Autumnal Faces

Old Age in British and Irish Dramatic Narratives

by Katarzyna Bronk (Volume editor)
Monographs X, 340 Pages


Autumnal Faces is a timely study within the ever-growing research on the ways older people and ageing itself have been conceptualized and represented in the popular imagination and, more specifically, in drama and on stage. Tracing this theme from the Renaissance to the twenty-first century, this volume offers original, innovative and diachronic analyses of plays and performances that focus on or are peopled with older characters. The contributors study the roots of positive and negative stereotypes pertaining to senescence and the elderly, offering meticulous interpretations of dramatic narratives and performances on topics such as gendered ageing, geronticide, the «sins» of senex amans and iratus, ageing and uncontrolled passions versus ageing and prudence, longevity and immortality, memory and life narratives, the elderly as storytellers and repositories of wisdom in British and Irish culture, Alzheimer’s disease and the loss of self, and intergenerational conflicts. Ultimately, this collection of essays answers the ongoing call for more studies devoted to humanistic/cultural gerontology, seeing old age not just as an issue affecting past generations but one that is increasingly important as we all age into an unknown future.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Autumnal Faces (Katarzyna Bronk)
  • 1 The Slippered Pantaloon: Manhood and Ageing in Shakespeare (Jim Casey)
  • 2 Ageing and Paternal Relationships in William Shakespeare’s 1&2 Henry IV (Patrick Aaron Harris)
  • 3 The Real Age of the Fox: A Study in the Representation of Youth and Old Age in Volpone by Ben Jonson (Nizar Zouidi)
  • 4 Old Age, Biopolitics and Utopia: Geronticide in Middleton, Rowley and Heywood’s The Old Law (Stella Achilleos)
  • 5 Prudence, or the ‘Sins’ of the Elderly in Restoration Comedies (Katarzyna Bronk)
  • 6 ‘What a Nautious Thing is an Old Man Turn’d Lover’: Anthony Leigh Acting Age on Stage (James Evans)
  • 7 The Great Deceiver: Vampires, Old Age and the Nineteenth-Century Stage (Simon Bacon)
  • 8 Shackles and Garlands: Age, Remembering and Narrative in Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On and An Englishman Abroad (Brice Ezell)
  • 9 The Storytellers: ‘Stars’ and Seanchaithe of the Celtic Tiger (C. Austin Hill)
  • 10 Transformation and Re-education through Ageing: Bryony Lavery’s Origin of the Species and A Wedding Story (Jennifer Thomas)
  • 11 Representations of Senescence in Tony Harrison’s Black Daisies for the Bride (Sandie Byrne)
  • 12 Old Age and Motherhood in April De Angelis’ After Electra (Laura Tommaso)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

← viii | ix →


I would like to thank the authors for their diligence and academic professionalism during the completion of this book. I am sure their work will add new and valuable data to the ever-growing discipline of humanist(ic)/cultural gerontology. As a researcher in the field of age studies, I would also like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Lynn Botelho and Susannah R. Ottaway for their monumental anthology, History of Old Age, 1600–1800 (8 vols), and for the enormous work devoted to ‘digging up’ evidence for popular, legal, medical and scholarly interest in ageing over these particular centuries, and even earlier. The collection is an indescribably helpful tool for any scholar of ageing as I am sure they realize.

Furthermore, I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers of the initial proposal and the final manuscript for their suggestions on improving the quality of the book. I likewise want to thank Laurel Plapp and her team at the Oxford branch of Peter Lang for their guidance and assistance in producing the book. It is always a pleasure to work with them.

I would like to furthermore acknowledge that the research for my contributions to this collection was supported by a grant from the National Science Centre, Poland, number 2014/13/B/H52/00488, titled ‘Embodied Sites of Memory? Investigations into the Definitions and Representations of Old Age and Ageing in English Drama between 1660 and 1750’. Heartfelt gratitude is also due to my university – Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland – and the Faculty of English in particular.

