Judi Dench and Shakespearean Personae in the Twenty-First Century
Dame Judi Dench’s twenty-first century theatrical career has been undertaken in defiance of the expectation that her performance as the Countess in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2003 All’s Well That Ends Well would signal the culmination and conclusion of her stage acting career. Drawing on scholarship on the use of retrospection and persona-building in late-career practitioners, this article redirects attention from Dench’s conspicuously ‘late’ success in film to map how Dench has led, collaborated in and resisted public constructions of her persona. Shakespeare has been consistently key to this process. While drawing on persona-building strategies inherited from her Shakespearean forebears, Dench has resisted the overt appointment of any kind of Shakespearean ‘successor’ and thus the continuation of Shakespeare performance genealogies. Simultaneously, her role choices have contributed to her persona’s accrued significance as an avatar of moral virtue and authenticity – augmented by her association with the ‘national poet’, Shakespeare, as England’s most prestigious playwright. The article also examines Dench’s persona as a specifically ageing actress, and her significance for discourses of aspirational ageing, ageism, and national investments in the ageing female performer as a public persona.
Shakespeare, celebrity, ageing, silence, Judi Dench, moral authority