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P. 1
“What words say, or what words may not say, / Where Truth itself must speake like Flatterie?”. Discuss in relation to at least two texts.

“What words say, or what words may not say, / Where Truth itself must speake like Flatterie?”. Discuss in relation to at least two texts.

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This quote from Sidney highlights a trend in renaissance literature in England of a certain discretion in the use of language and cautiousness in written expression. This ambiguity allowed polemical issues and unconventional viewpoints to be explored in such a manner that the text can neither be said to validate them, nor can they be explicitly ascribed to the author.
This quote from Sidney highlights a trend in renaissance literature in England of a certain discretion in the use of language and cautiousness in written expression. This ambiguity allowed polemical issues and unconventional viewpoints to be explored in such a manner that the text can neither be said to validate them, nor can they be explicitly ascribed to the author.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
Matthew CallaghanENG 30010: Renaissance LiteratureFinal Essay5. “What words say, or what words may not say, / Where Truth itself must speakelike Flatterie?” (Sidney,
 Astrophil and Stella
, 35). Discuss in relation to at least twotexts on the module.
This quote from Sidney highlights a very real trend in the literature of the renaissance period in England. It implies a certain discretion in the use of language and acautiousness in written expression that pervades much of the literary production duringthis period. It articulates the wonderful sense of ambiguity that characterises it, in which polemical issues are raised and unconventional viewpoints articulated but in such amanner, that neither can the text be said to validate those views, nor can those views beexplicitly ascribed to the author of the text in question. Thomas Middleton and ThomasDekker’s stage-comedy
The Roaring Girl 
of 1611and Aphra Behn’s 1688 prose piece
Oroonoko
are two such texts which despite being separated by nearly eighty years andthe English Civil War, are both renowned for the fact that we are not quite sure how totake them (Heinemann 1).Why is it that two texts of different textual modes, and separated by so manyyears both demonstrate the same unwillingness to reveal themselves in anycompleteness? The roots of the answer to this question can be found in the fact that boththese texts “embody the contradictions of society, and at the same time, offer a critique of it” (Wiseman 9). Like most literature they evoke the issues which are present at the timein which they write. This is not unusual, but the difference with these texts is that, like therenaissance itself, they sit on the twilight between the darkness of the Middle Ages andillumination offered by the torch of modernity: between Catholicism and Protestantism; between old values and new ideas; between the feudal system and constitutionalmonarchy. Nestled in between two eras of human civilisation, they are not onlyrepresentative of the values of their society - “the contradictions inherent in the historical
 
moment”
1
 - but are beginning to question them. The contradiction lies in the fact that it isa transitional period: society has had to acknowledge the existence of new ideas and theincreasing fluidity of social orders but is still struggling to accept them. It is for thisreason that writer’s, even as they desire to discuss these moral and social issues, arelimited by both political and commercial restraints
2
. As professional writers, Middletonand Decker in
The Roaring Girl 
and Behn in
Oroonoko
must consider questions of censorship and reprisal
3
;as well as problems of patronisation and towards the latter endof the period consumer taste. This essay will analyse how these writers represent thecontradictory values of their changing societies and at the same time criticise them: whattheir words may say, and what they may not.
The Roaring Girl 
 begins and ends with an apology. If the character that theaudience “would of a roaring girl have writ” is not that which has been written, then themembers of the prologue (on behalf of the authors) “entreat you think [their] scene /Cannot speak high, the subject being mean”
 4
.For their roaring girl is not like thestereotype “that roars at midnight in deep tavern bowls, / that beats the watch, andconstables controls,” or that “…swears, stabs, gives braves, / yet sells her soul to the lustof fools and slaves” nor that of “A civil city roaring girl, whose pride, / Feasting, andriding shakes her husband’s state” but one who “flies / with wings more lofty”
5
. Those of the Epilogue in the same vein “crave your pardons”
6
. The Moll that the play portrays isnot one in keeping with the condemning stereotypes of cross-dressing women at thetime
7
. Based on the real ‘Moll Cutpurse’, Mary Frith, it was the first time a publicly prominent living figure had been depicted on stage (due to strict censorship laws). Byquestioning the stereotypes of the roaring girl character, while using the framework of areal woman - whom the authorities would have had little interest in protecting
8
- theartifice of fiction contrasted with the point of reference provided by the real MollCutpurse protects the play from any accusation of endorsing deviancy.
1
Wiseman pp. 8
2
For a discussion of the changing social and political climate of London in the early renaissance seeHeinemann Ch. 1
3
Heinemann pp. 36-39
4
The Roaring Girl 
Prologue ll. 5; 7-8
5
 
The Roaring Girl 
Prologue ll. 17-18; 19-20; 22-23, 25-26
6
 
The Roaring Girl 
Epilogue ll. 33
7
For example those expressed in the pamphlets
 Hic Mulier 
vs.
 Haec Vir 
8
Bevington pp. 1371
 
The play questions the contemporary socially acceptable roles of men andwomen. Unlike Mary Frith, The Moll of 
The Roaring Girl 
, despite her manly attire, her confrontational antics and her lascivious reputation is in fact a “champion of decent non-commercialised human and sexual values”
1
. Women should not only be chaste but silentand obedient
2
.She is socially unacceptable, not because of her actual sexual ‘looseness’and thievery, but because she subverts the conventional norms of female behaviour 
3
– for her “masculine womanhood” as Trapdoor puts it
4
- and her virtue is revealed against the backdrop of her undeserved reputation. When Laxton invites her to meet him privately, presuming from her masculine clothes, and her reputation that she is either a prostitute or at least ‘up for it’ as it were – “she slips from one company to another like a fat eel between a Dutchman’s fingers”
5
-, she draws her sword (itself an item associated withnotions of masculinity) and wounds Laxton in a duel. Instead of embodying thestereotype of her real-life counterpart, she defends her honour and that of other womenagainst men’s unwarranted presumptions. In this way, Moll’s ‘virtue’ is contrasted withLaxton’s actual lasciviousness. His coachman talks of all his “famous whores” and Mollsets out to “teach [his] base thoughts manners” for he “thinks each woman [his] fondflexible whore
6
”. This passage vilifies Laxton and all men like him for their “privyslanders” on behalf of all the women that “have their good thoughts paid with a blastedname”
7
. It reveals the double standard
8
that existed (and to an extent still exists) betweenmen and women that meant that men like Laxton were socially acceptable, but womenwho merely dressed differently were branded (in this case) as whores and criminals.So, she is not the loose woman or prostitute that her first name
 Moll 
would seemto imply: “from one end of London t’other” there are “more whores of that name than of any other”
9
. But nor is she that second accusation of her name,
Cutpurse
. When Sir Alexander and Trapdoor attempt to trap or frame her for stealing the jewellery that they
1
Heinemann pp. 99
2
McRae pp. 32
3
See also McRae pp. 30- 36
4
 
The Roaring Girl 
2.1.363-4
5
 
The Roaring Girl 
2.1.213-4
6
 
The Roaring Girl 
3.1.17-18; 73-74.
7
 
The Roaring Girl 
3.1.83
8
Heinemann has noted “while the ‘double standard’ was traditional, and indeed has not yet wholly diedout, many Puritan preachers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were trying to establish that the dutyof chastity was equally binding on men and women, and the lack of it equally sinful in either” (pp. 99).
9
 
The Roaring Girl 
3.1.159-60

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