Stratagems and Seeming Constraints, or, How to Avoid Being a ‘Grey-hounds Collar’

  • Marea Mitchell
  • Dianne Osland


The injunction not only to be chaste but also to appear chaste taxes many romance protagonists, as we have been exploring in the previous two chapters. When Richard Brathwait’s Bellingeria writes to Clarentio forbidding him her presence, she does so ‘holding it not sufficient to be innocent; that she might decline all occasion of aspersion, apt to traduce the purest and refinedst tempers’.1 Yet Katherine J. Roberts also identifies the problems, at the level of narrative, of creating female characters — of designing women — capable not simply of sustaining narrative interest but also of generating the narrative itself. As she argues, many of the precursors to Sidney’s Pamela and Philoclea ‘tend to be boring in their virtuous maidenhood’.2 Seen from a functional perspective of creating narratives likely to engage male and female readers, the issue is one of designing women who are more than two dimensional ideals but who are also virtuous heroines — of designing women capable of acting for themselves, of having designs of their own, without falling into negative stereotypes. In this chapter we explore how some female protagonists act upon their own desires without endangering their reputations, and related to this, how a woman who has once rejected a suitor can indicate a change of heart without seeming to becoming an active wooer.


Female Character Female Behaviour Title Page Happy Ending Parental Opposi 
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  1. 1.
    Richard Brathwait, Panthalia or The Royal Romance (London: F. G., 1659), STC 3565, p. 2.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Katherine J. Roberts, Fair Ladies: Sir Philip Sidney’s Female Characters (New York: Peter Lang, 1993) p. 18.Google Scholar
  3. 12.
    Anna Weamys, A Continuation of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, ed. Patrick Colborn Cullen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 81, hereafter cited parenthetically (Weamys).Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Richard Bellings, A Sixth Booke to the Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1624) STC 1805, hereafter cited parenthetically (Bellings).Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    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), p. 107.Google Scholar
  6. 19.
    See Anna Weamys’ Continuation of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (1651), ed. Marea Mitchell, The Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works (London: Ashgate, forthcoming 2005).Google Scholar
  7. 21.
    What happens to Melidora is also about defending the via activa, ‘women’s experience of the world’, and the belief that ‘untried virtue is no virtue at all’; as Constance Jordan argues in Renaissance Feminism: Literary Texts and Political Models (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), ‘man and woman have the same virtue and it requires the same exercise’ (pp. 222–3).Google Scholar
  8. 25.
    This sense of the female protagonist having a secret known to few other characters, but shared with the reader, is also a characteristic of Wroth’s central character, Pamphilia. Helen Hackett also discusses ‘the selective disclosure of secrets and the selective admission of chosen individuals to private places’ (‘Lady Mary Wroth’s Urania and the “Femininity” of Romance’, in Women, Texts and Histories 1575–1760 [London: Methuen, 1992], p. 52). On the connections between secrets and private domestic spaces see also Patricia Parker, Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property (London: Methuen, 1987).Google Scholar
  9. 26.
    Quite typically here, marriage silences the previously active woman by reminding her of her femininity. See also the reversion of Clara to submissive femininity in Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Love’s Cure or, The Martial Maid, ed. Marea Mitchell (Nottingham: Nottingham Drama Texts, 1992), IV ii 1587–95.Google Scholar

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© Marea Mitchell and Dianne Osland 2005

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  • Marea Mitchell
  • Dianne Osland

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