Female Orators: Essay - Summary & Analysis

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Females Better Orators Than Men

      Socrates was supposed to have been taught eloquence by a female teacher. This went to prove that females are better suited for the art of oratory than men. Addison feels that women should occupy the chairs for rhetoric in universities. Men have been praised for being able to talk for hours upon any subject but females are better because they can talk for hours upon nothing. If females were allowed to plead in the courts of law, they would be able to do better than males. As proof, one can see the fish wives who are able to argue so well.

Types of Female Orators

      There are a number of types of female orators. They can be classified, as those who stir up the passions, those who are censorious, those who are gossips, and those who are coquettes. The first type was the one that aroused the passion. An example of this type was Socrates’s wife. The second type indulged in all kinds of invective known as the censorious orators; they were possessed of fertile imagination and power of invention. They could be most eloquent upon the faults of other women. They were able to tell different versions of the same story. There was a woman who made an unhappy marriage the subject of conversation for a month. She showed pity, anger, amusement, and other different reactions to the same bride in her different versions at several places. Then she went to the bride herself, complimented her upon her choice of husband and told her that malicious people were criticizing her unreasonably. Women of this type could not be taken seriously for their blame or praise was merely a device to keep the conversation going.

      The third type was the gossip. This type could describe in a great detail the most trivial of things. Women belonging to this category could describe a lady’s head-dress or about a christening. They knew all about each and every dish served in the neighborhood. They could describe the wit of a small child as yet unable to speak. The fourth type was the coquette. This type loves and hates in the same breath so as to give herself more scope for conversation. She sighs and laughs without cause. She invents quarrels and obligations with all the men she knows so as to have opportunities to talk with them. She seems to speak mainly to get a chance to use her limbs in the different movements.

Cause of Female Oratory

      It has been a puzzle to the writer to assign a cause to this superiority of oratory in females. Perhaps it is because they do not have the power of retaining their thoughts that they keep talking. But this theory has an objection because it has been known that women are quite capable of dissembling and hiding their thoughts. Thus this theory is not quite satisfactory. Another theory is that there might be certain anatomical features about the female tongue which Makes it very talkative. He has asked a friend to dissect a woman’s tongue in order to find out whether it has some special juices that render it more talkative or if it has some channels connected to the brain and heart which keeps up a constant supply of animal spirits to the tongue. Perhaps it has some special muscles which keep it moving quickly. He does not ignore the comment of Hudibras that tongues are like race horses; those that have less, weight run faster.

Constant Movement of the Tongue

      The tongue of a woman gets rest only when she sleeps. An old story calls the woman’s tongue an aspen leaf which keeps shaking. Ovid speaks of a woman whose tongue, after being cut off, continues to speak. The writer is quite fond of the music that is created by this little instrument, namely the female tongue. His paper was aimed at making that little instrument harmonious and free of the disharmonious notes of anger, censoriousness, gossip and coquetry. He wanted the female tongue to be tuned by truth, good nature, discretion and sincerity.


      The essay, Female Orators is a satire on the talkativeness of women. Addison exposes the foible of women who talk incessantly upon trivial matters in an amusing manner. The essay is a good example of the technique of irony that was typical of Addison. He is satiric and ironic, and yet, never bitterly so. He is not cynical and indecent in any part of the essay. He is always elegant and his satire and irony are gentle. It is the type of humour that makes one laugh but it does not hurt anyone. There is a grave irony in his comments regarding the suitability of women for the chairs of rhetoric in the universities. There is masterly irony in his sly equation of the lawyers’ arguments in courts and the abusive bargaining of the fish wives. The effect is increased by the learned references he makes to Hudibras, Ovid, Descartes. The ironic effect is enhanced by his seriousness of approach to the inquiry into the cause of the volubility of the female tongue. It is Addison’s method of satire to talk gravely upon a subject which can not but give rise to laughter. The ironical style is sustained through the essay, or really, nearly up till the end. For, at the end Addison’s moral nature intrudes and makes him declare that he meant to give wholesome advice to his female readers by exposing the foible, their tongues were subject to. This is in keeping with the aim of the Spectator. The end tries to take away the sting of the satire. The essay is enlivened and color is added to it through the help of illustrations or imaginary examples and anecdotes. The essay exhibits the aim of the Spectator which was to entertain while instructing.


