Epicoene, or The Silent Woman by Ben Jonson

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Epicoene
is an absolute goldmine when it comes to gender studies.  Not only does it study gender stereotypes, it also defines homosexual encounters that do not interfere with the order of society. The play depicts a single older man, Morose, who is attempting to trick his nephew, Dauphine out of his inheritance by getting married. Morose cannot abide noise, so he seeks a woman who cannot or will not speak. Dauphine out-maneuvers Morose, planting a boy player to play the part of a woman, to marry Morose, and then prove to be utterly chatty. The boy plays his part well, driving Morose into near insanity until the marriage is proved invalid and Dauphine is granted his inheritance.

Although Dauphine is a homosexual, keeping the boy player as for sexual purposes, Morose is seen as a much more disruptive force in the play. Though he presumably is not gay, (I’d even hazard a guess at asexual) his loss of control when “married” causes him to make a fool of himself, and seem sexually disordered. Dauphine’s relationship is accepted in society because he doesn’t talk of it. It is known about certainly, yet his silence allows him to maintain a masculine dignity that a woman in this play certainly would not have.

The women in the play, specifically the collegiates are seen as sexually disordered as well. They live away from their husbands and are sexually promiscuous and are constantly chattering about their desires. In some ways, these women have begun to usurp the male role, living independently, courting men, and having a voice in academia. These women are seen as threats to society because of their masculine behavior. Epicoene reveals much about sexuality in society in renaissance England. 

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