The notion of an archetypal struggle between "the young" and "the old" has dominated the critical discussion of Lear's age in Shakespeare's tragedy. This essay argues instead that such trans-historical binary constructions have obscured how King Lear presents Lear's age as a contested space subject to specific, conflicting cultural definitions. Disparate representations of the life cycle, evident in early modern taxonomies of age, give Goneril and Regan the tools to recast Lear as a man in his second childhood or dotage, and thus to deny him the still powerful role he seeks to adopt as a figure in his "green old age." This framing of Lear and other older men in the play shows how an old man's physical decay might become a political fact before it was a biological one. The essay claims that King Lear—along with a handful of other plays by Shakespeare from the late 1590s to the early 1600s—reveals how vulnerable patriarchal authority could be in early modern England when older men were defined and classified in ways that disempowered them.


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pp. 1-28
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