By Tamsen Wolff (auth.)
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Additional info for Mendel’s Theatre: Heredity, Eugenics, and Early Twentieth-Century American Drama
In contesting Darwin’s evolutionary theory, Shaw argued instead for an evolutionary and eugenic theory that assumes a will behind evolution. Shaw, in separating unwilled evolutionary theory from a social philosophy that emphasizes will, firmly positioned a number of other playwrights, including Strindberg, Brieux, and Ibsen in particular, on his side of the divide. 59 Shaw’s pronouncements on heredity, evolution, will, and eugenics appeared in a wide range of places: in letters, prefaces, reviews, miscellaneous journalism, as well as in his promotional and selective analysis of Ibsen’s work, The Quintessence of Ibsenism.
Certainly the pervasive invisibility inherent in heredity combined with the slipperiness of hereditary understanding at this juncture raises more questions than answers, a generative, if disturbing, development for Strindberg. Strindberg’s consistent, deliberately innovative experimentation with dramatic form reflects, in part, an ongoing attempt to respond to a deep uncertainty about what bodies can or will reveal. His approaches lie on a continuum of dramatic techniques, first engaging with naturalism and later with expressionism.
The play also contains the suggestion that the denial of a fulfilled, joyful life for Captain Alving may have led to his dissipation. Oswald, thinking his own debauched lifestyle is to blame for his sickness, wishes that it “had been something I’d inherited. 76). 76). By refusing to promote one source over another, Ibsen makes the assignment of blame difficult, if not impossible. Instead, he emphasizes adults’ shared responsibility for and complicity in the problems of the present that have been inherited from the past.