Plausible Obedience: Female Strategies of Deception in Shakespeare’s Problem Comedies


Linguistic deception
Gender variation

How to Cite

Beville, A. (2023). Plausible Obedience: Female Strategies of Deception in Shakespeare’s Problem Comedies. Linguæ & - Journal of Modern Languages and Cultures, 24(2), 27–50.


In Measure for Measure (MM), Isabella is taught to trick her male tormentor by feigning “a plausible obedience” (III.1.227), this instruction offers a useful lens through which to examine female characters’ negotiation/evasion of, conversational and societal norms of truthfulness both in MM and All’s Well That Ends Well (AW).           
From Lakoff (1973) to more recent studies (Erman 1992; Crawford 1995; Nevalainen 2000; 2002) gender has been considered an important variable in linguistics. There are observable, gender-specific differences in female-talk and male-talk in early modern texts.
Quantitative data from the pragma-stylistic analysis of deception in MM and AW indicates that women prefer ORVD strategies (off-record verbal deception; Beville 2022) while their male counterparts privilege blatant (on-record) lying. The present study aims to reveal and account for Shakespeare’s female characters’ divergent pragmatic strategies in the selected problem comedies, in the light of genre and gender conventions, in order to understand how Shakespeare’s women perform pseudo-cooperation within the comedies.
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