Many Words, Many Turds: Middle English Proverbial Wisdom and the Alleged Incontinence of Female Speech
In a passage from The Castle of Perseverance, the reprehensible Malus Angelus dismisses the speech of the personified virtues who are attempting to lead mankind to salvation: ‘Ther wymmen arn, are many wordys. (…) Ther ges syttyn are many tordys’ (2649-51). As the quotation illustrates, likening someone’s words to turds is both an effective brush-off and a colourful insult. This particular insult derives its force from the familiar anti-feminist trope of the voluble woman: like women, the wicked angel implies, the female personifications of virtue talk too much, and the incontinence of their speech is presented in terms that are both scatological and bestial. These lines transform the virtues’ words into logorrhea, an object of ridicule rather than reverence. But upon closer examination, this eminently quotable passage and the dramatic context in which it is situated also suggest new ways in which we might approach such examples of anti-feminist discourse concerning women’s speech. This essay examines how the terms of Malus Angelus’s insult both rely on and destabilize anti-feminist proverbial sayings concerning women’s bodies and women’s speech.
My thanks to the editors of this issue and to the anonymous reader selected by the journal for their feedback on this essay. Any remaining errors or infelicities are my own.
insult, proverbs, anti-feminist, speech, bodies, geese, animals, The Castle of Perseverance
Flannery, Mary C. "Many Words, Many Turds: Middle English Proverbial Wisdom and the Alleged Incontinence of Female Speech." Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality 57, No. 1 (2021)