And, finally, my parents. As always, they made sure I had plenty of publications to read and reference, for which I am continually indebted, literally and metaphorically. The same needs to be said of my fiancé whom I would additionally like to thank for his help with the final version of the book. Thank you for your advice and patience as well as the many evenings of ‘daddy baaam’ with our son, Sebastian, while I was pondering on ‘joyful’ subjects, such as the autumns and winters of our lives. The final acknowledgement will go to the latest addition to our family, Maja, who will remind us, every day, how old we really are. ← ix | x →

← x | 1 →


Introduction: Autumnal Faces

The Autumns and Winters of (Wo)Mankind

Madame Passionate, an elderly widow from Margaret Cavendish’s 1660 play, Bell in Campo, Part II,1 is (made) desperate to remarry. Cavendish, nowadays recognized as one of the first female English playwrights who insisted on being acknowledged as an author,2 shows this superannuated ‘bell(e)’ being courted by three gentlemen, two young ones and a certain older candidate, Monsieur Gravity. Although the younger suitors, Monsieurs Comerade and Compagnion, are overtly disgusted by Passionate,3 treating the potential marriage as a necessary evil, she persistently pushes Gravity away, and this is in spite of his reasonable remarks that their years ‘will make better agreement in marriage’4 than any relationship with a young ← 1 | 2 → gallant. Cavendish, herself married to the Duke of Newcastle who was thirty years her senior, allows the lonely – ultimately meaning man-less – Passionate follow her rekindled passions, and we see her choose Monsieur Compagnion as her new partner, creating a commonly criticized and ridiculed ‘May/December’ marriage.

In Bell in Campo Cavendish juxtaposes Passionate’s fate with that of the valiant feminist warrior’s, Lady Victoria, as well as that of the deceased, even self-martyred young widow, Madame Jantil. The playwright seemingly shows that only Lady Victoria represents a ‘useful’, recommendable type of womanhood/femininity.5 It is Passionate’s in particular that is pointed out as wasted female potential. As such, Cavendish does not let the readers6 see the elderly widow solely in the position of a victim of seventeenth-century misogyny (although examples of institutional and cultural anti-feminism were Cavendish’s main focus). In Bell in Campo, the playwright seems to suggest that wrong decisions were made on the part of Passionate herself, and thus she draws attention to the widow’s advanced age and her shameful disregard of what it entails. Just before sealing her fate, Passionate says ‘my face is in the Autumnal’,7 with Monsieur Compagnion’s subsequent correction that she is more accurately ‘in the midst of Winter’, and so Cavendish creates a female character who is specifically punished for breaking the rules of age-based decorum and, in particular, for reawakening her (sexual) passions to be indulged in in a relationship with a younger man. Unsurprisingly, then, the play finishes with Passionate predicting her own death, caused by a loveless marriage, loss of all of her wealth and declining physical and mental health. With this sad end to one of her ‘bell(e)s’’ lives the Duchess draws attention to the seventeenth-century (gendered) attitudes towards old age and age-related regulations. These themes are indicative of a much ← 2 | 3 → larger and longer, if not ever-present, obsession with ageing, and issues such as the so-called ‘Ages of Man’, questions or dreams of longevity and the fear of death.

Ancient and medieval ‘anthrochronologists’, as the author of Chapter 1, Jim Casey, calls them, have variously defined and counted these so-called (st)ages of life, from the Aristotelian three, through Galen’s four and seven by Ptolemy, and up to ten and twelve when alluding to weeks or months.8 The number depended on whether human life was interpreted from the biological/medical, theological, astrological or philosophical perspective. Margaret Cavendish herself, and many before her, used the imagery of seasons to denote, comment and moralize on the topic of age and ageing. Autumn and winter were the periods of inevitable and progressive decline and degradation both in the natural world and within human bodies as well as minds. As one of the few, Cicero saw such a transformation as natural – saying ‘Spring typifies youth, and shows the fruit that will be; the rest of life is fitted for reaping and gathering of the fruit’9 – while more often than not the degradation has been shown and understood as tragic. Autumns and winters bring to mind the approaching death, and in the case of human life there is no hope for a cyclical revival or rebirth.10 Thus, ageing is perceived as an irreversible and involuntary, though prolonged, farewell to life (at least as it is).

