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Remembering Aemilia Lanyer

[1] This essay considers Aemilia Lanyer as both subject and object of
practices of memory. Writing as a subject of the verb to remember!
Lanyer dre" on techni#ues of memory and a storehouse of memori$ed
cultural materials as resources for the composition of her sole
publication! %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum *London! 1+11,. Thematically
and conceptually! too! memory is crucial to this volume of verse. At its
heart is a long narrative poem "hich articulates a revisionary! "oman-
centred account of .hristian tradition. This is framed by a suite of
dedicatory poems and the country-house poem The &escription of
.oo/e-ham! "hich together deploy personal and cultural memory in
support of Lanyers attempts to fashion patronage relations "ith some
of the "omen celebrated in the volume. 0y "riting and publishing
%alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum! Lanyer sought to construct her o"n te(tual
legacy! claiming a "omans right to assert a poetic vocation and
address posterity in terms previously restricted to men *1c0ride 12234
'ogers 5666,. 7er success in securing a place in cultural memory "as
belated! ho"ever. .onsigned to oblivion for nearly four centuries!
Lanyer has only in recent decades become the focus of a signi8cant
body of critical scholarship and achieved a presence in the mainstream
of 'enaissance poetry. %he has! in that process of scholarly recovery!
become an object as "ell as subject of practices of memory. 9ndeed! as
an object of purposeful recollection by those : particularly feminist
scholars : "ho have read her "or/! meditated on her life! and sought a
place for her in cultural memory! she can no" be seen as an e(emplary
instance of the transformation of the canon of ;nglish 'enaissance
literature e<ected by feminist practices of counter-memory.1emory as
technology of "riting and thematic content in Aemilia Lanyers "or/
thus intersects "ith the sucession of forgetting and recollection that
characteri$es her subse#uent reception to ma/e of her life! "ritings
and afterlife a richly symptomatic site of memory *=ora 1232,. And it
is on this site that 9 "ish to ground the present essays analysis of the
gendering of memory in the literary culture of the 'enaissance.
'emembering Aemilia Lanyer! 9 pose t"o /ey #uestions> 7o" did early
modern "omen engage "ith the arts and politics of memory in order to
re?ect in their "ritings on the personal and historical dimensions of
female e(perience@ And "hat di<erence has the challenge posed by
feminist scholarship to the oAcial BforgettingC of "omens histories
*7irsch and %mith 5665> D, made to the "ays in "hich "omen li/e
Lanyer! and the literary te(ts they created! are recalled or forgotten@
[5] As 1arianne 7irsch and Ealerie %mith have argued! ["]hat a
culture remembers and "hat it chooses to forget are intricately bound
up "ith issues of po"er and hegemony! and thus "ith gender *5665>
+,. 'e-reading Lanyers career! "ritings and after-life "ithin a critical
and methodological frame"or/ derived from memory studies o<ers
ne" insights into the project of remembering the past di<erently to
"hich she committed herself in composing %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum.
This process of revision e(poses the "ays in "hich her access to
literary creation and the construction of her career and reputation as a
"riter have been in?ected by po"er and gender. Feminist scholarship
operating in the mode of counter-memory aspires to transform "hat
"e thin/! /no" and feel about the past by recovering "omens
contribution to it! and revising dominant androcentric narratives to
ta/e that contribution into account. 9t is an attempt at remembering
di<erently in order to ensure that "omen are inscribed di<erently in
the historical record. The nature and implications of Lanyers proto-
feminism have been much discussed *see! for e(ample! 1ueller 122G!
%chnell 122+ and Trill 5661,. 7ere! 9 argue that she too! li/e the
feminist scholars "ho have recently reconsidered her life and "or/!
can be seen as engaged in a project of feminist counter-memory. 7er
poetry engages "ith both personal and cultural memory in the service
of a rethin/ing of the gendered nature of the relations bet"een
memory and history. The feminist commitments of %alve &eus 'e(
)udaeorum! this essay argues! constitute not only an intervention in the
contemporary debate /no"n as the #uerelle des femmes and a future-
oriented claim to "omens rights![1] but also a bid to reimagine the
dominant narratives of the past that shaped the cultural "orld of the
;nglish 'enaissance.
1. Writ by the hand of true ;ternitie> %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum as
memory "or/
[G] Lanyer inhabited a cultural "orld in "hich memory "or/ played a
crucial role in supporting literary production by both men and "omen
*cf. .hedg$oy 566H,. Li/e most other "riters in early modern ;ngland!
she employed mnemotechnical arts designed to train a retentive
memory and support the retrieval of items from it for ne" use. They
meditated on the meanings of events and e(periences recalled from
their o"n lives! and tried to intervene in "hat other people "ould
subse#uently recall about them and their times. And they dre" on their
cultures discourses and repertoires of memory and history!
understanding themselves self-consciously as recorders of the past and
present for the bene8t of the future. We can 8nd all these aspects of
memory "or/ in play in Aemilia Lanyers oeuvre. 1emory is not only
crucial to her method as a "riter4 it is also thematised in the structure
of %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum. A concern "ith memory as a shaping
factor in Lanyers relationships "ith her putative patrons and in the
securing of her literary legacy frames the volume! being prominent
both in the dedicatory te(ts and in The &escription of .oo/e-ham. 9n
the long narrative poem positioned at the centre of this frame! history
and memory intert"ine to fashion a revisionary account of the core
narratives of the .hristian tradition shaped by methods and motives
congruent "ith the feminist accounts of early modern literary history
that have revised our perception of Lanyer and her peers.
