This article explores what John Vincent calls ‘the mask of ageing’, the disjunction between the subject’s external, physical signs of ageing and their internal sense of their own age. To this end, it examines the subplot of Thomas Holcroft’s comedy Duplicity (1781), in particular the role of sentiment in the conflicted representation of Mr Vanderveldt. While most criticism has focused on the play’s mainplot and Holcroft’s protoradicalism, his progressive agenda is also realised in the play’s representation of old age. Drawing on his letters, I will argue that Holcroft’s depiction of the old man is in part influenced by his concern for his own ageing father. Using a comparison with Samuel Foote’s The Maid of Bath (1778), the article will argue that Holcroft adopts but also subverts traditional theatrical comic stereotypes of the old bachelor in pursuit of marriage, allowing Vanderveldt to express an unusual degree of interiority and sincere emotion. By doing so, he generates complex and uncomfortable responses from his audience, producing sympathy for the old man and, in the process, making a veiled critique of British foreign policy with respect to the Dutch.
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