The title Age in Love is taken from Shakespeare’s sonnet 138, a poem about an aging male speaker who, by virtue of his entanglement with the dark lady, “vainly” performs the role of “some untutor’d youth.” Jacqueline Vanhoutte argues that this pattern of “age in love” pervades Shakespeare’s mature works, informing his experiments in all the dramatic genres. Bottom, Malvolio, Claudius, Falstaff, and Antony all share with the sonnet speaker a tendency to flout generational decorum by assuming the role of the lover, normally reserved in Renaissance culture for young men. Hybrids and upstarts, cross-dressers and shape-shifters, comic butts and tragic heroes—Shakespeare’s old-men-in-love turn in boundary-blurring performances that probe the gendered and generational categories by which early modern subjects conceived of identity.
In Age in Love Vanhoutte shows that questions we have come to regard as quintessentially Shakespearean—about the limits of social mobility, the nature of political authority, the transformative powers of the theater, the vagaries of human memory, or the possibility of secular immortality—come to indelible expression through Shakespeare’s artful deployment of the “age in love” trope. Age in Love contributes to the ongoing debate about the emergence of a Tudor public sphere, building on the current interest in premodern constructions of aging and ultimately demonstrating that the Elizabethan court shaped Shakespeare’s plays in unexpected and previously undocumented ways.
List of Illustrations
1. Endymion at the Aging Court
2. Falstaff among the Minions of the Moon
3. Remembering Old Boys in Twelfth Night
Jacqueline Vanhoutte is a professor of English and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of North Texas. She is the author of Strange Communion: Motherland and Masculinity in Tudor Plays, Pamphlets, and Politics and coauthor, with Laurel Amtower, of A Companion to Chaucer and His Contemporaries.
“This compelling book deftly integrates issues of gender, age, history, and politics in its bold reevaluation of the Shakespeare canon. Vanhoutte’s argument insightfully qualifies, and sometimes overturns, new historicist paradigms of Elizabethan sexuality—both generally and literally defined.”—Douglas Bruster, Mody C. Boatright Regents Professor of American and English Literature, Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin
“In this stunning appraisal of sexual senescence in Shakespeare’s plays, Jacqueline Vanhoutte shines a light on a figure who’s been hiding in plain sight: the aging male lover. Far from risible roués, characters such as Falstaff and Antony embody the politically potent but sexually quiescent men who hovered around Elizabeth in her final years. Beautifully written and hugely original, Age in Love pulls off that rarest of acts: adding a dimension to the highly defined profiles of some of Shakespeare’s best-known characters.”—Paul Menzer, professor and director of the Shakespeare and Performance graduate program at Mary Baldwin University
“In clear and elegant prose this book builds a persuasive case for Shakespeare’s plays as deeply engaged with court history. Exposing the limits of New Historicist analysis, [it] offers a brilliant and groundbreaking methodology for producing historically informed literary analysis.”—Catherine Loomis, author of The Death of Elizabeth I: Remembering and Reconstructing the Virgin Queen