      Line. 8-14. It has been said.......figures of rhetoric: Addison criticizes the volubility of females in this essay. He says in a sarcastic tanner that some men were able to talk upon any subject for hours together but women did not need any subject. Women could talk forever upon nothing. As an example to prove this point, he says that he knew a woman who could elaborate upon a subject in a most spontaneous manner. She could speak for a long time upon such topics as the border of a petticoat. She could scold her servant for having broken a cup made of china clay in the most picturesque and rhetorical language, using all kinds of similes and metaphors and other figures of speech! The passage is humorous and ironical. He satirizes the ability of women to speak elaborately, and for hours, upon trivial topics. He achieves the satiric effect by using high-sounding terms for the objects he intends to make fun of.

      Line. 15-19. Were women permitted......British fishery: Addison satirizes the volubility of women. He says that women talk upon nothing for hours. Their power of eloquence and argumentation goes to show that they would do better as lawyers in the courts than the men, if they were only allowed to practice law. This is all the more easy to believe if one sees the ability of the fish wives or the women who sell fish in Britain. They are able to argue effectively and abusively to win their cases. These fish wives could use the crudest language and are great at quarreling and arguing to bring about their transactions. This, says Addison, proves the potential ability of women to become good; lawyers. The passage is satirical and ironical. The humour once again comes from the disparity between the serious manner of writing the comic intention. He uses high sounding terms such as ladies of the British fisheries for the low-class women who sell fish thereby heightening the humour. It is humorous that he holds the quarrelsome ability of the fishwives as proof of his contention that women would make good lawyers. The irony is most effective through its very gravity.

      Line. 26-30. The imagination......the same story: In this essay, Addison ridicules the volubility of women. In the most ironical manner, he describes the great ability of women to talk eloquently. He divides the female orators into a number of types. In this passage, he describes the group which indulges in invective and fault-finding. He admires their power of eloquence and imagination. They have a remarkable inventiveness of mind and grasp over the effective use of language. They possess a great skill for elaborating upon the smallest mistake another woman makes or the most trivial fault she has. They use their skill to disparage another woman. These female orators have the power of telling stories about other women and what was most wonderful was that each time the story was repeated it assumed a slightly different color and was told with the help of different figures of speech. Addison has managed irony with a consummate skill in this essay and of which this passage is an example. He uses the ironic technique of the praise-blame inversion. Using rhetorical terms, he seems to praise the women’s skill at making up the malicious stories in disparagement of other women while, in reality, he is ridiculing and satirizing them.

      Line. 30-40. I have known......better acquainted: Addison satirizes the volubility of women. He divides the female orators into a number of groups, one of which is the group that indulges in invective and fault-finding. He gives an illustration of this kind in this passage. An old lady who exemplified this category went about talking upon one subject, namely a newly married couple in the most colorful and imaginative terms. She talked about it for a whole month, varying her attitude and the description every time she talked about it. She criticized the bride at one place. At another, she expressed sympathy for her. Yet another occasion saw her making amusing remarks about the bride’s choice of her husband. She exhausted a pair of coach-horses by going around from place to place expressing her anxiety about the bride. She at last exhausted her inventive power and ability to speak against the marriage. Then, she went to the bride herself and praised and congratulated her upon having chosen well in her husband. She also told her how malicious people were going around saying all kinds of mean and spiteful and unjust things about her marriage. She expressed the wish to become a close friend of the bride. Addison’s satire is effective in this passage, as it is evident. He uses irony to great effect. His grave and serious tone enhance the satire.

      Line. 43-49. Mrs. Fiddle-Faddle is.....able to speak: Addison divides the female orators into different classes. One of these classes he calls the gossips. Mrs. Fiddle-Faddle is an example of this type. The name is most suitable and this, incidentally, is one of the devices of Addison—to give an illustration to make his point clear. This lady has achieved a great proficiency at this skill of gossiping. She can speak at great length describing the christening parties. She can criticize with devastating effect, the various head-dresses put on by the fashionable women. She knows everything that happens in the neighborhood, all the small and trivial details about it. She can spend a whole afternoon telling about the wit of her little boy who can not yet speak! The irony of the passage is unmistakable. We see how skilfully Addison sustains the tone of gravity and, by this means, enhances the ironic effect. He uses the language of praise to speak of Mrs. Fiddle-Faddle’s accomplishment of gossiping, thereby bringing about ridicule. The irony of the last sentence of the passage is self-evident. A gossip like this lady finds no difficulty in talking about the wit of a child who has not yet learnt to speak.