[D] The dedicatory poems that preface %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum
both demonstrate ho" mnemonic strategies underpin Lanyers "riting!
and provide a map of her boo/s persistent commitment to
remembering "omen. 9n these nine poems and t"o short prose pieces!
she frames the "omen she addresses as 8gures of e(emplary
femininity! even as she constructs an empathetic *and putatively
predominantly female, reading community of all vertuous Ladies in
generall *15,! "ho are tas/ed "ith remembering and emulating the
ideali$ed female 8gures to "hom the boo/ is dedicated.[5] Lanyer
constructs a comple( "eb of relationships among "omen over time! for
e(ample! "hen in the 8rst dedicatory poem! To the Iueenes most
;(cellent 1ajestie! she laments that it has been her fate to live closd
up in %orro"es .ell J since great ;li$aes favour blest my youth *ll. 162-
16,. ;choed in another dedicatory poem! To the Lady ;li$abeths
Krace! the sense of loss and nostalgia for an absent po"erful and
ideal "oman articulated here pre8gures the themes of The &escription
of .oo/e-ham! and participates in a broader mood of *often politically-
in?ected, ;li$abethan nostalgia in %tuart "omens "riting *cf. Kim
1222 and 566H,. At the beginning of the narrative section of %alve
&eus! Lanyer says that it is because .ynthia *Iueen ;li$abeth, has
passed on to a realm beyond the po"er of human e(pression that she
turns no" to the .ountess of .umberland! choosing to applie J 1y Len!
to "rite thy never dying fame *ll. 2-16,. =ostalgia for ;li$abeth
motivates Lanyer to create a permanent te(tual memorialisation of the
.ountess> That "hen to 7eavn thy blessed %oule shall ?ie! J These
lines on earth record thy reverend name *ll. 11-15,. When 1argaret
.li<ord too has gone into the realm of the ine(pressible! a record of her
"ill remain on earth! embodied in Lanyers o"n verse. 7ere and in the
dedicatory poems! Lanyers poem deploys materials associated "ith
both personal and cultural memory to underpin her attempts to
manipulate patronage relations "ith a series of elite "omen : of "hom
1argaret is the most important : and thereby her very desire to be
remembered as a "riter. M<ering %alve &eus to 1argaret! .ountess of
.umberland as a true and enduring mirrour of [her] most "orthy
minde *GN, "hich she hopes "ill outlast both author and addressee!
Lanyer articulates her o"n claim to a place in cultural memory as a
memoriali$ing tribute to a "oman "hose patronage she see/s! and
"ho plays a /ey role in the drama of memory and nostalgia staged in
this volume of poems.
[N] The dedicatory poems thus model Lanyers revisionary account of
the past and put for"ard her claim to a place in cultural memory as a
"riter. 9n addition! they e(emplify the importance of memory "or/ in
%alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum in a third "ay! in so far as they introduce
the highly citational! interte(tual style! informed by Lanyers
recollected reading of both classical and .hristian te(ts! "hich
characteri$es her poetic style and method throughout the volume.
9nvo/ing 1uses and "ise virgins ali/e! To all vertuous Ladies in
generall unites both aspects in bringing together classical and 0iblical
references to ideali$ed female 8gures in order to under"rite the godly
labour of composing this boo/ "hich addresses virtuous ladies and
see/s to dra" them into a transhistorical community *ll. 3-1D! 52,. For
a "riter "ho had received the /ind of .hristian humanist education to
"hich Lanyer! on the evidence of her "ritings! had access! such
interte(tuality is grounded in memory "or/. The education that
e#uipped Lanyer to "rite %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum involved both the
process of training an active memory to store and retrieve images and
ideas for use in conversation and "riting! and the labour of stoc/ing
that memory "ith material for such retrieval. 7er densely interte(tual
and allusive compositional method is clearly indebted to the practice of
commonplacing "hich "as integral to the strategies for purposeful
reading! "riting and remembering populari$ed in "or/s such as
Thomas Wilsons much-used 1NNG Art of 'hetori#ue! a "or/ "ith "hich
%usanne Woods suggests she "as probably familiar *Woods 1222> 1G,.
This compositional method may embed both carefully reproduced
allusions and half-recollected echoes of ones reading. With a certain
self-consciousness about the pedagogic processes by "hich her
memory had been trained and stoc/ed! Lanyer alludes to such
practices of collecting citations from ones reading for deployment as a
"riter "hen she portrays herself as a painefull 0ee! laboriously
gathering from diverse ?o"ers honey Which is both "holesome! and
delights the taste *The Authors &reame to the Ladie 1arie! ll. 12H!
122,.
[+] The te(tual purpose of such allusions sometimes seems to be
merely to demonstrate that the author can dra" on the storehouse of
common /no"ledge about classical culture to "hich an educated
person "ould have access. To the Iueenes most ;(cellent 1ajestie!
for instance! rac/s up an e(tended series of brief allusions : to deities
including )uno! Lallas! .ynthia and Eenus! and to the 1uses and satyrs
: "hich are essentially super8cial! doing little to illuminate the speci8c
concerns or dynamics of the te(tual conte(ts "here they occur. %uch
classical references are mainly found in the dedicatory poems and in
The &escription of .oo/ham. The most resonant classical allusions in
the latter are those to Lhilomela! "hose sundry layes! J 0oth Oou and
that delightfull Llace did praise *ll. G1-5,! but "ho later leaves her
mournefull &itty! J &ro"nd in dead sleepe *ll. 132-26,4 and to ;cho!
