two parts. Part I begins in the medieval period and takes the reader into the nineteenth century; and Part II continues from the twentieth century onwards. This framework will not only help to see the continuities and discontinuities between periods, cultures, styles and individual authors, but also more clearly point to the emerging and ossified constructs of inter-generational conflict in the British and Irish context across periods.

Part I: Conflicted (St)ages: From Medieval Theatre to Nineteenth-Century Drama

Chapter-wise, the study of inter-generational conflict, on a human and conceptual level, begins herein with a (meta-)dramatic study of medieval drama, and, as such, at the very roots of English theatre. Anthony Ellis reminds us in his summary of Victor Turner’s work that theatre is ‘the most “forceful” and “active” of all artistic genres, and thus it serves as the most productive “metacommentary” on real-life conflicts (pp. 104–105)’.21 Jamie Beckett, the first contributor in this volume, takes this supposition even further in ‘Fergus and the Virgin in Late Medieval York: Spectators ← 9 | 10 → and Inter-Generational Conflict’. He traces the history of the medieval performance of the Funeral of the Virgin and its perception by various generations. Beckett argues that:

In his chapter, then, the author defines inter-generational conflict as both actual fights and conceptual disagreements which occurred between the spectators of the medieval pageant. His chapter further traces the inter-generational transformation of the figure of Fergus himself, analysing a seeming ‘clash of perceptions between the older members of the pageant’s audiences, who remembered the story of the performance told of York’s ancient association with the reform of Galloway, and the younger members who saw “Fergus” only as a representative of the antagonistic Scottish enemy’.23 Thus, in essence, Beckett reaches back to the beginnings of English theatre for the foundations of both the meta-theatrical and inter-generational wars of representations.

Medieval history and its re-presentation are likewise explored in Nizar Zouidi’s ‘“My Father is Deceas’d”: Kingship, Patriarchy and Inter-Generational Conflicts in Edward II by Christopher Marlowe’. Moving away from the aesthetics of religious drama, the author focuses on both inter-generational and intrafamilial politics as presented in Marlowe’s play and in more political and philosophical discourse. Zouidi analyses the figure of the dead father – seen as the representative of the previous generation – and points to him as the central player in the political and sexual structuralisation of medieval monarchy in Marlowe’s play. More precisely, by focusing on the dynamics of monarchic, patriarchal and heteronormative systems, Zouidi looks into the rights, prerogatives and obligations of sons who are haunted by the symbolic and actual power of earlier traditions and bloodlines. The author examines how ‘the shadow of the dead predecessor, ← 10 | 11 → whose legacy should be preserved, burdens the younger generations’.24 Suggesting that ‘the death of the father is the precondition for his transformation into a source of power’,25 the author explores Marlowe’s play through inter-generational and intrafamilial narratives of sons negotiating the use of their fathers’ shadow and trying to assert their own authority as kings. Most importantly, at the heart of Zouidi’s chapter lies the question of who has the right to speak for the dead, and for the authorities of the previous generations.

The legacy or the burden of the ancestors, especially the power and authority of the male predecessors, is further discussed in the subsequent chapter by Murat Öğütcü, titled ‘Of Fathers and Sons: Inter-Generational and Intrafamilial Loyalties and Conflict in Shakespeare’s Elizabethan History Plays’. Urszula Kizelbach states that

Shakespeare in his histories follows the doctrine of the universal world order, presenting disorder as the centre and context for historical events. Harmony and peace at home, on the English soil, seem to be very rarely employed as Shakespeare’s theme – it is usually turmoil and civil war that serve as the background of the plot […].26

