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Autumnal Faces

Old Age in British and Irish Dramatic Narratives

Edited By Katarzyna Bronk

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.

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4 Old Age, Biopolitics and Utopia: Geronticide in Middleton, Rowley and Heywood’s The Old Law (Stella Achilleos)


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4    Old Age, Biopolitics and Utopia: Geronticide in Middleton, Rowley and Heywood’s The Old Law


This chapter concentrates on the issue of geronticide as it is addressed in The Old Law, a play written by Thomas Middleton, William Rowley and Thomas Heywood around the years 1618 and 1619. With its plot developing around the decision of the Duke of Epire to decree the execution of the elderly on the grounds that they are an unnecessary burden to society and the State, The Old Law reveals an important concern with a question that has a central position in the tradition of utopian writing and its search for an ideal city: that of population control. Analysing the play within the framework of such utopian texts as Plato’s The Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia, this chapter suggests that The Old Law does not simply reflect early modern anxieties concerning overpopulation but also provides one of the most profound early modern interrogations of the concept termed by Michel Foucault as biopolitics.

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