An eighteenth-century English ballad traces this memento mori feeling across twelve months, with the final stages imagined thus:

October’s Blast comes in with Boasts,
And makes the Flowers to fall,
Then Man appears to fifty Years, ← 3 | 4 →
Old Age doth on him call:
The Almond Tree doth flourish high
And Man grows pale we see,
Then it is Time to use this Line,
Remember, Man, to die. […]

December fell, both sharp and snell,
Makes Flowers creep in the Ground,
Then Man’s threescore, both sick and sore,
No Soundness in him’s found […]

And if they be tho’ Nature strong,
Some that live ten Year more,
Or if he creepeth up and down
Till he come to fourscore.
Yet all this Time is but a Line;
No Pleasure can we see;
Then may he say, both Night and Day,
Have Mercy, Lord on me.

More contemporarily, Richard C. Fallis poetically summarizes the final stage of human life saying that ‘Old age is the season of late autumn to winter; its landscape is of bare trees, windswept plains, and empty cities’.12 This somewhat apocalyptic vision of the final stages of life has undergone a major change with the development of medicine and social welfare, and yet more often than not, as Anne Basting notes, ‘To be old is still negatively ← 4 | 5 → associated with loss’.13 In our youth-obsessed culture, such an irreversible loss of physical and mental power as well as agency threatens the integrity of one’s identity, especially as a self-sufficient and autonomous individual. Such conclusions can be drawn from Simone de Beauvoir’s seminal The Coming of Age wherein she additionally stresses the paradox, if not tragedy, of old age – it always surprises us, despite being the most expected, sometimes even hoped for, stage in human life. Alluding to Proust, she reflects:

[…] for in the old person that we must become, we refuse to recognize ourselves. […] All men are mortal: they reflect upon this fact. A great many of them become old: almost none ever foresees this state before it is upon him. Nothing should be more expected than old age: nothing is more unforeseen.14

De Beauvoir agrees with a rather pessimist interpretation of this statement, showing that there is very little to be happy about indeed.

Despite contemporary anti-ageist programmes and campaigns and well-developed welfare systems, in our ageing societies people rarely share the joyful wonder of John Donne, who, in the seventeenth century, wrote: ‘No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace / As I have seen in one autumnal face’ (Donne, ‘Elegy IX: The Autumnal’).15 Nevertheless the ← 5 | 6 → present volume strives to offer as heterogeneous views on old(er) age as possible, focusing both on the negative aspects as well as the more uplifting perception of what old(er) age represents and brings about. The literary and actual autumnal, and at times even winter, faces presented in this volume stem from diachronic studies of British and Irish cultures, while the authors of the chapters themselves represent much more diverse backgrounds. In this way Autumnal Faces attempts to avoid sweeping and one-dimensional definitions of and judgements on old age and ageing.

Gerontology, Humanities and Theatre

Serious academic and scientific research on old age does not have a long tradition as, for instance, proper geriatrics only came into being after 1850, and was followed much later, in the twentieth century, by the less medically-oriented and more positivist study of gerontology. The now-popular umbrella term ‘ageism’ had not existed prior to 1968, when it was coined by Dr Robert Butler (1927–2010), gerontologist and psychiatrist, from the International Longevity Center (ILC).16 For over two decades Butler strived to raise awareness of the consequences of ageing, and not only those pertaining to debilitating physiological and cognitive disorders/illnesses. Eventually, the development of humanist(ic) gerontology helped to shift the perspective from facts and numbers to emotions, exposing not only the ambiguous attitudes towards ageing and old(er) people – often internalized by the elderly people themselves – but also the ideological forces behind such perceptions. As Georges Minois explained in his study on the cultural conceptualizations of old age: ‘Every type of socio-economic and cultural organization is responsible for the role and image of its old ← 6 | 7 → people. Every society treasures a model of the ideal man, and the image of old age depends on this model, whether it is depreciated or esteemed’.17