"ho! though "onted to reply J To our last "ords! did no" for sorro"
die *ll. 122-566,. 9n each case! Lanyer ta/es a classical 8gure
associated "ith the capacity of the female voice to mourn and lament
for losses and "rongs! and transforms her into a motif of absence and
oblivion. 7er recreations of ;cho and Lhilomel thus e(emplify the
diAculties female voices have often had in being heard! recorded! and
remembered. 0oth &anielle .lar/e and %usan Wiseman have e(plored
;chos perhaps surprising capacity to serve as a model for female
authorship in seventeenth-century "omens "riting> this possibility is
ironically enacted here as ;chos lapsing into silence becomes the
ground of Lanyers o"n poetic self-assertion in her poem of loss and
lament *Wiseman 12234 .lar/e 566H,.
[H] %usanne Woods judges that Lanyer employed interte(tual
techni#ues of composition throughout her volume "ith a learned
persons decorum *1222> 1G,4 ho"ever! many of her allusions are
mar/ed by a certain imprecision. Lanyer uses both Latin and Kree/
names apparently indiscriminately for classical 8gures! for instance!
and some of her allusions are inaccurate. 9n The Authors dream to
Ladie 1arie! for instance! she presents Aurora as goddess of morning
rather than da"n! for instance! and at one point appears to confuse
0ellona "ith 1inerva as the goddess of "isdom *though 0ellona is later
correctly identi8ed as the goddess of "ar,. 9 "ould suggest that this
imprecision comes about because Lanyer "as "or/ing from memory!
rather than copying references out from "ritten sources. To say so is
not to e(cuse inaccuracy! but rather to see it as evidence that Lanyer
"as practising a compositional techni#ue highly valued in her o"n time
by maintaining a mental storehouse of citations and formulations that
she could dra" on in her o"n "riting. 7er use of classical allusion may
thus dra" on a memory-store furnished by her general participation in
literate culture! rather than representing speci8c borro"ings from
particular "or/s.
[3] Though classical references are found in the narrative section of
%alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum! not surprisingly they are employed less
fre#uently and prominently in this part of the poem! "hich favours
0iblical interte(tuality! and "hich goes beyond embedding te(tual
allusions in a citational manner to re"or/ 0iblical narratives "ith a
gendered perspective. At the heart of %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum is the
0ible! the te(t "hich more than any other occupied a vital position at
the ne(us of many intert"ining discourses of reading! "riting!
re"riting! and memori$ing in early modern literary and spiritual
culture. Lanyers revisionary "oman-centred re-reading of the
scriptures is articulated to a considerable e(tent through interte(tual
strategies of citation! re-ordering! ju(taposition and retelling. The
language of %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum has a densely interte(tual
relationship "ith 0iblical discourse! in "hich the psalms are particularly
signi8cant. The psalms played a /ey role in pedagogic! devotional and
literary culture in the early modern period. Through recitation and
reading! many early modern "omen *literate or not, "ould have
memori$ed passages of the psalms! and it is not surprising that they
feature in their "ritings *cf. Trill 122+,. A "oman of Lanyers education
and spiritual commitment "ould certainly have had a deep familiarity
"ith them. Lsalmic references are particularly important in The
Authors &reame to the Ladie 1arie ll. 11H-56 and The &escription of
.oo/e-ham ll. 3H-26! as "ell as ll. HG-1DD of the central narrative
section! "here the verse ta/es on the almost palimpsestic #uality often
associated "ith memory "riting. Pari 0oyd 1c0ride and )ohn Qlreich
have argued that at times her poetry manifests in its form and
language an internali$ation and re"riting of the Lsalms "hich had a
profound e<ect on shaping Lanyers poetic style *1c0ride R Qlreich
5661> GGN,. 0ut perhaps their /ey role in the volume is the "ay they
position her in a lineage of literary creation! revision! and
memorialisation. For the /ey version of the psalms for Lanyer is the
immensely in?uential psalter produced by one of her dedicatory
addressees! Lady 1ary %idney.
[2] .ompleting and revising after the death of her brother %ir Lhilip
%idney the volume of psalm translations "hich he had begun! Lady
1ary %idney undertoo/ a "or/ of memoriali$ation "hich erected a
poetic monument to her brother and tied her o"n place in cultural
memory to his through their shared poetic labour. .haracteri$ing the
psalms she published as 9mmortall 1onuments of thy faire fame in
her elegy To the Angell spirit of the most e(cellent %ir Lhillip %idney!
Lady 1ary %idney designates them as both the "or/ of her brother and
a monument to his memory *7erbert 1223> 99. 16N,. Lanyer! ho"ever!
separates out the siblings contributions to the volume even as she
echoes her predecessors "ording "hen she pays tribute to 1ary in
The Authors &reame *ll. 151-5,. %he invo/es Lhilip as one "hose
cleere light J Kives light to all that tread true paths of Fame *ll. 1G3-2,!
but says nothing concrete about ho" his fame "as earned! ma/ing no
mention of his career as a "riter or! speci8cally! of his contribution to
the psalter. 'ather he is called up as the object of the memory "or/ of
others! in particular the labour of memoriali$ation and
monumentali$ation carried out by his sister "hich! in Lanyers "ords!
