Article Title

Dumb Reading: The Noise of the Mute in Jonson’s Epicene


Adrian Curtin


In this essay, I outline the contrariety of noise, figurative and actual, in Ben Jonson’s Epicene, and analyze how noise is performed in various guises, positing a dialectical relationship between the expressive modes of the acoustic and the gestural in Elizabethan theatre. I contend that Jonson’s play is marked by the gestures of the dumb show via the character of Mute, whose antics have hitherto evaded critical attention. I consider the gestures made by Mute in Epicene (indications of which are given in the text)vis à vis those performed by the tongue-less, hand-less Lavinia in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, whose impassioned gestures make strange the act of gesturing on the stage and signal a potentially disruptive semiotic “noise.” The animating figure of this essay is the mute who acts as a noisy signifier – “dumb,” but replete with meaning.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.