Working with a similar goal in mind – or as Minois would put it, trying to unravel ‘the old person’s fundamental ambiguity’18 – Haim Hazan sadly notes that ‘[t]he aged are represented as an amorphous body distinct from and alien to society’ because society tends to refer to the ‘“adaptation of the aged person to society”, “what society can do for the aged”’, and ‘how can the aged “contribute” to society’.19 He adds that the elderly are too often seen ‘as a mass of needs bound together by the stigma of age’, while their individual identity is taken away to be replaced with the label of ‘the old’.20 Other scholars’ research adds to this almost de-humanizing diagnosis, suggesting, for example, that the narrative of the old age is the narrative of decline. Anne Basting specifically points to the fact that according to such a narrative ‘visual markers of age are sign of shame’,21 and in the case of women in particular, as she shows in her The Stages of Age.

Despite such negative conclusions, it is thanks to humanist(ic) gerontology that a more holistic approach to ageing has been taken, investigating not only the medical condition of the regressive transformation but also the (self-)perception of the ageing person, indeed seeing the person in ageing as it were. Thomas R. Cole, one of the editors of What Does It Mean to Grow Old? Reflections from the Humanities, explains that ‘[a]ging […] reveals the most fundamental conflict of the human condition: the tension between infinite ambitions, dreams, and desires on the one hand, and vulnerable, limited, decaying physical existence on the other – between self and body’.22 Furthermore, Rica Edmondson and Hans-Joachim Von Kondratowitz explain that humanistic gerontology focuses on ← 7 | 8 →

the social complexity of the human condition: what matters to people as they age, what makes their lives meaningful, what sense can be given to human ‘development’ in a situation characterized by increasing heterogeneity of opportunities. This means adopting an approach that essentially acknowledges people’s life course as needing and creating meaning.23

In practice, the two very general objectives of humanist(ic) gerontological research that have been identified so far are: 1) commenting on all continuities and variations in meaning and perceptions of ageing and old age; and 2) studying the ‘dynamics of the metastructure of ideas’ concerning old age and ageing, meaning the analysis of images, stereotypes, etc. and their relation to lived experience.24

Cultural and literary scholars have likewise started taking the factor of age into consideration, studying the subjects of finality, longevity, biological and mental ageing as well as the fate of the elderly within it. Despite quite a few (old) age-themed publications issued so far, contemporary scholars of age and ageing still voice the need for continuing explorative research into old age, ageing and senescence, and that with a greater humanist(ic) perspective. One of the reasons for such a demand in further studies is the metaphorical value of age itself. As Thomas M. Falkner and Judith de Luce note,

[…] age as a conceptual system is a vital literary resource, useful for exploring issues that may seem to have no essential connection with old age. Concepts of age are regularly employed for their symbolic and metaphorical value, as poetic vehicles in which polarities of youth and age are assimilated to other conceptual structures – tradition and innovation, morality and corruption, foolishness and wisdom, activity and contemplation, and so forth. ← 8 | 9 → 25

While the past tendency has been to create something like an all-encompassing literary ‘meta-narrative old age’,26 Johnson and Thane suggest that this is a fallacy and that one should rather focus on more contained historical and socio-cultural research areas when studying the processes and meanings of ageing, at least in literary/cultural studies. Thus, to answer Johnson and Thane’s call for strengthening ‘our understanding of smaller questions’ and consequently to ‘produce a better history of old age and ageing’,27 the present volume aims to investigate the notions of old age via a diachronic inquiry into the phenomenon and its representations in British and Irish drama, theatre and in performance.

