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186 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 Christina Luckyj. >A Moving Rhetoricke=: Gender and Silence in Early Modern England Manchester University Press. viii, 198. $69.95 Breaking away from feminist critics= claims that in early modern texts feminine silence equals subservience, Christina Luckyj destabilizes silence as a signifier by examining the >semantic elasticity= of silence in Western philosophical thought. Recognizing that early modern silence was >an unstable and highly contested site,= she posits a sixteenth-century paradigm shift from what she refers to as >rhetorical= to >antirhetorical= constructions of silence, and considers the impact of this shift on gender construction. In the complex history of silence, she finds a >multifaceted lens= through which to examine gender politics. Luckyj identifies two prevailing models of >rhetorical= silence: silence as impotence and as eloquence. Citing examples that jump from Cicero to Petrarch, Thomas Wright to Shakespeare, and Plato to Plutarch, she clearly demonstrates that these models of silence, >defined by and contained within the rhetorical paradigm,= have a long lineage. According to Luckyj, movements such as Ramism, Neo-platonism, and Puritanism championed not only a growing distrust of rhetoric but also a >new validation of silence=; as silence became >antirhetorical,= it became inscrutable, unreadable, ungovernable, and profoundly subversive. Drawing on a range of specific sixteenth-century examples, including the famous silence of Sir Thomas More, and the abuses of the ex officio oath, she argues that silence in early modern England became firmly associated with >the political resistance of the emerging subject.= In chapter 2 Luckyj considers the potential advantages for early modern women of the shifting multivalency of silence. In an age that increasingly distrusted rhetoric as an instrument of political control, silence provided an >inscrutable site of resistance,= a >prudent self-containment= to which men were encouraged to aspire. As men increasingly adopted the traditionally feminine virtues of silence and discretion, these virtues became >elevated by association,= and the traditionally gendered categories of active male speech and passive female silence became confounded. In examining >Silence and Drama,= Luckyj claims she will explore the shifting inscription of early modern silences >on the body of the actor,= but she mentions very few actors and spends regrettably little time examining embodied silence within the semiotic richness of stage performance. Instead she focuses on traces of silence as recorded in the lines of specific characters. Silent characters such as Lavinia and Cordelia are prominent in her argument >not as female subjects but as embodiments of masculine scepticism about the limits of masculine rhetoric and hermeneutics.= In the works of male playwrights, she finds fascinatingly contradictory readings of humanities 187 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 feminine silence as defiance rather than subjection, a seductive strategy rather than a traditional sign of feminine modesty: contradictions that aptly reflect an ambiguity in early modern texts, >which demand that a woman be both inviolable and available.= The book=s final chapter explores the ways in which early modern women reflect upon the complex relationship of silence and gender in their writing. In the writing of Askew, Wroth, Cary, and others, Luckyj finds evidence of feminine silence as both a bridle and a veil. She concludes in an epilogue with reference to Ovid=s Philomela: >a classical precedent for conflating feminine silence as impotence with feminine silence as agency.= Luckyj=s designations of silences as >rhetorical= and >antirhetorical= sometimes prove problematic, for her uses of these terms are almost as multivalent as the silences she describes. In some places she equates >antirhetorical= with >anti-Ciceronian,= while in others she defines it as >unreadable,= and proceeds to read >unreadable= silences with claimed accuracy. While making a clear case for the heterogeneity of early modern uses of silence, she overlooks the heterogeneity of early modern uses of rhetoric, and in doing so she denies herself the opportunity to explore the considerable significance to her argument of early modern women=s increasing access to rhetorical study. Shifting from the spoken silences of drama to the written >silences= of prose, she cites several rhetorically selfconscious texts by women that may well leave readers wondering how such texts can helpfully...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 186-187
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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