As such, Shakespeare’s plays are an essential, if not an inevitable, part of the study of inter-generational (and intergenerational as will be shown shortly) as well as intrafamilial conflict. Öğütcü ventures to understand on- and off-stage relationships in the Elizabethan Period by applying theories stemming from age studies. In this way, the author continues the discussion on the ‘hauntings’ of the younger, newer generations by former (though seemingly not bygone) powers and authorities. Ultimately, the chapter exemplifies this by discussing the burden of the second generation and the value of family tradition. Öğütcü concludes that

a young generation in a given time will become the old generation in succeeding timespan and will probably reiterate the former generation’s behaviour patterns and ← 11 | 12 → norms, and thus, clash with the succeeding young generation as they did in their own youth with their fathers.27

On reading Öğütcü’s chapter, one may surmise that to avoid such clashes of generations, a concord between the old and young should ideally be conceptualised as ‘a two-way process in which both must play their part’.28 Dramatised fathers and their children often painfully learn that inter-generational cooperation is more beneficial than conflict, even though this relationship is not necessarily fair for both generations.

In the patriarchal, Elizabethan England, the choice of whether to obey the representatives of the older generation or whether to disregard such authority and, consequently, bear the consequences of such a rebellion were different in the case of sons and daughters. Father-daughter conflicts, voiced or sublimated, as understood by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, are dissected in Özge Özkan-Gürcü’s ‘Once upon a Time Admired, Now Disregarded: Paternal Anguish and Loss of Authority with Old Age in The Merchant of Venice and King Lear’. Stressing the issue of age in intrafamilial and inter-generational relationships, and thus developing the gerontological thread of this volume’s premise, Özkan-Gürcü looks into conflicts in order to trace the dynamics of the waning authority of the father in old age. The author reads Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and King Lear not only as stories on troubled and tragic senescence respectively, but specifically as debates on crises occurring when young daughters, ultimately the representatives of the new/young generation, attempt to remove or outwit their elderly fathers and independently fashion their own futures. Maurice Charney, who reads Shakespeare in the context of age studies, places Shylock among ‘hard fathers’, seeing him as a parent who ‘never expresses one kind word to his daughter’.29 And because he cannot choose between his daughter and his money, he will not be pitied when the daughter turns him into ← 12 | 13 → a disgraced and humiliated senex. Shylock will never engender the pity felt by audiences and readers for Lear’s rapid mental and physical decay. Sara Munson Deats offers King Lear as a timeless, inter-generational story reflecting on all the problems that people at the later stages of their lives (might) need to confront: ‘the problems of allowing their children the freedom to live their own lives, the problem of coping with retirement, and the problem of accepting change and finding it a challenge and an opportunity rather than a threat’.30 Still Lear’s fate is a warning not only on the mistakes and failings of old age, or the tragedy of senility, but also the potentially threatening aspects of the younger generations who view old age as a flaw and burden.

Lear’s tragedy proves George Minois right when he suggests that inter-generational conflict occurs when the old ‘monopolize power’ for too long, and ‘the younger generations turn impatient, which breeds mockery’.31 Comedies are based on the same idea, namely that the new generation inevitably replaces the older, varying perhaps in the ways and means they achieve this goal. In other words, they differ in what role is resultantly assigned to the representatives of the older generation at the end of the play. Comic genres often seem to teach that it is only via a rather unfair compromise that inter-generational conflict can be terminated or at least damped down. If the old(er) generations pave the way for youth, and then amicably move aside to help in times of need, then the younger generations are ready to reciprocate when necessary and show due reverence. My contribution to this volume, titled ‘Lessons on Age(ing): Inter-Generational and Intrafamilial Conflict in Thomas Shadwell’s The Squire of Alsatia, Susanna Centlivre’s Love at a Venture and James Miller’s The Man of Taste’, revisits England under the restored Stuarts as well as their immediate successors. Joining together the three themes of the book – generations, family and age – I analyse three plays, namely The Squire of Alsatia by Thomas Shadwell ← 13 | 14 → (1688), Love at a Venture by Susanna Centlivre (1706) and The Man of Taste by James Miller (1735), to investigate what lies at the bottom of the dramatised discord. While introducing the plays’ old and elderly and discussing their experience of ageing and old age, I conclude that these plays propose that the wisdom of the older generation was seen as not as important as the first-hand experience of the younger generations. Resultantly, compromise between generations ‘was unchangeably achieved only after the freedom to choose was granted to younger generations’,32 even if this was the freedom to commit mistakes … often. Subsequently, I trace such inter-generational lessons into the eighteenth century when theatres and drama transformed to respond to the emerging culture of sensibility and politeness.

