Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Fictions of Old Age in Early Modern Literature and Culture

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Fictions of Old Age in Early Modern Literature and Culture

Article excerpt

Nina Taunton, Fictions of Old Age in Early Modern Literature and Culture, New York & London, Routledge, 2007, pp. xi + 210, hb. £70.00, ISBN: 978-0-415-32473-1.

In Fictions of Old Age, Nina Taunton uses her literary-critical skills to juxtapose the depictions of old age that she has found in creative literature with examples drawn from other genres of early modern material. Undoubtedly, one of the main strengths of the book is the enthusiasm and range in the resultant discussion, which constantly stimulates readers to question their own preconceptions about early modern attitudes towards ageing.

The first chapter deals primarily with two texts: Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors and Thomas More's 'fictionalised account of his last days', The Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation. Taunton provides a close-reading of each text's explorations of old age, and generates much fresh thinking about both. True to its title, Fictions of Old Age, the book is often, as here, productively playful and experimental in its interpretation of literary stimulus. However, in a bid to support an ongoing argument, there is also a tendency, particularly evident in this chapter, to impose meanings related to old age on elements of the primary text which are not necessarily productive. For example, the alignment of Adriana's character in Comedy with the category of 'old man' makes sense in the context of the well-chosen evidence supplied during the argument (on pp. 15-16), but leads one to question whether Shakespeare designed this character to represent the limitations of old age, as Taunton argues, or whether Adriana's symptoms are merely typical of a young woman whose lover is absent as presented in other early modern literature.

What follows is a chapter that deals specifically with the relationship between youth and age in the period, with particular interest in inheritance. The methodology Taunton employs works more successfully here, as she uses King Lear as a starting point to introduce a number of varied texts on this theme. This allows the reader, as Taunton states in her introduction she intended, not only to grasp new or renewed knowledge on the topic itself, but also to read King Lear with a strengthened idea of the issues, political and otherwise, at hand. …

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