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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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9 The Storytellers: ‘Stars’ and Seanchaithe of the Celtic Tiger (C. Austin Hill)


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9    The Storytellers: ‘Stars’ and Seanchaithe of the Celtic Tiger


The Celtic Tiger period – beginning in the mid-1990s – was a period of incredible economic growth and illusory prosperity. This chapter explores the manifestations of the resultant cultural tensions in the representations of ageing and of ‘elderly’ characters on stage, arguing that the way that ageing and senescence are theatrically represented is revealing of a broader cultural negotiation of ‘new’ and ‘old’ Ireland. I focus on two very different seanchaí characters – older members of society traditionally charged with the keeping of cultural knowledge – and demonstrate how, using the most traditional sources of cultural transmission, the plays reflect the changing narratives in Ireland. The first part explores the shifting relationships between rural and urban Ireland in Conor McPherson’s The Weir (1997). I then unpack changing relationships between the Irish and their government in Sebastian Barry’s Hinterland (2002).

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