Epicoene or The Silent Woman

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Ben Jonson edited by Roger Victor Holdsworth

DOI: 10.5040/9781408169193.00000019
Acts: 5. Scenes: 28. Roles: Male (8) , Female (7) , Neutral (0)

Jonson’s buzzing satire on gender and language enjoyed enormous prestige for more than a century after its first performance. The central figure is Morose, who hates noise yet lives in the centre of London, and who, because of his decision to marry a woman only because he is duped into believing she is silent, exposes himself to a fantastic cacophony of voices, male, female and – epicene.

The title signals Jonson’s satiric and complex concern with gender and performance: the play interrogates sexual decorum and the performance of gender, asking how men and women should behave both as fit examples of their sexes and to one another. The characters – knights, barbers, female collegiate and tricksters – present a cross-section of wrong answers, enabling Jonson to create riotous entertainment out of lack, loss and disharmony. Jonson is fascinated by the denigration of language into empty chatter or furious abuse: it is teeming with idiomatic vitality.

Epicoene was first performed in 1609 or 1610 by a children’s company. This text is based on the only authoritative text, from the 1616 folio Works.

From Epicoene or The Silent Woman

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Bloomsbury Publishing

Ben Jonson edited by Roger Victor Holdsworth

ISBN: 9780713666687

Series: New Mermaids

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