ensured that beeing dead! his fame doth him survive! J %till living in
the hearts of "orthy men *ll. 1D1-5,. Mccluding Lhilips share of the
"or/ of psalm translation! Lanyer asserts that the %idney psalter "ould
assure 1ary a place in theternall boo/e J Mf endlesse honour! true
fames memorie *ll. 15H-3,. The composition of a boo/ of devotional
verse as a monument to her brothers memory has secured for 1ary
the place in fames memorie that Lanyer hopes her o"n boo/ of
religious poetry : "hich! in turn! monumentali$es 1ary herself : "ill
gain for her. 9t "as the "or/ of memoriali$ing %ir Lhilip that gave 1ary
%idney access to a literary career! and though Lanyer highlights her
contribution to the psalter! in subse#uent centuries her literary fame
"as eclipsed by her brothers. Oet li/e Lanyer herself! 1ary %idney "as
eventually to be a /ey bene8ciary of the collective remembering of
early modern "omen "riters e<ected in recent decades by feminist
criticism. The recent scholarly revaluation of her contribution to the
%idney psalter both runs parallel to the recovery of Lanyer and
con8rms the latters emphasis on the importance of her part in the
psalter.[G]
[16] The Authors &reame to the Ladie 1arie both e(plores and
enacts processes of te(tual inheritance across generations. The
responsibility of memoriali$ation through poetic creation "hich 1ary
%idney undertoo/ in relation to her brother becomes a te(tual legacy
"hich Aemilia Lanyer in her turn claims as her inheritance from Lady
1ary. This gesture of literary 8liation is reiterated in other dedicatory
poems! as Lanyer repeatedly te(tuali$es her relationships : real or
"ishful : "ith "omen li/e 1ary %idney and 1argaret .li<ord in terms of
an interest in ho" they "ill promote her reputation and protect her
memory as a "riter. &edicatory poems addressed to 1argaret .li<ord
and her daughter Anne e(plore ho" "omen can act to establish their
o"n familial and te(tual legacies! to enable the transmission of
material inheritance through the female line! and in doing so to secure
their o"n places in cultural memory. And it is again through
constructing an enduring te(tual monument to these "omen that
Lanyer asserts her o"n claim to be remembered>
And /no"e! "hen 8rst into this "orld 9 came!
This charge "as givn me by th;ternall po"res
Theverlasting Trophie of thy fame!
To build and dec/e it "ith the s"eetest ?o"res
That virtue yeelds. *1DNH-1D+5,.
An eternal memorial to 1argaret .li<ords celebrated virtue "ill be
adorned by the ?o"ers of Lanyers verse! ensuring in turn the poets
o"n perpetual reno"n. 9t is this reciprocal association of
memorialisation and poetic vocation that gives %alve &eus its
coherence and integrity as an instance of memory "or/. The
dedicatory verses trace "omens cross-generational relationships and
construct genealogies of female virtue and cultural in?uence *cf. 1iller
1223,. Transmitting a legacy of virtue from mothers to daughters
*Le"als/i 1223> D2,! they revise a popular genre of memory "riting!
the mothers legacy! from the daughters point of vie". 9n mothers
legacy te(ts! a mother anticipating her o"n death "rites to her
children to record the spiritual and ethical inheritance she hopes to
leave them *cf. 0ro"n 1222,. Lanyer "as certainly concerned to
construct her o"n te(tual legacy! but there is nothing speci8cally
maternal about her self-fashioning as a "riter. 9f anything! she seems
to see/ a dependent position in her poetry! one in "hich fantasies of
ideali$ed imagined daughterhood in relation to the older elite "omen
she addresses intersect comple(ly "ith her positioning of herself as a
supplicant for their patronage as a "riter.
[11] The dedicatory poems map out a set of te(tual dynamics that
shape relations bet"een "omen as an informal collective project that
aims to secure their place in memory and history! and to shape the
"ay in "hich they "ill be interpreted by the future. 9n underta/ing
memory "or/ in this fashion! they model the central project of %alve
&eus 'e( )udaeorum as a "hole! to "hich the narrative section of the
volume contributes by o<ering a revisionary account of the past as a
gesture to"ards securing ho" "omen "ill be remembered in the
future. Lanyer ta/es familiar events "hich have traditionally been
narrated in a "ay that foregrounds mens agency! and re-vie"s them
from a female perspective. The title page articulates this clearly from
the outset! advertising that the poem contains>
1. The Lassion of .hrist
5. ;ves Apologie in defence of Women
G. The teares of the daughters of )erusalem
D. The salutation and sorro" of the virgin 1arie.
While .hrists passion is primary in Lanyers 0iblical revision! it is her
point of departure for a set of accounts of "omens sta/e in the past.
The central event of .hristian history is framed in terms of "omens
engagements "ith it. 1emory "or/ in %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum is
thus not merely allusive! but also ideological in nature! as the poem
sets out to challenge the oAcial forgetting : and ideologically-charged
misremembering : of "omens place in memory and history. The
intervention of Lilates "ife in the section /no"n as ;ves Apologie *ll.
