The Odyssey

On Penelope's Grief

In Act IV, Scene II of William Shakespeare’s King Richard II, King Richard II states, “my grief lies all within; / And these external manners of laments / Are merely shadows to the unseen grief / That swells with silence in the tortured soul; / There lies the substance.” In these lines, he explains that his sorrow is so great that any external signs of grieving could not properly reflect it. Conversely, in Homer’s The Odyssey, Penelope’s sorrow for her absent husband and threatened son is also great, but her “external manners of laments,” such as her verbalization of her grief, her need for sleep directly after weeping, and physical locations in her home where she weeps, reflect her inner sorrow quite well. By associating Penelope’s grief with concrete details such as word choice, habitual sleep, and the physical world, Homer helps communicate the extent of her grief to the reader.

Penelope has an articulate way of expressing her grief. When she is first introduced in the epic, Penelope asks a bard to stop singing about the terrible journeys of the Achaians on their way home from Troy because it distresses her (1.336-344). Her words reflect those of deep sorrow. She speaks of an ‘affliction of the heart,’ as if her grief were an...

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