Early Modern Women in Conversation (Early Modern Literature by K. Larson

By K. Larson

In 16th and seventeenth century England dialog was once an embodied act that held the skill to barter, manage and remodel social relationships. Early smooth girls in dialog illuminates the level to which gender formed conversational interplay and demonstrates the importance of dialog as a rhetorical perform for ladies.

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A woman, Brathwaite aptly concludes, should ‘converse with Vertue’ (English Gentleman 264). If a man’s conversational self-control manifested itself in verbal and behavioral dexterity, the ability to adapt one’s words and one’s body to a wide range of situations so as to move up the social ladder, the most extreme form of feminine conversational self-control is usually represented as silence, the sealed mouth ostensibly mirroring the successfully sealed genitalia. The ‘sole ambition’ of a virtuous woman should be ‘to aspire to an inward greatnesse,’ Brathwaite affirms (English Gentlewoman 194).

292, 289). 292) of her thanks in person at a later date, the silent genre of the letter facilitates her conversational intervention. 289). 20 Paradoxically, the choice of the epistolary genre enables her to maintain that silence even as she breaks it. 241). Engaging in dexterous exchange even as she emphasizes her physical self-control, Pembroke capitalizes on conversation’s strategic potential in her epistolary interactions while successfully negotiating the gendered ramifications of conversational interaction.

Such discrepancies, however, could equally result from a deliberate decision by those whose ‘Hearts are too farre from their mouths,’ as Brathwaite puts it (237), to mislead or manipulate one’s audience. Gloucester’s castigation of Hastings’ uncivil and seemingly treacherous language and behavior serves, of course, as a foil to his own manipulative and highly deceitful conversation in the play. Few Shakespearean characters thrive more on the mismatch between inner self, words, and actions than Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

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