- Growing Old in Early Modern Europe: Cultural Representations
This volume, containing eleven chapters by scholars in literary studies, history, visual arts, and the history of medicine, is an excellent contribution to the long under-researched field of medieval and early modern representations of old age. Erin Campbell's 'Introduction' outlines the volume's focus on 'the cultural discourses on ageing in early modern Europe' which both reflect and constitute social relations. Campbell finds the early modern era productive in this regard, for alongside traditional images and genres of ageing from the Middle Ages and antiquity, the early modern era constructs new genres, with print technology circulating them to a wider audience. The volume takes its origin from Stephen Greenblatt's theory of early modern self-fashioning, with contributors careful to include gender considerations.
Daniel Schäfer's 'Medical Representations of Old Age in the Renaissance: The Influence of Non-Medical Texts', discusses the early modern confluence of literary and medical sources, noting that physicians remained indebted to the treatment of old age in literary sources, while humanistic readers were likely to turn for consolation to ancient ideals of old age, such as those of Cicero (De senectute) and Plutarch. In her chapter, 'Time's Whirligig: Images of Old Age in Coriolanus, Francis Bacon and Thomas Newton', Nina Taunton similarly finds an early modern conflict between traditional literary understandings of old [End Page 128] age and Francis Bacon's emerging science of observation and experimentation. Taunton elicits Shakespeare's wise old woman, Volumnia, in Coriolanus, as an example of the early modern adaptation of inherited literary traditions regarding old age to new cultural and political situations. In 'Youth, Old Age, and Male Self-Fashioning: The Appropriation of the Anacreontic Figure of the Old Man by Jonson and His 'Sons'', Stella Archilleos argues that the ancient Greek poems ascribed to 'Anacreon', with their representations of an old age devoted to, but unfulfilled by, wine and song, provided an important resource for early modern male self-fashioning. Employed by Ben Jonson and his protégés, the anacreontic old man came to be identified with Cavalier / Royalist sympathies during the Civil War, a way of expressing present loss and hope for the future.
Maria Teresa Ricci's 'Old Age in Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier' (translated from French by Antonio Shorthose) examines the conflict in conduct literature when the perfect courtier grows old and loses the essential beauty of form and grace. Ricci details the tension in Castiglione's influential treatise between a courtier as a naturally agile youth and an elder, wise and experienced in advising princes; she construes the literary manifestation of this tension as nostalgia and melancholy. Kevin P. Laam's insightful 'Aging the Lover: The Posies of George Gascoigne', discusses the literary innovation of Gascoigne in writing courtly lyric in the voice of an avowedly middle-aged persona who does not fear or revile old age and death, but accepts them as natural consequences of a life well lived. Writing from this ageing body, Gascoigne co-opts his readers in allowing an aged erotic sensibility to voice its desires.
Aki C. L. Beam's chapter, '"Should I as Yet Call You Old?" Testing the Boundaries of Female Old Age in Early Modern England', notes the absence of women in medieval and early modern 'ages of life' schemas and uses female-authored texts to understand how ageing affected women in early modern England. Beam discusses different models used for gauging age, finding differences in the age at which women acknowledged themselves 'old' and competing schemas that operated simultaneously, creating ambivalence and ambiguity. In 'Thematic Reflections on Old Age in Titian's Late Works', Zbynek Smetana argues that Titian's later works show signs of retrospectivity and introspectivity, becoming increasingly concerned with images of piety, the Passion, and penitence. The Flaying of Marsyas and Pietà, both painted in the final years of Titian's life, include self-portraits that suggest the aged artist's reconsideration...