The term “deception” has a lot of synonyms: deceit, lie, fraud to name just a few. Such diversity of terms to describe the act of deluding and giving false information proves the seriousness of the concept of lie for human beings: deception can cause a dramatic change of life of many people; it can even affect society and change history. However, deception should not be judged categorically as a purely negative way of behavior, one should remember the concept of a white lie, a deception that can save a person’s life. Thus, different attitudes and motives of lie have been analyzed in the course of history. Since imaginative literature is the reflection of the human mind characteristic of the concrete historical epoch, it is easy to trace the attitude of people towards deception with the help of the works of imaginative literature. The present work will be focused on the analysis of the controversial role of deception in “Silence: A Thirteen-century French Romance”.
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In the first place, it is necessary to state that deception is the central motive in the romance under consideration as it can even be traced in the title. The title reflects the name of the protagonist and, by definition, “silence” suggests that if one keeps silent, it means that he is hiding the truth from everybody. In fact, to utter a lie is not the only possible way to lie as not to tell the truth also means to lie to a certain extent. What is more, the name of the protagonist may also be interpreted as a lie because the name is used by her parents in order to hide the truth about the sex of their child: “he will be called Silentious. And if by any chance his real nature is discovered, we shall change this –us to –a, and she’ll be called Silentia” (Roche-Mahdi, 1999, p.99). Thus, deceit started from the very birth of the girl. It is necessary to consider the essence of this deception and the motivation that led the girl’s parents to such a radical decision: to hide the child’s sex and to disguise it as the opposite. The reason for that was that the spouses were trying to circumvent the law of King Ebain that said that female heirs had no right to inherit their parent’s property. The question was if the parents were right when they made such a step. Was this the white lie or not? They were trying to evade the law, which is, certainly, wrong; however, they were trying to provide for the future of their daughter. They did not want to steal anything; the only intention was to save what they legally owned. Thus, the deception could be justified as it served a good purpose.
However, the deception concerns the inner world of the girl, it is necessary to analyze the role of deception for Silence and to answer the question of it is good to deceive Nature. Silence is being brought up as a boy and the fact that she is very successful in joisting and other sports that are typical of chivalric education speaks for itself. Thus, Silence’s childhood is an absolutely happy period of time and if we take into account that children seldom lie, it is possible to say that Silence’s happiness is the best evidence of the rightness of deception. She feels that she is a man and there is no other variant for her: “Not Silentius? Who am I then?” (Roche-Mahdi, 1999, p.119).
Still, it is necessary to clarify if the characters had a right to deceive Nature. The allegoric image of Nature tries to persuade Silence to abandon her masculine behavior and way of life. The fact that Silence almost yields to her persuasions, shows that chivalric upbringing was alien to the girl to a certain extent. Thus, it is possible to question the propriety of the deception, especially if we take into account Silence’s words: “Was any female ever so tormented or deceived by such a fraud as to do what I did out of greed?” (Roche-Mahdi, 1999, p.121). However, Nurture and Reason manage to persuade Silence to continue her life and the reasons seem to be substantial: to avoid the shame and bad reputation of her family, to keep the promise she has given to her parents, and to save her societal status. Besides, the subsequent military success of the heroine proves that her choice is right as “a man’s ways are worth more than a woman’s” (Roche-Mahdi, 1999, p.109). Thus, Silence’s deception serves good purposes.
The romance has one more character that is deceiving everyone, it is Eufeme the queen. Her deception is opposed to Silence’s deception. The queen falls in love with the knight not knowing that she is romantically involved with a woman. When she sees that her beloved has no intention to reciprocate her affection, Eufeme pours a thousand lies on Silence charging her with being a homosexual and a prostitute. This deception is engendered by the desire to revenge and it is absolutely negative, it is impossible to justify the queen’s action. Besides, no attempt to harm Silence is successful; this is the evidence of the queen’s wrong action. However, the final quest to capture Merlin is also the deception as the queen knows that it is possible for a woman only to capture him. Finally, the truth is revealed and Silence’s deception is exposed. This proves the old proverb: Truth will out. Nevertheless, the exposure of the lie brings good results; it finally reveals Eufeme’s adultery. Here there is another exposure of the disguise; Eufeme’s lover has been hiding under nun’s attire for years. This disguise is opposed to Silence’s as filthy. This is why the punishment for their deception is death, while Silence finally becomes a woman and a queen as well, thus preserving her social status and finding her love. Besides, death is a common punishment for deception in the literature of that time, for instance, Ganelon in “The Song of Roland” is put to a painful death, he “is torn limb from limb” (Burgess, 1990, p.127).
It is necessary to mention that deception concerning marriage has been one of the most frequently used motives in literature. The example of the “Iliad” may be set, where the whole action unfolds around spousal deception (Homer 2003). A very interesting example of deception that serves the good purpose is Penelope’s behavior when she deludes the men who want to marry her while she is waiting for her husband (Homer 1999). If in the first example deception causes death and war, in the second one it is a white lie. The same controversial nature of lie can be observed in “Silence”.
Drawing a conclusion, it is necessary to state that delusion is presented in “Silence” as the thing that serves good as well as bad purposes. Silence’s lie has a lot of positive results, the heroine is happy to be a man and she succeeds in it. She disguises herself because she is led by good intentions. However, deception in the romance also serves evil purposes; it is the deception of Eufeme. As she lies in order to take revenge because of her wounded pride, her deception is finally punished by death, while Silence becomes a happy woman, when her truth is revealed.
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Burgess, G.S. (1990). The Song of Roland. NY: Penguin Classics.
Homer. (2003). Iliad. NY: Penguin Classics.
Homer. (1999). The Odyssey. NY: Penguin Classics.
Roche-Mahdi, S. (1999). Silence: A Thirteenth-century French Romance. Michigan State University Press.