Sociology, statistics and population reports tell their own story of old age and ageing, autobiographies and life accounts another. This book is to provide yet another side of this multidimensional narrative of old(er) age, though not claiming absolute supremacy over any other existing cultural or literary discourse or, of course, over lived experience, no matter how reflexive the relationship between (para)literature and actuality claims to be. All artistic discourses may be seen as reactions to the dominant ideological frameworks, and so both theatre and drama can be treated as supplying more or less conscious rationale for acceptance, rejection and/or reinforcement of cultural, social, political and religious arrangements (hierarchies). Drama itself may be seen as a ‘repository for the storage and mechanism for the continued recirculation of cultural memory’.28 As such, the book follows on from, for example, Michael Mangan’s Staging Ageing, in which he uses texts and performances as ‘an optic through which to view changing images, representations and understandings of old age […]’.29 Similarly, the present book is based on the supposition that plays, read in ← 9 | 10 → their historical and cultural contexts, may therefore be seen as ‘as constitutive of “reality” as any other form of discourse’.30 Theatre in particular functions at the interface of this reality as it not only elicits immediate reactions to the performed situations from its audiences, but also performs life as it is and as it could be. It likewise accommodates or offers its stages to the ageing bodies. And so, when studying old age and the mechanisms of ageing, theatre as well as dramatic narratives constitute a significant reservoir of ‘truths’ and convictions pertaining to the vicissitudes of the human life course.

Autumnal Faces will highlight the importance of the medium – staged and published – as a platform for a multifaceted study of the autumns and winters of (wo)mankind. The characters described in the chapters may not represent too many of the now proverbial decrepit old men as described by Shakespeare’s Jaques in As You Like It – ‘Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’;31 – but the authors included herein ultimately show that old age is more than just a biological and chronological parameter. Just as Maurice Charney in his Wrinkled Deep in Time suggests, old age may be contextual,32 and it may in a way ‘grow on’ or ‘creep on’ the character during the course of the play’s action or as a result of the burden of the characters’ function. Thus, the mature and old characters that people the chapters of this volume represent different stages of the autumns of their lives, proving indeed that old age is a ‘nebulous existence of unpredictable duration’. ← 10 | 11 → 33

The ‘Ageing Stage’ and the ‘Autumnal Faces’

Minois, while tracing the (re)presentations of gendered old age since the earliest centuries, analyses two seemingly contradictory visions of the elderly in drama. He mentions the older characters’ prestigious function as venerable counsellors but also as tragic heroes, such as the old Oedipus, whose fate makes one think that ‘old age is the last curse the gods load on our fate’.34 Minois suspects that it is ancient comedies that should be treated as somewhat closer to actual treatment and perceptions of the elderly in that epoch. The critic suggests that the elderly were ‘funny’, or potentially comical, because they were seen as ‘no more than caricatures of human beings’.35 Prevalence of the elderly in early drama is further exemplified in Michael Mangan’s Staging Ageing, where he summarizes the foundations of most of the enduring and ambiguous stereotypes and prejudices concerning the elderly, pointing in particular to the comedies of Meander, Plautus and Terence, and their examples of the senex.36 These stereotypes/archetypes were subsequently popularized and perpetuated in medieval drama, despite the fact that it had liturgical roots, rather than being inspired by ancient arts. In the English medieval mysteries and morality plays, therefore, we can both laugh at the elderly, worried, ridiculous Joseph who suspects Virgin Mary of cuckolding him with ‘an angel’ as well as listen to the warnings of the wise Doctor who delivers the moral of Everyman.

The inspirations by the ancient models of the senex are more easily traced in the early modern period, thanks to the rise of humanism and, in England, likewise due to the cultural/literary connections with countries such as France and Italy. The Italian commedia dell’arte in particular influenced the English Renaissance, and its dramatic stories concerning the old(er) characters.37 Moreover, historians and literary scholars note significant interest in matters of ageing and senescence starting, roughly, during ← 11 | 12 → the Elizabethan period. As Christopher Martin states in Constituting Old Age in Early Modern English Literature, ‘[…] Elizabeth herself provided an iconic yet kinetic spectacle of age’, and her longevity, as well as her gender, inspired new attitudes towards the value of old age.38 It is, therefore, from the early modern period that this volume’s studies of ageing and old age begin.

