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‘Free Gift Was What He Wished’: Negotiating Desire in Lady Mary Wroth’s Urania

  • Marea Mitchell
  • Dianne Osland

Abstract

There are obvious connections between Mary Wroth’s Urania (1621) and Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (1593), not least of which are established through their direct family relationship, with Wroth being the daughter of Barbara (née Gamage) and Sidney’s brother Robert. Influenced by both her uncle Sidney and aunt Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, Wroth’s two volume Urania has only in the last 20 years received much criticism. The mammoth task of writing Urania clearly took some of its impetus from a redirection of her uncle’s interests. Where Urania is the absent idealized and Platonic means by which Sidney’s Arcadian shepherds Claius and Strephon are raised above their pastoral capacities, in Wroth’s text she occupies a much more central role, and begins by searching out her own identity rather than enhancing the identity of others. Wroth’s text both conspicuously links back to Sidney’s and begins a trajectory of its own.

Keywords

Sexual Desire Central Character Female Character Woman Writer Marriage Ceremony 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Josephine A. Roberts, The Poems of Lady Mary Wroth (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983), p. 24.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), I.i. 99–110.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Luckyj discusses and criticizes the very influential work of Peter Stallybrass, ‘Patriarchal Territories: The Body Enclosed’ (in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, ed. Margaret Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan and Nancy J. Vickers [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986], pp. 251–770). As Luckjy suggests, it is an orthodoxy that requires revision (pp. 7–8).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Naomi J. Miller, ‘Engendering Discourse: Women’s Voices in Wroth’s Urania and Shakespeare’s Plays’, in Reading Mary Wroth: Representing Alternatives in Early Modern England, ed. Naomi J. Miller and Gary Waller (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991) cites examples of Wroth’s characters turning misogynist metaphors around, but sometimes misogynism is repeated in Urania.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    The connection between bodily movement and promiscuity in the representation of female monstrosity here has its origins in depictions of the grotesque carnivalesque body where movement connotes excess, lack of discipline and unruliness. See Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (London: Methuen, 1986), which draws on the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, Pierre Bourdieu and Norbert Elias.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), p. 77.Google Scholar
  7. 15.
    Maureen Quilligan, ‘Lady Mary Wroth: Female Authority and the Family Romance,’ in Unfolded Tales: Essays on Renaissance Romance, ed. George M. Logan and Gordon Teskey (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), p. 273.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Blair Worden, The Sound of Virtue: Philip Sidney’s Arcadia and Elizabethan Politics (London: Yale University Press, 1996) discusses the importance of standing and withstanding as active values, as does Alan Sinfield, Literature and Protestantism 1560–1660 (Kent: Croom Helm, 1983).Google Scholar
  9. 25.
    If technically the situation is ambivalent, and the status of verba de praesenti marriages is uncertain, one of the significant factors here is that the marriage between Pamphilia and Amphilanthus precedes their public marriages. This may also be a reference to the long standing intimacy between William Herbert and Mary Wroth as cousins. From another more general perspective, it is also true that these different forms of marriage ceremonies provided ‘an important source of plot complication in early seventeenth century’ fiction, as Josephine A. Roberts notes in ‘The Marriage Controversy in Wroth’s Urania’, in Reading Mary Wroth: Representing Alternatives in Early Modern England, ed. Naomi J. Miller and Gary Waller (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991), p. 127.Google Scholar
  10. 29.
    See the discussion by Megan Matchinske, Writing, Gender and State in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 92–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 30.
    William A. Ringler, The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962) p. 448Google Scholar
  12. Maureen Quilligan, ‘Sidney and His Queen’, in The Historical Renaissance: New Essays on Tudor and Stuart Literature and Culture, ed. Heather Dubrow and Richard Strier (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 196.Google Scholar
  13. 34.
    John Loftis (ed.), The Memoirs of Anne, Lady Halkett and Ann, Lady Panshawe (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), p. 18.Google Scholar
  14. 36.
    While there has been critical attention to the nature of the torture of Limena, its specularity and the implications of this (see, for example, Helen Hackett, ‘The Torture of Limena: Sex and Violence in Lady Mary Wroth’s Urania’, in Voicing Women: Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern Writing, ed. Kate Chedgzoy, Melanie Hansen and Suzanne Trill, [Keele, Staffordshire: Keele University Press, 1996], pp. 93–110), in terms of the narrative as a whole, the torture is important in establishing Limena’s constancy and fortitude, echoing Pamela’s and Philoclea’s resistance to oppression in Sidney’s New Arcadia. Limena’s freedom on the death of her husband also invokes notions of the liberty of the widow.Google Scholar
  15. 44.
    See, for example, Helen Hackett, Women and Romance Fiction in the English Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Mary Ellen Lamb, ‘Women Readers in Wroth’s Urania’, in Reading Mary Wroth: Representing Alternatives in Early Modern England, ed. Naomi J. Miller and Gary Waller, pp. 210–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Marea Mitchell and Dianne Osland 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marea Mitchell
  • Dianne Osland

There are no affiliations available

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