Critical Context

Childe Byron shares with a number of other Linney plays the dramatist’s interest in re-creating and reinterpreting historical figures and events. His first play, The Sorrows of Frederick (pb. 1966, pr. 1967), is a psychological study of Frederick William II of Prussia, which charts the monarch’s passage to the throne and his ultimate decline into despondency and madness as he abandons his youthful idealism and forsakes his artistic and intellectual gifts. As in Childe Byron, Linney uses a series of sketches—flashbacks brought to life—in order to illuminate both the historical Frederick and the political intrigue and web of social forces which made him the victim of his own life. A later play, Old Man Joseph and His Family: A Play in Two Acts (pr. 1977, pb. 1978), reexamines the life of Jesus Christ, showing Jesus as a cynical young rebel whose father never accepts his son’s miraculous birth.

Even when not focusing on historical figures, Linney often makes use of this structural framework, creating a series of retrospective scenes that lead the audience into the heart of the character and conflict. The protagonist of The Captivity of Pixie Shedman (pb. 1980, pr. 1981) is no Frederick the Great or Lord Byron, but a southern novelist who writes a book based on his deceased grandmother’s diary as a way of coming to terms with his problematic heritage. The play is essentially a parade of the writer’s...

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