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Aemilia Lanyer

Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre, and the Canon

Marshall Grossman EDITOR
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Aemilia Lanyer
    Book Description:

    Aemilia Lanyer was a Londoner of Jewish-Italian descent and the mistress of Queen Elizabeth's Lord Chamberlain. But in 1611 she did something extraordinary for a middle-class woman of the seventeenth century: she published a volume of original poems.

    Using standard genres to address distinctly feminine concerns, Lanyer's work is varied, subtle, provocative, and witty. Her religious poem "Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum" repeatedly projects a female subject for a female reader and casts the Passion in terms of gender conflict. Lanyer also carried this concern with gender into the very structure of the poem; whereas a work of praise usually held up the superiority of its patrons, the good women in Lanyer's poem exemplify worth women in general.

    The essays in this volume establish the facts of Lanyer's life and use her poetry to interrogate that of her male contemporaries, Donne, Jonson, and Shakespeare. Lanyer's work sheds light on views of gender and class identities in early modern society. By using Lanyer to look at the larger issues of women writers working within a patriarchal system, the authors go beyond the explication of Lanyer's writing to address the dynamics of canonization and the construction of literary history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4937-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    I will begin with some meager and probably by now familiar facts. Aemilia Lanyer was the daughter of Baptist Bassano, a Christianized Venetian Jew, who was a member of the queen’s music, and Margaret Johnson, his common-law wife. In 1592, at the age of twenty-three, she was married to Alfonso Lanyer, also a musician and a participant in a number of military expeditions. By her own report, she spent some time in her youth in the household of Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent.

    She comes to our attention because in 1611 she did something extraordinary for a middle-class woman of...

  5. 1 A.L. Rowse’s Dark Lady
    (pp. 10-28)
    David Bevington

    In what may be his most notorious claim to have solved a literary riddle through historical “method,” A.L. Rowse announced to the waiting world in 1964 and then in 1973 that he was hot on the trail of the identity of the “dark lady” in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Despairing at first of a solution, he then triumphantly proclaimed “The Problem Solved” in his 1973 edition of those poems. His candidate: Aemilia Lanyer, the daughter of a court musician who became the mistress of Lord Hunsdon and the mother of an illegitimate child (Henry) by him, at which point she was conveniently...

  6. 2 Looking for Patrons
    (pp. 29-48)
    Leeds Barroll

    In recent years, the emerging body of scholarship on Aemilia Lanyer and her work, suitably represented by the present volume, attests to a new critical awareness of the importance of women writers to early modern cultural history. My own recent work in another area of that history—the court of Queen Anne, consort of King James—has been tangentially but not directly related to this burgeoning research, so perhaps it is not surprising that a period spent considering the phenomenon of Lanyer’s life and work produced for me more questions than answers. Thus this essay must be more interrogative than...

  7. 3 Seizing Discourses and Reinventing Genres
    (pp. 49-59)
    Barbara K. Lewalski

    Aemilia Lanyer—gentlewoman-in-decline, daughter and wife of court musicians, cast-off mistress of Queen Elizabeth’s Lord Chamberlain, Henry Hunsdon (to whom she bore an illegitimate child)—is the first Englishwoman to publish a substantial volume of original poems,Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum(1611). These poems are now beginning to accumulate the kind of scholarship and criticism that will enable us to assess and properly value their cultural significance and their often considerable aesthetic merit.¹ My interest here is in Lanyer’s appropriation and rewriting, in strikingly oppositional terms, of some dominant cultural discourses and a considerable part of the available generic repertoire,...

  8. 4 Sacred Celebration: The Patronage Poems
    (pp. 60-82)
    Kari Boyd McBride

    The forms and dynamics of patronage and patronage poetry constitute a significant field of early modern scholarship, as the continuing production of articles, monographs, and collections attest. Yet the difficulty and even embarrassment some readers of Aemilia Lanyer have evinced when confronted by her patronage poems speak to the gendered nature of much theorizing about patronage and about women poets, as well. As Lorna Hutson has noted, early critical response “display[ed] a tendency to account for [Lanyer’s poems’] embarrassing length, inappropriateness and apparent sycophancy by referring to the lady’s notorious past.”¹ Poets such as Edmund Spenser and Ben Jonson are...