H+1-3G5, is a /ey e(ample of this. A 8gure mentioned brie?y in the
biblical narratives of the Lassion! she does not occupy a major role in
the "ay the ;aster story "as told in popular culture or represented in
.hristian devotional practice in Lanyers time. 0ut Lanyer ma/es this
unnamed "oman : remembered! li/e so many "omen in history! only
in relation to her husband : absolutely central! by con?ating her voice
"ith that of ;ve. 9t is Lilates "ife "ho utters ;ves Apologie! and in
doing so ma/es the much-#uoted demand "hich has become a
synecdoche for Lanyers feminist claim! Then let us have our Libertie
againe! J And challendge to your selves no %ovraigntie *ll. 35N-+,. 'e-
imagining ;ve! Lilates "ife underta/es the same cultural "or/ that
Lanyer is engaged "ith in the poem as a "hole> one challenge to the
"ay in "hich "omens place in history is recorded is nested inside
another. And although ;ve had certainly not been forgotten! the point
here is that Lilates "ife : as Lanyers surrogate : is trying to change
ho" she is remembered. The transformation of cultural memory and
historical narrative is "hat is at sta/e. %hannon 1illers recent
argument : of "hich more belo" : that Lanyers ;ve may have
in?uenced 1ilton suggests that Lanyer "as perhaps more successful in
this transformative e<ort than scholarship has hitherto assumed *cf.
1iller 5663,.
[15] This message from Lilates "ife to her husband "as conveyed to
her in a dream! endo"ing it "ith prophetic and representative
authority>
Witnesse thy "ife *M Lilate, spea/es for all4
Who did but dreame! and yet a message sent *ll. 3GD-N,.
The uni#ue insight and authority associated "ith dreaming is a
recurring theme in Lanyers volume. The Authors &reame to the Ladie
1arie! for instance! uses dream vision to establish a "riterly lineage
bet"een Lanyer and her addressee. This distinctive te(tual mode is
implicated in the politics of memory and nostalgia both because it
deliberately stages the recollection : the ma/ing conscious : of
something remembered from an altered state of mind! and because it
"as a rather old-fashioned form at this time! to the e(tent that
Lanyers use of it has been described as a deliberate archaism *cf.
%hea 5665> G3+,. The relationships bet"een dream! memory! "riting
and authority staged in Lanyers "or/ are comple(. Lilates "ife did
but dreame! a phrase "hich implies that dreams are fragile and
insubstantial4 and yet her dream provides the justi8cation for her to
invert normal po"er relations and to ta/e on a role as representative of
all "omen in calling on her husband not only to set )esus free but to
let ["omen] have [their] Libertie againe *l. 35N,. 9n The Authors
&reame! the spea/er is instructed by Kod 1orphy to remain in
%lumbers bo"reSJ Till 9 the summe of all did understand *ll. 13-56,!
suggesting that sleep can bring learning and "isdom not accessible to
the "a/ing self. The volume ends "ith a privileging of such insights
"hen Lanyer claims! in the 8nal note To the doubtfull 'eader that her
poem itself had its origins in a dream. The title! she says!
"as delivered unto me in sleepe many yeares before 9 had any intent
to "rite in this maner! and "as #uite out of my memory untill 9 had
"ritten the Lassion of .hrist! "hen immediately it came into my
remembrance! "hat 9 had dreamed long before *1G2,.
The act of "riting summons bac/ to the poets memory a prophetic
insight received in a dream and subse#uently allo"ed to lapse into
oblivion. Writing serves as a prompt to recollection! but one "ith
ambiguous implications for Lanyers claims to control over her te(t and
her memory. 9n this endnote! she employs the interaction of forgetting
and recollection to disavo" authorial agency and to claim prophetic
authority instead. The apparent loss of intellectual control associated
"ith the lapse of the phrase %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum out of my
memory corroborates the spea/ers passivity in the face of the
*presumably divine, intervention that endo"s the titling of the poem in
a remembered dream "ith its prophetic authority. Mscillating bet"een
past and present! To the doubtfull 'eader see/s to forestall future
scepticism about Lanyers authorial underta/ing by insisting that she
"as appointed to performe that Wor/e *1G2,.
[1G] Lanyers narrative of the passion and defence of ;ve are framed
"ithin retellings of other narratives of the past "hich foreground
"omens agency. %he meditates on the historical and continuing
signi8cance of "omen including 7elen of Troy! Lucrece! and .leopatra4
less "ell-/no"n 8gures from ;nglish history such as 'osamund and
1atilda4 and "omen of the old testament such as ;sther! &eborah!
)udith! and %usannah as heroic 8gures. The cataloguing of "omen
"orthies is a familiar tactic in the #uerelle des femmes! and its
importance as a rhetorical strategy "ithin %alve &eus is signaled by
Lanyers rehearsal in the prose preface To the Eertuous 'eader of the
names of some of the /ey female 0iblical 8gures she "ill represent in
the narrative poem. Lanyers engagement "ith this diverse : and by no
means all unambiguously "orthy : cast of characters is no mere
catalogue! but a comple( and multi-faceted meditation on "omens
place in historical record and memorial discourse. There are certainly
moments in her volume "here she signals an(iety about ho" "omen
have been or should be remembered *;ve! Lilates "ife! 1argaret and
Anne .li<ord,! or "hether they have any claim to be remembered at all
*herself,. 0ut "hen Lanyer comes to "rite of "omen li/e &eborah!
;sther et al! she does not see her tas/ as being to retrieve them from
obscurity. 'ather! she identi8es them as famous "omen elder times
have /no"ne! J Whose glorious actions did appeare so bright *ll. 1D+N-
+,. =ot merely celebrated in elder times! these are "omen "hose
"orth remains /no"n centuries later because it "as "rit in lines of
blood and 8re *l. 1DHG,. Li/e"ise! the Iueen of %hebas memorable
Act is in no danger of falling into historical oblivion because the
account of her deeds too has been Writ by the hand of true ;ternitie
*ll. 1+3H! 3,. Foregrounding heroic "omen of ancient times thus
enables Lanyer to ma/e a case that not all "omen have been
subjected to the disregard of posterity! but that some at least have
succeeded in sta/ing their claim to historys consideration. The
sections of %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum "hich rehearse and revise the
stories of 0iblical "omen embody a sense of history in "hich such
"omen enjoy a secure! lasting! and! indeed! memorable place in
narratives of the past.
