115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Seeing is Believing: Hide and Seek in the Romance of Silence

Stacey Hahn, Oakland University

An analysis of blindness and insight in Heldris of Cornwall's Romance of Silence.


In his prologue, Master Heldris of Cornwall, the narrator of the 13th century Romance of Silence, denounces greed, which becomes a major theme repeated throughout the course of the romance. Greed is fostered and disguised through various means, the most obvious being deception, that is, cloaking self-interest using subterfuge in the form of specious arguments, arbitrary laws, and physical disguises. Greed has a pernicious snowball effect with dire ramifications for an entire society and especially for the main character named Silence who, although born a girl, is forced to pass herself off as a boy in order not to lose her inheritance and face destitution. Silence’s efforts at disguising her gender lead to various crises where her mettle is tested. Fortunately, there are a few privileged individuals who see clearly and intervene on Silence’s behalf to expose the naked truth. One of them is the Count of Clermont, whose very name suggests clarity, two aged wise men, Lady Nature, and Merlin. Thanks to providence, both human and supernatural, along with Silence’s own moral probity, King Evan’s court, to which Silence belongs, escapes slipping into moral decay and imminent destruction posed by the threat of war. Heldris pokes fun at the courtly foibles of greed and his own dependence as a performer on the generosity of his patrons through the interplay between seeing and believing, and blindness and insight. It is these subtle threads of discernment I would like to unravel in this essay.

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