  9. 5 Vocation and Authority: Born to Write
    (pp. 83-98)
    Susanne Woods

    Aemilia Lanyer’s unapologetic assertion of poetic vocation inSalve Deus Rex Judaeorumis one of its many remarkable qualities. The voice of the public writer infuses and connects the dedicatory poems, the “Salve Deus” narrative, and “The Description of Cooke-ham.”¹ Although either Lanyer or her publisher uses the book’s title page to derive authority from husband and king, the work gains its magisterial tone through an intricate complex of patronage conventions—all addressed to women—and self-assertion.² In this essay I want to examine her use of some of those conventions, in particular as they allow her to affirm her...

  10. 6 The Feminist Poetics of “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum”
    (pp. 99-127)
    Janel Mueller

    The year 1611 saw the publication, in London, of the first volume of poetry in English written by a woman:Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. Its title page identified the poet as “MistrisAemilia Lanyer, Wife to CaptaineAlfonso LanyerServant to the Kings Majestie.” In the expatiating fashion of the time, the title page also highlighted the following portions of the volume’s title poem, “1 The Passion of Christ. 2 Eves Apologie in defence of Women. 3 The Teares of the Daughters of Jerusalem. 4 The Salutation and Sorrow of the Virgine Marie,” while lumping together its shorter poems as...

  11. 7 The Gendering of Genre: Literary History and the Canon
    (pp. 128-142)
    Marshall Grossman

    In what ways does Aemilia Lanyer solicit us to think about the theory and practice of literary history? In general, when we write the history of literature we construct a variety of narratives to connect events, works, styles, writers, genres—what have you—over time. The narratives so constructed serve not only to represent the past, but to represent it to the present, and, the past being past, it is in the present that these narratives must have their effect. The very small number of surviving copies of theSalve Deus Rex Judaeorumand the lack of contemporary reference to...

  12. 8 (M)other Tongues: Maternity and Subjectivity
    (pp. 143-166)
    Naomi J. Miller

    In the present essay, I have chosen to focus upon Aemilia Lanyer’s representations of women as at once mothers and others in theSalve Deus Rex judaeorum, in order to consider the complex dynamic linking maternity and subjectivity in early modern England. Given that married women who remained childless were considered to be biological failures, bereft of the defining role of motherhood,¹ the early modern emphasis upon women’s reproductive functions quite evidently had implications not only for women’s bodies, but also for their selves. Furthermore, connections between maternity and subjectivity can be seen to have relevance not simply for women...

  13. 9 The Love of Other Women: Rich Chains and Sweet Kisses
    (pp. 167-190)
    Michael Morgan Holmes

    Aemilia Lanyer devoted herself to God and other women. Her visions of past and future utopian worlds consistently place love of the deity in and through a community of women at the center of social order. Scholars such as Barbara Lewalski, Lynette McGrath, and Janel Mueller have discussed the importance of female association to Lanyer’sSalve Deus Rex Judaeorum.¹ In general, though, they have not considered the relations between Lanyer’s poetry and other seventeenth-century contemplations of love among women or the ways in which homoeroticism figures in her routings of desire. Like John Donne, Lanyer paints the loneliness brought about...

  14. 10 The Gospel According to Aemilia: Women and the Sacred
    (pp. 191-211)
    Achsah Guibbory

    In the history of Western religion, women have had a far more ambiguous relation to the sacred than men. Although women were celebrated in the Hebrew Bible for their heroism and devotion to God, it was men, we are told, who were the priests and prophets chosen for God’s service. With the destruction of the temple in 70 c.e., the study of the sacred Torah became exclusively the province of males, and the rabbis replaced the priests, while women engaged in practical, domestic roles supporting the spirituality of the male scholars. In some ways, the advent of Christianity might have...

  15. 11 “Pardon … though I have digrest”: Digression as Style in “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum”
    (pp. 212-233)
    Boyd Berry

    Despite Barbara Lewalski’s outline of Aemilia Lanyer’sSalve Deus Rex Judaeorum,¹ there has been little work on the rhetorical textures of the central poem of the volume. In particular, little attention has been paid to the opening and closing sections of that poem—those which frame the much discussed narrative of the Crucifixion. Indeed, I wish here to follow up on Elaine Beilin’s suggestion that, while undertaking “to redeem women” and “to alter the traditional separation between woman and God,” the poem is “superficially digressive” and that it “mixed genres, interrupted sequence, and juxtaposed high matter with low.”² Attention has...

  16. 12 Annotated Bibliography: Texts and Criticism of Aemilia Bassano Lanyer
    (pp. 234-254)
    Karen L. Nelson
  17. List of Contributors
    (pp. 255-256)
  18. Index
    (pp. 257-264)