[1D] 9n this respect Lanyers poem is not a "or/ of recovery of
forgotten and overloo/ed "omen4 rather it is a celebration of "omens
place in the historical record. Oet her ostensible purpose in retelling the
stories of "omen such as .leopatra! ;sther! %usannah and %heba in
the closing section of the narrative poem is to employ their enduring
fame as a foil to 1argaret .li<ords uni#ue and incomparable virtues.
Women of the past are invo/ed to set o< a "oman in the present!
inscribed in the te(tual record formed by Lanyers verse so that she
"ill be remembered in the future. 9n each instance! Lanyer praises the
selected heroine for her virtues! but 8nds them lac/ing because they
are essentially "orldly in comparison "ith .li<ords purer orientation
to"ards the divine. .ompared! for e(ample! "ith the %cythian "omen
"ho by their po"er alone J Lut /ing &arius unto shamefull ?ight *ll.
1D+2-H6,! 1argaret is more virtuous and more notable>
[Their] "orth! though "rit in lines of blood and 8re!
9s not to be compared unto thine4
Their po"re "as small to overcome &esire!
Mr to direct their "ayes by Eirtues line>
Were they alive! they "ould thy Life admire!
And unto thee their honours "ould resigne>
For thou a greater con#uest dost obtaine!
Than they "ho have so many thousands slaine. *ll. 1DHG-36,
The ju(taposition of 1argaret .li<ord "ith her female predecessors
sho"s Lanyer framing an intervention in public historical narrative
"ithin intimate stories of personal memory! in the service of her
articulation of "hat .onstance Furey calls a utopian vision of "omens
place in history [a]s the site of a dynamic e(ploration of "hat it means
for "omen to have a place : to read! to "rite! to spea/! to create
di<erent roles for themselves *Furey 566+> N+5,. 9n this sense! then!
Lanyers poem may be read as staging the education of utopian desire
for a di<erent future by means of a di<erent reading of the past. At the
same time! she aspires to inscribe something as enduringly po"erful
and memorable as the stories she rehearses : to "rite her o"n lines of
blood and 8re.
[1N] Lanyers focus on 1argaret .li<ord as the object of her memory
"or/ and the embodiment of the dynamic! utopian relation bet"een
past! present and future "hich her poetry see/s to instantiate is also
central to her country-house poem The &escription of .oo/e-ham.
0ringing %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum to a conclusion! this is an elegiac
poem of parting and departure! in "hich the abandoned place is given
great charge to preserve the noble memory of those "ho have left
*ll. 1NN-+,. The poem foregrounds its o"n status as a te(t of memory
by beginning "ith an invocation of the muses! "ho as the daughters of
1nemosyne! the Kree/ patroness of memory! embodied the vital
relationship bet"een memory and creativity. .oo/ham! Lanyer says! is
the birthplace of her poetic vocation! the site "here the 1uses gave
their full consent! J 9 should have po"er the virtuous to content *ll. G-
D,. The &escription of .oo/e-ham e(empli8es the )anus-faced nature
of memory "or/. .reating in her description of the garden at .oo/ham
the te(tual trace of a material memory-place! Lanyer both reminisces
about this lost paradise and rests her o"n claim to be remembered as
a "riter on her association "ith the .li<ord "omen there.
[1+] Li/e other country-house poems! .oo/e-ham encodes a politics
of place and of historical change! but it gives voice to a distinctively
feminine perspective "ithin a predominantly masculine genre.[D] The
focus on the garden is a /ey aspect of Lanyers femini$ation of the
country-house poem. 9magined as a shared female space! the garden
becomes the locus of Lanyers recreative deployment of memory. The
opening lines establish it as both the te(tual ground of her invocation
of the lost past for "hich she yearns! and the poetic 8guration of the
space "here the memories she summons up "ere created>
Fare"ell *s"eet .oo/e-ham, "here 9 8rst obtaind
Krace from that Krace "here per8t Krace remaind4
And "here the 1uses gave their full consent!
9 should have po"er the virtuous to content>
Where princely Lalace "illd me to indite!
The sacred %torie of the %oules delight!
Fare"ell *s"eet Llace, "here Eirtue then did rest!
And all delights did harbour in her breast>
=ever shall my sad eies againe behold
Those pleasures "hich my thoughts did then unfold *ll. 1-16,
Thoughout The &escription of .oo/e-ham! Lanyer repeatedly calls
upon memory to restore the lost social and emotional plenitude she
claims to have shared "ith the .li<ord "omen in the garden at
.oo/ham. Oet she regretfully ac/no"ledges that it can only do so
imperfectly! substituting dimme shado"s for the celestiall pleasures
the "omen have lost *1G-1N,. Lanyers depiction of the garden at
.oo/ham both recreates ;den in the ;nglish countryside! and
refashions the culturally po"erful 0iblical associations of "omen "ith
gardens! and of gardens "ith su<ering! evo/ed by her retelling of the
stories of ;ve and of the Lassion in the main part of %alve &eus.