Máire MacNeill joins me in the discussion on the eighteenth century and its dramatic imagination in her ‘Fashionable Confrontations: Decoding The Conscious Lovers’. Richard Steele’s 1722 sentimental comedy received many interpretations over the years, and yet the analyses have rather dismissed one scene in Act Four, in which Bevil and Myrtle almost fight a duel before deciding to reason out their disagreement. MacNeill draws significant conclusions from this part of the play, for instance that for Steele and his audiences, especially for those having the common sense of the previous generation, it was easy to look back upon the recent past with nostalgia, with ‘Restoration mythologised as stable and without factions or the corrupting influence of foreign manners and modes’.33 MacNeill defines the new culture and its ideals against the fashionable behaviours of the previous generation, and offers a fascinating study of inter-generational transformation as seen through the optics of drama. As such, she reads the play as a new, ideological and philosophical proposal for human interaction, one not based on the ‘old ways’ of duelling, but on new strategies of polemics and inter-generational and interpersonal discussion. Thus, MacNeill proves that, in the play, Steele shows that the new century, and the new generation, will still need to fashion itself on the values of the past, but only after careful negotiations with the tenets of the Age of Reason.

While the eighteenth-century stage aimed at creating new dramatic forms and stories, Shakespearean drama remained resonant even with later ← 14 | 15 → generations. And so the final chapter in this section is set outside of the Isles, while simultaneously very rooted in British dramaturgical history. While the next chapter moves into American drama, it nostalgically reflects on the British past and culture. In ‘“Not of an Age, but for All Time”: Intergenerational Reflections of Shakespeare in Civil War Virginia’, Jess Hamlet investigates how the citizens of Richmond, Virginia, processed the trauma and complexities of the American Civil War through the bard’s plays. In contrast to most of the chapters in this volume, this contribution is about positive interactions between periods and generations, even if the plays the author discusses focus on inter-generational conflict. As Hamlet explains, ‘Though I focus on wartime, there is more here about inter-generational bridges than conflict’.34 She exemplifies this by discussing the most popular dramatic narratives by Shakespeare to explain how ‘Civil War Richmonders drew on the wisdom and practices of earlier generations to perform their experiences of living in a wartime cultural centre’.35 This nostalgic use of the Renaissance heritage is analysed in terms of trauma-management and shown as an integral element of transnational and intergenerational dialogue and negotiation built between the past and the present, between (variously aged) actors and spectators as well as between America and the European countries. Thus, Hamlet’s contribution returns to the focal question of this collection of whether the former generations – also seen as the embodied past – offer blueprints of action and conduct to the newer generations, even if, as it is herein, they are temporarily and spatially significantly removed.


XII, 342
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (April)
intergenerationality intergenerational conflict British and Irish drama ‘Experience’d Age knows what for Youth is fit’? Generational and Familial Conflict in British and Irish Drama and Theatre
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2019. XII, 342 pp.

Biographical notes

Katarzyna Bronk-Bacon (Volume editor)

Katarzyna Bronk-Bacon is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland. She teaches the History of English Literature but specialises in Restoration theatre and drama. She has been exploring representations and dramatisations of ageing and old age and her current research on the matters of senescence, titled «Embodied sites of memory? Investigations into the definitions and representations of old age and ageing in English drama between 1660 and 1750», is supported by a grant from the Polish National Science Centre. She is the author of the monograph «And Yet I Remember»: Ageing and Old(er) Age in English Drama between 1660 and the 1750s (Peter Lang, 2019).


Title: ‘Experienc’d Age knows what for Youth is fit’?