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Article Title

‘things like truths, well feigned’: Mimesis and Secrecy in Jonson’s Epicoene

Authors

Reuben Sanchez

Abstract

Aristotle’s definition of mimesis is explained in order to show how Jonson both follows and subverts Aristotle. This definition better enables us to understand the satirical intent of Epicoene, where Jonson combines Aristotelian mimesis with the concept of “secrecy.” Hiding or disguising the truth is a form of secrecy accomplished through imitation in Epicoene. In Jonson’s use of Aristotle, the purpose of imitation is not to imitate nature or truth but to imitate “like truths,” that is, to imitate lies. The play is not about “truth” per se, but about the rhetorical devices by which truth is kept secret until the end of the play. The effectiveness of the play depends upon secrecy, though not in terms of audience reaction, since some audience members in Jonson’s time and in our own time might be familiar with what the word “epicene” implies as regards Latin grammar, and therefore could have a sense of the plot and of the secret of Epicoene’s sex. Nor should knowing the “secret” lessen the enjoyment of repeated performances or readings of this satire. Characters reflect different positions concerning “like truths” and “secrecy.” Clerimont opposes “feigning” or imitating truth. Truewit represents the over-emphasis on feigning. Morose represents the failure of language and imagination to convey “like truths.” Dauphine’s use of language and imagination succeeds, ironically, because he does not make much use of language and because he can keep a secret. In their efforts to be something they are not, characters in this play poorly feign like truth. Though "like truth" is revealed at the end of the play, one of the issues in this satire remains the ability, or lack thereof, to communicate effectively.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.

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