No diachronic study of old age and ageing in the dramatic arts can disregard William Shakespeare’s presentations of human life cycles. Many of the existing studies on ageing focus mainly on the often-repeated soliloquy by Jaques in As You Like It, thus treating it as the poetic epitome of Renaissance conceptualization of ageing and old age. The authors in this volume call for an equal appreciation for other dramatic narratives by the playwright, showing their philosophical, sociological and literary value in furthering research in humanist(ic) gerontology. And so the proposed volume opens with Jim Casey’s ‘The Slippered Pantaloon: Manhood and Ageing in Shakespeare’, which not only analyses the influence of age on men, but it likewise conducts a meticulous analysis to argue the interconnections between male ageing and femininity. Using the Hippocratic theory of humours and other compatibles, Casey ponders upon the effeminizing effect of ageing that seems to debilitate Shakespearean male characters. Susannah R. Ottaway sees ‘a “good” old age – an independent old age […]’,39 and Casey shows in Chapter 1 what happens to powerful men when they lose this prerogative, or power; when old age places them in the same category as women or children. Analysing plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear, Casey proves that ‘with the loss of his phallus, the old man can no longer take care of himself and, like a woman or a child, must be protected by others’.40

This loss of authority and independence which Casey talks extensively about destroys the social hierarchy and threatens the paternal (and patriarchal) power dynamics, potentially leading to generational strife. Patrick ← 12 | 13 → Aaron Harris’ study in Chapter 2 of father–son relationships in Shakespeare’s two-part Henry IV, titled ‘Ageing and Paternal Relationships in William Shakespeare’s 1&2 Henry IV’, focuses on the homosocial, familial dynamics, showing Hal’s two ageing ‘fathers’, Henry IV and Falstaff. Harris insists on reading the two plays together to more clearly see the transformations that both Henry IV and Falstaff undergo, as well as their influence on the young Hal. Using the Saturnian myth, early modern humoural theory and more contemporary gerontological research on family dynamics, Harris reflects on the two ways of ageing as presented in the plays. Thus, he sees Henry IV as ‘a melancholic, saturnine figure’41 and Falstaff as a sanguine, lusty fellow, or ‘young old man’,42 who on occasion admits to his powers waning. The author subsequently analyses the more or less conscious methods both characters use to fashion Hal’s character, and their attempts at shaping his future self. As such, these ‘ageing’ fathers offer Hal not only various types of masculinity to follow in his later life, but also, subconsciously, propose different types of ageing and ways of performing old(er) age.

The idea of old age being performative43 is further reflected on in Nizar Zouidi’s chapter (Chapter 3) on Ben Jonson’s Volpone, wherein it is proved that ageing is a theatrical category. The play’s eponymous hero has been previously analysed by another of this volume’s scholars, Stella Achilleos, who in her ‘New Directions: Age and Ageing in Volpone’ not only explains the origins of the story of the childless old man as well as the richness of intertextual inspirations of Jonson, but who indeed confirms that ‘due to his numerous transformations during the play, Volpone’s actual age seems to remain fairly elusive’.44 Zouidi likewise states that ‘Volpone masterfully plays the roles of different characters of different ages and from different ← 13 | 14 → walks of life. His disguise is always convincing. In fact, the fox never fails to fit whatever form he takes. This is why it is difficult to determine his real personality’.45 In contrast to Achilleos’ earlier publication and taking a more theoretical and somewhat philosophical approach, Zouidi shows that Jonson’s Volpone’s age ‘is a form that is realized through performance. Therefore, it is not an essential quality of the dramatic characters’.46 The author of ‘The Real Age of the Fox: A Study in the Representation of Youth and Old Age in Volpone by Ben Jonson’ then proceeds with presenting two models of ageing distinguished in this piece, drawing attention to the ways in which the fox outplays his physical degeneration by shifting forms. Zouidi also discovers that ‘the economy of ageing in Volpone is founded on an accumulative pattern of dematerialization’, and that the character ages both backward and forward.47

