London Renaissance Seminar: ‘The very verge of his confine’: Cicero, Shakespeare and Attitudes to Old Age

Mandy Green Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Literature at Durham University

Wednesday 13 March 2019, 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm in IAS Forum, G17, South Wing, Wilkins Building


Marcus Tullius Cicero (‘Tully’) reached the height of his popularity in the reign of Elizabeth I when he rapidly became one of the most frequently published, and one of the most frequently translated classical authors. Cicero’s works played an important role in the reform of the grammar-school curriculum and his reputation for eloquence was unparalleled. Thomas Newton, who translated Cato Maior de senectute (Cato the Elder: ‘On Old Age’), amongst other discourses by Cicero, acclaimed him as ‘that incomparable Phenix of al eloquence among al that ever wrate either before or since his dayes’ (1569). However, Cicero was admired not only for the elegance and rhetorical power of his prose works, but also for their content, since it was felt that his works of moral philosophy could be harmonised with Christian ethics with relative ease. This paper will explore De senectute’s key role in early modern debates about the nature of old age by focusing primarily on the representation of aging in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Since Cato the Elder was Cicero's spokesman, the paper will also draw on Plutarch's Life of Cato the Elder.