Space, Place and Identity in Bernard Shaw’s The Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman




Bernard Shaw, Absurdism, Space, Identity, Ireland, Back to Methuselah, The Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman


The last of Bernard Shaw’s “Irish” plays, The Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman (1921), raises the same concerns over colonialism, nationalism, and identity explored in John Bull’s Other Island (1904) and O’Flaherty V.C.: A Recruiting Pamphlet (1915) but does so from outside his preferred dramatic style, theatrical Realism. In this proto-Absurdist experiment, Shaw invents an Ireland in which differences of religion, class, and politics are moot; in 3000 A.D., age is the only category of social distinction. Experimenting with dramaturgical form and eschewing mimetic scenic design, Shaw utilizes Ireland’s mythic wildness and the transformational effect of its climate as an affective element of the play’s argument. Through Shaw’s treatment of space, this future Ireland with its inherently Irish inhabitants becomes the utopic home to a superior race that portends a life beyond the oppressive British/Irish and later intra-national binary partisan reality of post-WWI and pre-Free State Ireland.

Author Biography

  • Justine Zapin, University College Dublin

    Justine Zapin is an actor and theater professional who received her MA in literature at American University and a BFA in acting and classical theater at Marymount Manhattan College. She is a PhD candidate at University College Dublin’s School of English Drama Film. Her dissertation situates Bernard Shaw’s Abbey plays thematically and theatrically to excavate Shaw’s evolving political views on Irish independence.


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How to Cite

Zapin, J. (2023). Space, Place and Identity in Bernard Shaw’s The Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman. ABEI Journal, 25(2), 149-163.