Age in M. Butterfly: Unquestioned Performance

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David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly, age, aging, identity, memory play, performativity


Criticism of the memory play has not addressed the performance of age, even when thoroughly interrogating other identity discourses. David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly (1988) is a case in point: scholars have examined issues of performing gender, race, sexual orientation, and culture, but not age. As the play exposes the protagonist’s inadequate understanding of gender and ethnicity, it leaves unquestioned his representation of an ageless, essential self during action that spans more than forty years. This article contends that M. Butterfly nevertheless stages the tensions between chronological age, physiological age, and the cultural construction of age, providing an opportunity to transform the binary of youth and age into a performance continuum. There is much to be celebrated in the potential complexity of age depiction in Hwang’s play, but also much to criticize in how often that potential remains unrealized, both in textual choices and in production.

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Modern Drama, v. 59, issue 2, p. 193-212

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