&anielle .lar/e insists that .oo/ham is continuous "ith the narrative
section of the volume insofar as its nostalgic evocation of an ideal
e(change bet"een devout and virtuous "omen in the earthly paradise
forms a counterpart to the utopian vision of the heavenly paradise
adumbrated in the main body of the te(t *.lar/e 5666> (((v,. As a site
of memory! the .oo/e-ham garden is thus implicated in both the
revisionary narrative of the central poem in the se#uence and the very
fact of the poems e(istence. For )ennifer 1unroe! the trope of the
garden in Lanyers volume "or/s to bind past! present and future! in a
"ay "hich! 9 "ould suggest! is analogous to the "or/ of memory itself>
9f the Karden of Kethsemane o<ers Lanyers female readers the
promise of salvation and inheriting the /ingdom of heaven later! the
.oo/e-ham garden o<ers them the hope of enjoying the circumstances
of ;denic perfection in the present! perpetually re-e(perienced in
Lanyers poetry and in the memory of the "omen "ho lived there "ith
her *1unroe 5663> H+,.
This celebration of .oo/hams ;denic #ualities occludes the sense of
loss that pervades Lanyers depiction of it! ho"ever. The ideali$ation of
;denic unity is fractured by the di<erent material relations "hich
Lanyer and the .li<ord "omen have to the estate. The preoccupation
"ith class and status "hich is a persistent feature of the country-house
poem as a genre complicates the sense of shared nostalgic pleasure
associated "ith .oo/ham in Lanyers poem. 7er apostrophi$ing of
s"eet 1emorie as a bul"ar/ against the loss of pleasures past! "hich
"ill not turne againe *ll. 11H-3, concludes a se#uence in "hich she
meditates on the barriers imposed by social distinction! "hich she
identi8es as the ultimate cause of her separation from the .li<ord
"omen> our great friends "e cannot dayly see! J %o great a di<rence is
there in degree *16N-+,. 9n the conte(t of a volume "hich is strongly
committed to framing a bid for patronage in the terms of female
friendship! the early modern signi8cance of friends not merely as
social companions but as people "ho could for"ard ones material and
"orldly interests is clearly pertinent here. Though the poem holds out
hope that heaven may eventually o<er a healing! unifying entire love
*l. 11+,! for the time being memory alone o<ers consolation for the
"ounds of class. What then is at sta/e! in class terms and in terms of
the relationships bet"een the "omen! in the injunction to 1argaret to
'emember beauteous &orsets former sportsS J Wherein my selfe did
al"aies bear a part *ll. 112! 151,@ 'ecalling togetherness at the same
time as highlighting the current separation! the nostalgic injunction to
her social superior is mar/ed "ith a sense of loss! "hich may signal
an(iety about the fragility of the spea/ers hold both on memory and
on the potentially advantageous relationships her poem celebrates.
[1H] Oet the position of 1argaret and Anne .li<ord in relation to the
"ealth and prestige emblemati$ed by .oo/ham is less secure than this
reading might suggest. The anticipation of e(ile and loss is intrinsic to
any evocation of the garden of ;den! and the ;denic locus represented
by .oo/ham is similarly shado"ed by the threat of dispossession. The
garden evo/ed by Lanyer is merely a temporary refuge for the .li<ord
"omen! not a centuries-old family possession And this temporary
status is gendered> the moment of 1argaret .li<ord and her
daughters presence at .oo/ham is a fraught one in the dispute over
Annes inheritance rights. The te(tual production of the garden as
memory place is thus also a record of its loss and a performance of
mourning for it : a performance in "hich the garden itself participates>
;ach arbour! ban/! each seat! each stately tree
Loo/s bare and desolate no"! for "ant of thee4
Turning green tresses into frosty grey!
While in cold grief they "ither all a"ay. *ll. 121-D,
.oo/ham itself holds onto the physical memory of emotion> every
thing retaind a sad dismay *l. 1G6, and is endo"ed "ith a certain
agency in the processes of remembering and representing! in an echo
of memory theory "hich lin/s these lines bac/ to the opening
reference to .oo/ham as the princely Lalace that "illd [her] to
indite *l. N,. The &escription of .oo/e-ham is thus both an
e(hortation to recollect! and itself a site of memory.
[13] Lanyer depicts a comple(! reciprocal relationship bet"een human
subject and inhabited landscape as sites and agents of memory and
emotion "hen she addresses 1argaret as the careta/er of the former
pleasures of the sad creatures iden8ed "ith .oo/ham itself! "hich
she has lodged "ithin her heart! Kiving great charge to noble
1emory J There to preserve their love continually *ll. 1NN-+,. 0idding
herself thin/ on 1argarets past youth as a "ay of recreating in her
o"n memory the relationship bet"een her putative patron and the
garden at .oo/ham! Lanyer holds out to herself the possibility that
recalling those shared recreations "ill be consolatory! but d"ells in
doing so on her grief at "hat she has lost> Those recreations let me
beare in mind! J Which her s"eet youth and noble thoughts did 8nde> J
Whereof deprived! 9 evermore must grieve *ll. 15G-N,. 9n the end! it is
1argaret! not .oo/ham! "ho is to be the focus of the "riters
emotional engagement4 and yet the very e(istence of the poem as a
memorialisation of .oo/ham nuances and complicates that distinction.