      Line. 65-70. I have sometimes fancied......always thinks: Addison satirizes the volubility and eloquence of women in this essay. Here he sets about scientifically analyzing the reasons for this loquacity in women. It is this serious tone which increases the satiric and ironic effect. He wonders why women have a greater ability to speak more fluently than men. He says that it could become men have greater power of controlling and putting a check upon their thoughts hence they do not speak so much. Women, the other hand, lack the power of keeping back what they think in their minds; they have to express whatever they think. As women talk all the time, it is implied that they think all the time too. The fact that they go on talking and, hence, thinking, proves the theory put forward by Descartes that the soul thinks and therefore it exists. This is a sly remark on the part of Addison. By quoting learned theories in such a serious tone he manages to satirize the women talkers.

      Line. 73-83. In order to......animal spirits: In this essay, Addison ridicules the loquacity of women. In a manner typically his own, Addison satirizes the oratory of females. He seeks to find the cause of this volubility in a serious and scientific manner and this adds to the irony. He has asked his friend who has studied the structure of the human body and dissects to find out more about the, internal structure of the body, to dissect the tongue of a female. This might, he says, lead them to know if the tongue has certain special liquids or fluids which gave the possessor of such a tongue the ability to speak ceaselessly. Perhaps the tongue had certain muscles made up of very flexible and thinner threads which made it move restlessly. Or, perhaps, there were certain muscles in the tongue of a female which made the tongue move up and down in sudden and quick movement. Lastly, there might be some connection, as yet undiscovered, between the tongue and the heart and head which keeps up a constant supply of liveliness to the tongue. The language used by Addison, is serious and grave and the manner of instituting a scientific inquiry into the construction of the female tongue is equally grave. This adds to the ironic and satiric effect of the whole passage. The ironic is made elegant and devastating with the use of those elevated terms for the female tongue, such as, “little instrument of loquacity”.

      Line. 96-99. Ovid......posture: Addison enhances the satire and irony of the passage by referring to these great authors of the past. He had referred to Hudibras in the earlier paragraph, the herd of a mock-epic written by Samuel Butler. Now, in the most serious manner, he refers to Ovid, the great classical Latin poet who had written Metamorphoses. In that work he had described the rape of Philomela. After the rape her seducer, Tereus, cut off her tongue: The cut off tongue continued to mutter something even in that condition. Addison quotes this passage from Ovid to lend support to his argument that the female tongue has something special in it that makes it so voluble. Addison’s natural gentleness and civilized mind cannot help saying, however, that, though the description given by Ovid is an apt illustration of the loquacity of the female tongue, it is a description of a “very barbarous circumstance”. He uses these learned references to satirize the women’s volubility effectively. He seems to praise; he seems to be talking very gravely, but the intent and result is satire.

      Line. 83-86. Nor must I......it carries: In this essay Addison sets about in a most serious manner to find out the true cause for the loquacity of women. Here, he refers to the hero of Samuel Butler’s satirical poem, Hudibras. Addison feels that he must not leave out what Hudibras says about people who talk a great deal upon unimportant matters. He said that tongues were like race horses. The race horse is able to run fast if the person riding it is light. Similarly, the tongue can move fast and tirelessly if the matter it is talking about, is weightless or unimportant. Thus a man who has not much weighty thought, would speak fast and fluently whereas a person who thinks and has some intelligent matter in his head would not be able to speak so fluently. Addison means to convey the point that women talk a great deal because they talk upon most trivial and unimportant things. He uses learned references in a serious manner to enhance the ironic and satiric effect.

      Line. 117-122. All that I aim......discretion, and sincerity: Addison satirizes the tendency of females to speak a great deal upon nothing. The satire and irony is masterly. But in this concluding paragraph the “moral” of Addison comes to the fore. The didactic purpose behind the essay is presented. He ridiculed the loquacity of the female tongue, not in order to cease its flow completely, but to improve its quality. He compares the tongue to a musical instrument which, at the present, was harsh and unharmonious in its notes sometimes because of anger, tendency to find fault or gossip or flirt. He wanted these unharmonious aspects of the tongue to be removed and the tongue tuned like a good musical instrument. The tuning should be accomplished if the speaker went according to goodness of nature, truth, good judgment and sincerity. Then the tongue would produce the pleasant sounds and the good speech.

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