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Autumnal Faces

Old Age in British and Irish Dramatic Narratives

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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5 Prudence, or the ‘Sins’ of the Elderly in Restoration Comedies (Katarzyna Bronk)


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5    Prudence, or the ‘Sins’ of the Elderly in Restoration Comedies


Prudence has been variously defined through the ages but the common denominator is the Aristotelian suggestion that it is ‘the right reason applied to practice’.1 Although it is, like the other Cardinal Virtues, seen as the goal for all Christians, it has been proverbially associated with old(er) age – a prudent person is expected to use their memory and knowledge gained with time and base their decisions on them. Focusing mostly on prudence’s two sub-parts, memoria [memory] and docilitas [‘teachable news’], the present chapter shows that Restoration comedy is, among others, based on the idea that the senex, of both sexes,2 is unable, or unwilling, to act prudently, which leads to their humiliation, marginalization and ostracism. To show this, the present chapter analyses three selected seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century comedies, presenting the characters who do not accept their old(er) age and the new forms of behaviour and identity expected of them by the members of the younger generations.

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