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The rhetoric of silence /

McGill University
Publication Date
  • Silence In Literature.
  • Women In Literature.
  • Communication
  • Linguistics
  • Literature


This study explores how we may read silence in dramatic works as a rhetorical strategy. Silence is usually equated with absence, oppression, or passivity. Speech is usually equated with presence, expression, and action. While silence can be imposed to prevent articulation, my study suggests that we re-read women's discourse, including their use of silence, as an empowering tool. By examining silence as strategic we allow for individual agency. Part One of the thesis demonstrates how the rhetoric of silence functions as a tool to communicate, persuade, and generate knowledge for women protagonists. The study of silence on the stage explores how choosing to employ a non-verbal form of communication challenges the logocentric tendency that privileges assertation and speech over silence. For this reason, Shakespeare's Cordelia serves as the paradigmatic silent rhetor. Cordelia demonstrates how silence, employed by choice, affirms authenticity. In Part Two, twentieth-century interpretations of female protagonists---Salome, Antigone and Philomele---are examined to show how we may read them as strategic rhetors who employ silence in order to recreate themselves as agents.

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