Analyzing how authors alter Echo’s character reveals underlying ideologies within the early modern era that pervade across all genres, and I focus on how Echo’s adaptations comment on her gender and bodilessness. Susan Anderson, Gina Bloom, and Judith Deitch all acknowledge Echo’s gender within their arguments, and I will build upon their work by evaluating the impact of Echo’s gender across genre boundaries. I find that across all genres and social spheres, Echo’s figure is only allowed non-licentious rhetorical agency when she is either allied with male voices or presented as genderless. Echo’s rhetorical bodilessness challenges early modern gender stereotypes and undermines their strict dichotomies even while male authors use Echo to reinforce their own rhetorical prowess.
My research follows Ralph Hexter’s call for an awareness of each myth’s “horizon of expectation,” in that early modern authors often refer not to a single particular myth but a blended totality of a character’s full mythological context. Therefore, my first chapter establishes the foundational aspects of Echo’s mythos that continue into early modern literature. In chapter two, I address how male authors portray Echo’s rhetoric as licentious to the point that most female authors abandon her and instead create new figures to combat the stigma against female rhetoric. Even as schoolboys, male writers are taught that Echo and other classical female figures are tools through which they can practice wit and better comprehend emotions, and these rhetorical exercises extend into their adult compositions. Thus, whenever Echo gains rhetorical strength, she consequently begins to lose her characterization and become primarily a tool for men. This loss of gender continues as male authors develop the poetic echo form and experiment with variations on that form; Echo no longer acts as a person but instead becomes solely a caricature or tool through which the male author displays his wit. As men debate about the source of knowledge, Echo gains rhetorical authority at the cost of her identity as a female character. Theologians and natural philosophers use Echo to illustrate opposing ideologies: either she is a medium of divine knowledge from God, or she is merely part of God’s creation that natural philosophers can study to discover truths about the universe. Echo’s treatment throughout early modern literature thus reveals the extent male authors permit female rhetoric, as well as how female rhetoric undermines the gender dichotomies that men try to uphold.
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Jones, Lesleigh, "Pinge Sonum: Echo's Bodiless Challenge to Masculine Control" (2022). English Theses and Dissertations. 15.
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