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Women Writing of the Divinest Things

Rhetoric and the Poetry of Pembroke, Wroth, and Lanyer

By Lyn Bennett

Publication Year: 2004

Rhetorically analyzing their verse within a gender-inclusive context, Women Writing of Divinest Things broadens our understanding of Renaissance women’s poetry in literary history. Scholars have long recognized that the culture of early modern England was deeply informed by rhetorical habits of speech and thought, yet until now there has been no full-length study of the role rhetoric played in poetry by women of the period. Women Writing of Divinest Things addresses this gap.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Front Matter

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Scholars have only lately begun to consider women’s place in the history of rhetoric. Recent volumes such as Reclaiming Rhetorica, Listening to Their Voices and The Changing Tradition draw attention to the role women from antiquity to present day have played in rhetorical history.1 Important as it is, though, much of the work so far done on the topic of women and rhetoric is the ...

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pp. xi-xii

No book is the product of a single author, and this one is no exception. My research was aided immeasurably by the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Izaak Walton Killam Trust. Though inspired by many, I owe special thanks to John Baxter, Christina Luckyj and Ronald ...

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INTRODUCTION: Women Writing of Divinest Things

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pp. 1-32

“Historians,” Sara Mendelson and Patricia Crawford confirm, “have tended to assume that women were culturally impoverished because of their exclusion from élite literate culture.”1 Seldom explicitly asserted, the exclusion of women from “élite literate culture” is further implied by a critical reluctance to consider the role their poetry might have played in rhetorical history. ...

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pp. 33-38

Mary Sidney Herbert was for a long time best known as the sister of Sir Philip Sidney. But the Countess of Pembroke has recently emerged from her brother’s shadow and is now recognized as an accomplished poet in her own right, largely because of her work on the Psalmes. “Mary Sidney Herbert and her contemporaries,” Noel J. Kinnamon notes, “believed that her metrical paraphrase of the Psalms was her most significant ...

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1. The Politics of Prayer

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pp. 39-46

I begin with one of the more overtly political psalms. Psalm 72 is one of a group biblical scholar Robert Alter loosely categorizes as the “monarchic psalms,” and one that can be easily read as petitioning both a heavenly and an earthly monarch. Pembroke’s psalm opens with an appeal to God to “Teach the kings sonne” (1), and ...

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2. Private Rhetoric and Public Oratory

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pp. 47-68

We may, of course, be tempted to ask if Pembroke ranks as either a true poet or a serious rhetor; her Psalmes are, after all, translations (or paraphrases or metaphrases) of extant works.1 Puttenham, who makes a sharp distinction between translation and “original” work, might argue that she is neither: “the very Poet,” he maintains, “makes and contriues out of his owne braine both the verse and ...

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3. Bringing God Before Our Eyes

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pp. 69-84

Though the strengths of Pembroke’s Psalmes are many, poetry and rhetoric’s compatibility is most clearly evinced in the depth of their invention and in the energeia that results. One of the finest examples of the psalter’s singular mimetic energy is found in Psalm 139. The poem begins on an energetic note with an assertion of God’s active omniscience: “O lord in me," ...

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4. Devotional Decorum

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pp. 85-102

Though many of Pembroke’s readers have remarked on her considerable poetic skill, they seldom acknowledge that she would not have been so skillful a poet if she had not also been an accomplished rhetor. Indeed, the degree of her expertise in poetry and rhetoric may go a long way toward explaining why her Psalmes begin with a declaration that makes the expressive process seem easy. ...

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pp. 103-110

Far from exemplifying what her uncle Philip Sidney might call a “divine poem,” Lady Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus is a notable example of English Petrarchism—or, as some would have it, anti-Petrarchism—and it is also the first complete Petrarchan sequence written and published by an English woman.1 ...

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5. The Rhetorical Sonnet

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pp. 111-122

Rather than failing to meet the criteria of a standard already set, Lady Mary Wroth’s sonnet sequence reworks even while drawing on the conventions of an established genre; though it may present many contraries of the Petrarchan kind, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus refuses to maintain polar opposition. This is especially true of ...

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6. Reading in Circles

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pp. 123-128

Wroth’s readers often note the many ways Pamphilia to Amphilanthus situates itself in opposition to other, male-authored sonnet sequences. Critics seem especially eager, however, in discussions of her crown sonnets to define her speaker as constant, present, private and feminine. I would like to present an antithetical view, and argue that it is in the corona especially that ...

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7. Figuring the Sacred and the Secular

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pp. 129-152

The interinanimation of the sacred and the secular in Pamphilia to Amphilanthus is most salient in “A crowne of Sonetts dedicated to Love.” That Donne coins the term in “The Ecstasy” makes interinanimation especially appropriate in a discussion of Wroth’s crown sonnets, which perplexes in a similar way. ...

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8. Crowns of Devotion

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pp. 153-164

Throughout my discussions of Pembroke’s Psalmes and Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, I have aimed to show how rhetoric plays a crucial role in devotional expression, whether that devotion centers on “erotic attachment or religious worship” or, as it sometimes does in Wroth’s sonnets, “both at once.”1 ...

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pp. 165-176

Printed in London in 1611, Aemilia Lanyer’s poetic retelling of Christ’s Passion, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, appeared a dozen years after the scribal publication of the Countess of Pembroke’s Psalmes.1 Like Pembroke’s “translations,” Lanyer’s central poem reinterprets and rewrites some familiar biblical texts and, although the Salve may be more daring in its revisionism, ....

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9. Proving Woman’s Worth

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pp. 177-196

I begin my discussion of Lanyer’s volume in medias res for several reasons. First, “Eves Apologie” is not only a notable exception to Lanyer’s “biblical literalism,” it is also the place where her persuasive intent is most clear.1 As an apology in the early modern sense, “Eves Apologie” is a defense of women; as an apologia in the rhetorical sense, ...

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10. Disciplines and Species

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pp. 197-208

In its reliance on reasoned argument and its comparatively unornamented style, “Eves Apologie” may have as much in common with logic as it does with rhetoric, indicating once again that the two great disciplines were not entirely separable in the early modern mind. Wilson certainly believed in their compatibility: ...

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11. Decorum and Persuasion

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pp. 209-228

In demonstrating its author’s subtle understanding of the principles of decorum, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum attests to Lanyer’s rhetorical expertise. Decorum was, in fact, so central a rhetorical concept that it functioned in early modern poetry as, says Rosemond Tuve, “the basic criterion in terms of which all the others were understood.” ...

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12. The Art That Denies Art

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pp. 229-246

It is in their similar denial of poetic art and their necessary practice of it that Lanyer’s correspondence with the poet who is perhaps also her nearest male counterpart, George Herbert, is most clear.1 Mueller certainly points to this possibility as well as to the importance of decorum in devotional verse when she notes that ...

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pp. 247-256

Early modern writers of all kinds give voice to the belief that rhetoric is the most powerful tool for articulating the highest kinds of truth; it is through “rare inuentions & pleasant deuises,” as Peacham says, that “the deepe vnderstanding, the secret counselles, & politicke considerations of wisedome are most effectually expressed.”1 ...


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pp. 257-322


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pp. 323-331

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705163
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820703596
Print-ISBN-10: 0820703591

Page Count: 342
Publication Year: 2004

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Christianity and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • Pembroke, Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of, 1561-1621 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Lanyer, Aemilia -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • English poetry -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • Women and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • English poetry -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Authorship -- Sex differences -- History -- 17th century.
  • English language -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- Rhetoric.
  • Wroth, Mary, -- Lady, ca. 1586-ca. 1640 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Christian poetry, English -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
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