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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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Introduction: Autumnal Faces (Katarzyna Bronk)


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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.

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