“O'erwhelmed with noise”: Abject Female Speech in Epicene; or, The Silent Woman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article discusses Ben Jonson's 1609 play Epicene; or, The Silent Woman, with a particular focus on Morose's excessive solitude and aversion to noise. The article begins by demonstrating how Epicene ostensibly relies on early modern discourses of female speech. The ideal woman of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century conduct literature was silent, a quality inseparable from the associated virtues of chastity and modesty. Morose takes this imperative to its extreme in his search for a bride of “thrifty speech,” who “spends but six words a day” (1.2.28-9). In contrast, excessive female speech is associated with women's proverbial corporeal leakiness, “hermaphroditic” or “epicene” gender, and uncontrolled sexual desire. Above all, the play insists that noisy, desiring, masculine women are a product of the emergent consumer culture located in the city. This raises a contradiction: are women all inherently prone to noisiness, or does female noisiness trouble the boundaries of gender? If women are naturally noisy, what is it about early modern London that, according to the play, exacerbates this? How we understand the nature of noise has profound implications for our reception of Morose. Rather than defining Morose solely in terms of his apparent agoraphobia and miserly character, as earlier criticism tended to do, attention to the ways in which both Morose and Epicene attempt to construct intolerable noise as an innate feature of urban womanhood can illuminate the structure of social abjection at work in policing the boundaries of masculinity and male communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-213
Number of pages23
JournalBen Jonson Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2021


Dive into the research topics of '“O'erwhelmed with noise”: Abject Female Speech in Epicene; or, The Silent Woman'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this