0y systematically articulating all the features of .oo/ham! in a /ind of
bla$on of the landscape! and connecting each of them to something
about 1argaret .li<ord! Lanyers poem #uite precisely employs the
speci8c relationship delineated in classical memory theory bet"een
loci and imagines : the imagined site "here the memory "ill be
stored! and the image that "ill be associated "ith it and used to
retrieve it *cf. .arruthers 1226,. Acting on the injunction to endo" that
"hich must be remembered "ith a<ective and sensory signi8cance!
she depicts 1argaret moving through the garden! inscribing the
memorial associations "ith pleasures past its features "ill retain as
she passes each of them> 7o" often did you visit this fair tree S 9n
these s"eet "oods ho" often did you "al/ *ll. N2! 31,. 1emory "or/
need not! then! be e(clusively visual or te(tual! but can also be
embodied : enacted in movement through a place! not merely in a
ta(onomi$ing ga$e at it. This emphasi$es the intimate connection
bet"een 1argaret and the garden at .oo/ham. The &escription of
.oo/e-ham thus concludes the volumes sustained address to
1argaret as an ideali$ed female 8gure "ho embodies a particular
virtuous and gendered relationship bet"een past! present and future.
9n contrast to the narrative section of %alve &eus! ho"ever! .oo/e-
ham locates that conjunction not in narratives of "omens history! but
in a concrete place "hich materiali$es the symbolic resonance of such
narratives on an intimate domestic scale.
[12] Lanyer concludes her re?ections on the absence of 1argaret and
Anne .li<ord and closes the poem "ith her o"n last fare"ell to .oo/e-
ham! a valediction that attempts to pre-empt mourning by asserting
the immortal memory that her verse "ill besto" on 1argaret and on
the place "hich constitutes her poetic monument> When 9 am dead
thy name in this may live! J Wherein 9 have performed her noble hest
*ll. 56+-H,. 9n ma/ing this claim at the end of the poem : and nearly at
the end of the volume : Lanyer returns to a point made in her prose
dedicatory epistle to 1argaret! "here she o<ered up her boo/ as the
mirrour of your most "orthy minde! "hich may remaine in the "orld
many yeares longer than your 7onour! or my selfe can live! to be a
light unto those that come after *p. GN,. Lanyers o"n te(tual
memorial is thus identi8ed "ith her poetic monument to 1argaret and
to .oo/ham! reciprocally associating their fates in a corporeal
metaphor that evo/es a po"erful combination of interiority! intimacy!
and subjection> Whose virtues lodge in my un"orthy breast! J And ever
shall! so long as life remains! J Tying my heart to her by those rich
chains *ll. 563-16,. 9n employing the elegiac mode not merely to
monumentali$e and mourn "hat has been lost! but to assert her o"n
claim to poetic fame by tying her reputation as a poet to that "hich
she celebrates! Lanyer employs a venerable poetic strategy. 9n doing
so! she e(empli8es the memorial aspirations she shared "ith many
other early modern "omen "riters : not least Anne .li<ord! "hose
presence and absence from .oo/ham Lanyer memorialises in her
verse.[N]
5. Aemilia Lanyer remembered
[56] The recollection of Aemilia Lanyer began! some"hat
disconcertingly for feminist critics! "ith A.L. 'o"ses dubious
identi8cation of her in the early 12H6s as the &ar/ Lady to "hom
some of %ha/espeares sonnets "ere supposedly addressed *'o"se
12HG> 15! and 'o"se 12H+,. 'o"se legitimised the reprinting of
Lanyers poetry by framing it as a supplement to %ha/espeares
%onnets and casting her as the lover of the more famous and canonical
"riter. Lroblematic both in terms of its methods : 'o"se too/ poems
by Lanyer and %ha/espeare as transparent evidence for their lives :
and its conse#uences for the public perception of Lanyer as a sultry
temptress rather than an ambitious poet! nevertheless his publication
of The Loems of %ha/espeares &ar/ Lady> %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum
by ;milia Lanyer enabled Lanyer to ta/e a step out of the obscurity in
"hich she had long remained. Available in public libraries as "ell as
universities! 'o"ses #uir/y edition had the real value of ma/ing
Lanyers poetry much more accessible at a time "hen the nine e(tant
copies of the 1+11 edition of %alve &eus 'e( )udaeorum could be
consulted in just seven libraries "orld"ide *three in the Q%A! four in
the south of ;ngland,. 'o"ses volume helped to enable the 8rst
stages of the salvaging labour of feminist scholarship "hich
transformed Lanyers place in historical discourse and cultural memory.
There are no" more than t"o hundred items in Pari 0oyd 1c0rides
invaluable online bibliography of Lanyer studies! and only t"o of them
: both entries in biographical inde(es : precede 'o"ses identi8cation
of her as %ha/espeares &ar/ Lady.[+]
[51] Though fe" Lanyer scholars have ta/en the identi8cation of
Lanyer as %ha/espeares mistress seriously! it has nonetheless been
in?uential in t"o "ays. Firstly! to the e(tent that Lanyer has any
purchase on cultural memory or popular perceptions of the
'enaissance beyond the academy! it is in her capacity as
%ha/espeares putative &ar/ Lady rather than as the author of a
signi8cant volume of verse. The gro"th of the blogosphere! and of
electronic self-publishing more broadly! has given ne" impetus to the
&ar/ Lady fantasy in recent years. Lanyer no" has an internet
presence that encompasses not only 1c0rides scholarly bibliography!
but also a slidesho" dramati$ing her secret marriage to %ha/espeare in
distinctly #ueer terms! and the "ebsite )ohn 7udson set up to advance
his contention that she "as not merely %ha/espeares lover! but his
collaborator> this blac/ )e"ish "oman! Amelia 0assano *the 8rst
"oman to publish a boo/ of original poetry, "r[o]te %ha/espeares
plays. [H]