[UPDATE] Dramatizing Old Age, NeMLA, Toronto 4/30-5/3
Tobin Siebers in Disability Theory offers what is a central tenet of Disability Studies. The normative body and its full range of function—its ability to work and move—is at best a temporary fiction, one which accidents, disease, or disability might shatter at any moment. Indeed, the notion that the body's wholeness can be diminished by old age is something of a commonplace. Jacques's speech, for example, in As You Like It rehearses the familiar scheme of the Ages of Man, connecting each stage to a part played on stage, with the beginning and the end roles described by their lack of power. But what might early modern English literature challenge about the temporary nature of the normative body? In this panel, I seek papers that center on the ways in which depictions of old characters in drama challenge and confirm the effect of old age on ability, and the view of old age as temporal impairment. Indeed, from King Lear and Pericles to The Witch of Edmonton, the portrayal of the old body in early modern English theater has a number of different functions. Are aged men and women comic foils, figures of wisdom, or stigmatized outsiders? In many of these roles, the old persona is often defined by a conflicting mixture of ability and impairment, one which offers a more nuanced view of the old body, as these characters both protest their limitations and overcome their corporeal challenges.
This panel seeks papers that contextualize early modern examples of old age within modern disability studies. Are ability and the normative body temporary? Do protestations of impairment by these aged speakers match their dramatic reality?