Intergenerational conflict has been an ongoing issue in literature, and real life. We see intergenerational conflict in Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”, William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, and even in modern literature like Annemarie MacDonald’s “Fall on Your Knees”. More specifically, in Shakespeare’s plays we are introduced to many different forms of conflict. One of the most prominent is intergenerational conflict, especially in “Romeo & Juliet”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and “I Henry IV”.
Examples of intergenerational conflict in these plays include Romeo’s defiance of his parents, Juliet’s conflict with her father, Hermia’s paternal conflicts, and King Henry’s disappointment with his son, Hal. Firstly, Romeo’s defiance and seclusion from his parents show signs of an intergenerational conflict. We can see in Act I that Romeo is very distant from his parents, especially when after the civil dispute between the Capulets and Montagues happens.
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Lord Montague displays his concern for Romeo’s emotional health when talking to Benvolio: ” Many a morning hath he there been seen,/ With tears augmenting the fresh morning’s dew,/ Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs” (I. i. 124-26). This shows that Romeo is not open with his parents about his emotional status. Also, in terms of a conflict between the two rival families, one can easily suggest that Benvolio is creating a conflict with his elders through his quarrel with Tybalt and his kinsmen. Lady Montague shows her disapproval when speaking to her husband and telling him: “Thou shalt not stir one foot to seek a foe” (I. . 73). It is suggested that by Romeo’s reclusion into depression from his rejection by Rosalind, he is thus creating intergenerational conflict between himself and his parents. Secondly, Juliet and her father’s relationship show signs of intergenerational conflict. Lord Capulet tries to control his daughter, and the topic of her husband-to-be creates tension between the two. Firstly, we see that Capulet is first uneasy about giving his daughter’s hand in marriage to Paris. This is apparent when he states: But saying o’er what I have said before. My child is yet a stranger to the world;
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years. Let two more summers wither in their pride Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride. (I. ii. 7-11) He is sticking up for his daughter here telling Paris that he believes his daughter too young to be a bride. As readers, we then wonder what convinces him to change his mind so suddenly after the party. After Tybalt murders Mercutio and Romeo avenges his death in a fit of rage, Capulet changes his mind and informs Paris that he believes that his authority over his daughter will be enough to change her mind: “Sir Paris, I will make a desperate tender/ Of my child’s love.
I think she will be ruled/ In all respects by me” (III. iv. 12-14). He then goes to threatening Juliet when she kindly refuses Paris’ marriage proposal, which enrages her father and renders him into absolute rage. He informs her that if she does not marry Paris that coming Thursday that he will disown her, and her reputation will be tarnished: “Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch! / I tell thee what: get thee to church o’ Thursday,/ Or never after look me in the face” (III. v. 160-2). Capulet’s ordering around of Juliet would definitely create conflict, and ultimately lead to her disobedience and defiance.
Thirdly, in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Hermia and Egeus’ conflict is brief and also ever-present. One is aware of Egeus’ disapproval of Lysander and Hermia’s relationship from the beginning and it stays in one’s mind throughout the play even though it is not repeated. Egeus informs Theseus of his complaints in a meeting with himself and Lysander, Hermia, and Demetrius: “Full of vexation come I, with complaint/ Against my child, my daughter, Hermia. -/…[Demetrius] hath my consent to marry her. -/…[Lysander] hath bewitched the bosom of my child” (I. i. 22-7).
In turn, Hermia’s plans to elope with Lysander create conflict due to her disobedience towards her father. Egeus request to put his daughter to death if she does not obey his wishes, which exercises a higher form of control than Capulet’s threat of disownment. His wish is shown when he asks Theseus “I beg the ancient privilege of Anthens:/ As she is mine, I may dispose of her, Which shall be either to this gentleman/ Or to her death, according to our law” (I. i. 41-4). However, unlike the ending in “Romeo and Juliet”, Hermia’s disobedience of her father’s wishes ends in happiness instead of the death of both lovers.
Lastly, the tense relationship between Hal and his father, King Henry IV is also a Shakespearean example of intergenerational conflict. Hal’s upbringing shows similarities with the tale of the prodigal son, which was popular in the medieval time period. Hal is a disappointment to his father, which we learn when King Henry tells Westmorland that he envies the Percy family for having such a noble and honorable son: Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him, See riot and dishonor stain the brow Of my young Harry. O, that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged In cradle-clothes our children where they lay, And called mine “Percy,” his “Plantagenet”! (I. i. 83-8). Though Hal freely associates with robbers, prostitutes, and highwaymen, he has plans to transform himself into a noble prince, which would consequently win back the praise and acceptance of his father. We see his plans to change when Hal states the following: “So when this loose behavior I throw off/ And pay the debt I never promised,/By how much better than my word I am,/By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes”(I. ii. 78-81). Later on in the play when King Henry IV is scolding Hal for his behavior, it is here when one notices the utter disgust that Henry has towards his son. He exaggerates when saying that he must have done something wrong in order to deserve such a handful of a son: “I know not whether God will have it so/ For some displeasing service I have done,/ That, in his secret doom, out of my blood/ He’ll breed revengement and a scourge for me” (III. ii. 4-7). He then reassures his father that his behavior will cease and he will act more like the Prince that he is (III. i. 92-93). Unlike Romeo, Juliet, or Hermia’s predicaments, Hal changes himself in order to please his father as opposed to the rules changing for him. In conclusion, we can see through the examples provided that intergenerational conflict is apparent all throughout Shakespeare’s repertoire. In the example in “Romeo and Juliet”, the conflict between parent and child ended in disaster and death. Hermia and Lysander’s deception and defiance of her father’s wishes ended happily for both those lovers, and Helena and Demetrius’ relationship.
Prince Henry regained the acceptance of his father and the trust of the people, which led to him being an adequate successor to his father. Whether the end for the characters in question is happy or tragic, the conflict between a family can greatly influence how the audience reacts to what is being seen. It is highly possible that in witnessing Romeo and Juliet’s deception towards their parents that they would have been supportive, especially since they know of the tragic end. In the case of Hermia and Lysander’s planned elopement, the audience would have probably been less accepting since there were other options.
Acceptance would have been theatre-wide for Hal’s conformity to his father’s wishes and his heroic end. Works Cited Shakespeare, William. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream. ” The Norton Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Eds. Stephen Greenblatt et al. New York. W. W. Norton ; Company, 2008. 849-895. Print. Shakespeare, William. “I Henry IV” The Norton Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Eds. Stephen Greenblattet al. New York. W. W. Norton ; Company, 2008. 1188-1253. Print. Shakespeare, William. “Romeo & Juliet. ” The Norton Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Eds. StephenGreenblatt et al. New York. W. W. Norton ; Company, 2008. 905-972. Print.