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FRATERNAL RIVALRY AND RESPONSIBILITY


Sam Shepard’s True West plunges the audience into the tension and turmoil of the relationship between feuding brothers. Modern psychology connects sibling competition to personality development and acceptance of familial duties, which correlates to birth order. As siblings compete for parental favor, they adopt different strategies based on their status in the family. Firstborns tend to be strategic and step into the role of surrogate parents. Conversely, younger siblings are generally more agreeable and


nonconforming. Though these behavioral traits can be unlearned or reversed, they often return in situations or around individuals reminiscent of the environments in which they were learned.


Sibling dynamics have captivated storytellers throughout history. The archetype of feuding brothers is both familiar and relatable, and therefore has been used as a metaphor to explore other issues and ask moral questions.•


CAIN AND ABEL


Where did the concept of brothers at odds begin? In Judeo-Christian scripture, the first brothers on Earth also were the perpetrator and victim of the first fratricide. Cain’s guilt over murdering his younger brother, Abel, prompts him to ask the enduring question,


“AM I MY BROTHER’S KEEPER?”


Line engraving by Jan Harmensz Muller, Holland, 1571-1628


ROMULUS AND REMUS In Roman mythology, the fabled twin founders of the Roman Empire, Romulus and Remus, argue over the site on which to construct their new country. After Romulus receives a sign of favor from the gods, Remus’ jealousy leads him to mock his brother. In retaliation, Romulus murders Remus and establishes himself as the indisputable leader of Rome.


HAMLET Shakespeare’s most recognized fratricide occurs offstage before the play begins, when Claudius murders his brother, the king, and takes his throne as well as his queen. Claudius’ murderous deed haunts him throughout the play, tears apart his kingdom, and ultimately leads to his death, leaving audiences to ask: what is the price of power?


BLOOD KNOT


South African playwright Athol Fugard used the struggle of sibling responsibility and rivalry to examine racial dynamics during Apartheid. Mixed-race brothers Morris and Zachariah live together and care for each other. As tensions rise around how each is perceived by the outside world, the brothers turn on each other, resulting in a fight that highlights the struggle and violence of race relations at the time.


TOPDOG/UNDERDOG In Suzan-Lori Parks’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Lincoln and younger brother Booth’s commiseration over their financial struggles turns to conflict when Lincoln hustles Booth in a game of cards and wins his inheritance. The brothers’ mortal competition implies that individual success often comes at the cost of someone else’s sacrifice.


TRUE WEST UPSTAGE GUIDE


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