While Jonson’s play seems to celebrate and cheer the shenanigans of the old(er) character, the attitude towards age(ing) and the elderly is much graver in Chapter 4, focused on the study of ‘one of the most striking and profound interrogations of old age that found a place on the early modern stage’.48 The Old Law from 1618 to 1619, like Volpone above, interrogates the connections between old age and inheritance/monetary questions, while also imagining a world where there is no place for the ‘useless’ elderly, a world with state-organized population control. Stella Achilleos’ ‘Old Age, Biopolitics and Utopia: Geronticide in Middleton, Rowley and Heywood’s The Old Law49 reads the actions of the Duke of Epire, who decrees that old people should be exterminated due to their uselessness, as the evidence of ← 14 | 15 → the early modern period’s gerontophobia. One of the characters, the young Simonides, comments on the cruel edict thus:

Oh lad, here’s a spring for young plants to flourish!
The old trees must down [that] kept the sun from us;
We shall rise now, boy.

The personal joy of the young courtier who sees no problem with following the Duke’s order of geronticide, actually revels in it, draws attention to the conflict of interests that arises between the rule of the (male) domestic authority and of the patriarch. As Anthony Ellis comments, ‘[…] when sons like Simonides relish the execution of their fathers, they act as “good subjects,” since they are adhering to the letter of the prince’s law, and thus must also be by definition “good sons.” In truth, the son has had to choose between incompatible loyalties […]’.51 Achilleos reads this crisis of authority in a wider context, applying the concepts of biopolitics – which she defines as ‘the concept of politics as political power that controls and regulates life and the living in the name of the well-being and security of the state’ – and of utopia.52 Thus, referring both to the ideal city-state described in Plato’s The Republic as well as to the literary utopia created in 1516 by Thomas More, Achilleos analyses the reasons for early modern societies’ interest in population control, and one focused on the elderly in particular. She ultimately offers a thorough explanation to Ellis’ observation that The Old Law is ‘[…] a play that overturns many New Comedy conventions, including above all the standard final withdrawal of the old generation to make way for the new. Here the senes return from an offstage “paradise” […], and assume their former positions in society’. ← 15 | 16 → 53

Ellis, generally, calls comedy ‘an ageist genre’,54 and my own contribution to the present volume in Chapter 5 proves that little has changed since Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton and the other early seventeenth-century playwrights mentioned above. In ‘Prudence, or the “Sins” of the Elderly in Restoration Comedies’, I venture into the ‘Merry England’ of King Charles II, and the almost mythically libertine theatrical world of the English Restoration. As has been noticed by Donald Bruce, the topics recurring in Restoration

are those in which the age was naturally and endlessly interested: the education of the gentleman, the value of honour in a man and chastity in a woman, the respective merits of tradition and innovation, the contention between constant and inconstant love, the trials and penalties of marriage in a loose-living society, the promoting of felicity and the avoiding of sorrow.55


X, 340
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (July)
humanist(ic) gerontology cultural gerontology age studies old age senescence ageing longevity theatre drama performance ageism Ages of Man death identity memory life-telling story-telling
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. X, 340 pp.

Biographical notes

Katarzyna Bronk (Volume editor)

Katarzyna Bronk is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland. She teaches the history of English literature but specializes in Restoration theatre and drama. She also researches and publishes on various British texts/manuals of conduct and the literary methods of socializing women of all ages and states. Currently, she is exploring the representations and dramatizations of ageing and old age, and her research on the matters of senescence, titled «Embodied sites of memory? Investigations into the definitions and representations of old age and ageing in English drama between 1660 and 1750», is supported by a grant from the Polish National Science Centre.


Title: Autumnal Faces
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351 pages