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Epicene


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AT: Epicoene; The Silent Woman A: Ben Jonson Pf: 1609, London Pb: 1616 G: Com. in 5 acts; prose S: London, early 17th c. C: 11m, 6f, extrasMorose, a rich bachelor, so hates noise that he is seeking a silent wife. He is pleased to learn that Epicene, who lives nearby, hardly speaks. Morose has disinherited his nephew, Sir Dauphine Eugenie, and, in fact, it is Sir Dauphine who has planted Epicene in order to trap his uncle. When Morose meets Epicene, he is so delighted with this silent woman that he marries her immediately. However, once married, Epicene hardly stops talking and invites wits, admirers, and hangers-on for a rowdy wedding feast at Morose's home. Morose tries to escape the row and then attempts to drive the revellers from his house. Finally he pleads for a divorce. When his nephew agrees to arrange this for him, Morose agrees to pay him handsomely and to restore him as his heir. Sir Dauphine then reveals that Epicene is in fact a boy, so providing unquestionable grounds for divorce.

AT: Epicoene; The Silent Woman A: Ben Jonson Pf: 1609, London Pb: 1616 G: Com. in 5 acts; prose S: London, early 17th c. C: 11m, 6f, extras

By establishing Morose as an unsympathetic, mean, and obsessive individual, Jonson draws on the tradition of the absurd old man of Roman comedy and of the commedia dell'arte and pre-dates the extreme characters of Molière. This makes Epicene a lighter, less complex play than Jonson's other great comedies, where we cannot help having a sneaking admiration for the villains. Here we are treated to the fun of a kind of Taming of the Shrew in reverse, the silent woman who becomes a harridan, and, as in Twelfth Night, the spoiler of social gaiety receiving his just deserts. The play was originally performed by the boys of the Children of the Queen's Revels.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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