Monstrous Regiment

  • Nicholas Grene


Meredith argued that one of the pre-conditions for an era of great comedy was that there should not be ‘a state of marked social inequality between the sexes’.1 The historical evidence would scarcely seem to bear this out as a general proposition. Comic playwrights from Aristophanes on have made capital out of sexual inequality as the social norm. The idea of the women taking over in Lysistrata or Ecclesiasuzae would not be funny if it were not seen as a fantastic aberration from normality. Women enforcing a peace treaty, women voting in the Assembly, these are spectacles as remote from the actual as Cloudcuckooland or the comic Hades of The Frogs. The idea of assembly or congregation, for legislative or educational purposes, is understood to be an essentially male activity, and the banding together of women is the basis of comic works as different as Erasmus’s colloquy Senatulus and Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Princess Ida. To take an example from a minor play, interesting principally as a source for Molière, the feminist call to arms of Emilie in Chappuzeau’s Académie des Femmes is intended as typically absurd:

Ils [les hommes] ont, pour s’établir, sénats, académies,

Cours, diètes, conseils; nous seules, endormies

Nous seules, sur le point de nous voir accabler,

Ne songeons point qu’il est temps de nous assembler.2


Sexual Attitude Comic Contract Minor Play Sexual Inequality Young Gentleman 
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  1. 2.
    Samuel Chappuzeau, L’Académie des Femmes (1661), reprinted in Les Contemporains de Molière, ed. Victor Fournel (Paris 1875), Tome III, p. 237. L’Académie des Femmes is partly derived from Erasmus’s Senatulus and has been suggested as one of Molière’s sources for Les Femmes Savantes.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Antoine Adam, Histoire de la Littérature Française au XVIIe Siècle (Paris 1952), Tome III, p. 389.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Edward B. Partridge, ‘The Allusiveness of Epicoene’, ELH 22 (1955), 94. This article was later incorporated in Partridge’s book The Broken Compass.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 6.
    Jonas Barish in his article on ‘Ovid, Juvenal, and The Silent Woman, PMLA 71 (1956), 213 – 24, though he does not comment on this particular speech, illustrates generally how Jonson tends to change the tone of the Ovid passages he is imitating.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 8.
    See E. K. Chambers The Mediaeval Stage (Oxford 1903) i, p. 154, quoted by Donaldson, p. 40.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    Robert Knoll, Ben Jonson’s Plays: an Introduction (Lincoln, Nebraska 1964), p. 114.Google Scholar
  7. 15.
    William W.E. Slights comments on the tradition of Renaissance prose paradox to which this speech belongs, ‘Epicoene and the Prose Paradox’, Philological Quarterly 49 (1970), 178 – 87.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    L. G. Salingar ‘Farce and Fashion in The Silent Woman’, Essays and Studies 20 (1967), 29–46.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    Vaclav Cerny ‘Le “je ne sais quoi” de Trissotin’, Revue des Sciences Humaines (1961), 367–78.Google Scholar

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© Nicholas Grene 1980

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  • Nicholas Grene

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