Generating Absence: The Sonnets of Mary Stuart

  • Rosalind Smith
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


In 1996, Jennifer Summit’s article ‘The Arte of a Ladies Penne: Elizabeth I and the Poetics of Queenship’ argued for the first time that the relationship between Elizabeth I and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots was played out through the circulation of their texts. Summit constructs an ingenious argument surrounding the writing of Elizabeth I, linking her poetics of queenship with a ‘poetics of covertness’: Elizabeth’s use of the discourse of secrecy to construct public knowledge as private. Elizabeth positions her readers as privileged insiders coveting those secrets, and uses privacy itself to produce the public effects upon which her authority as female sovereign depended. Elizabeth’s complex manipulation of the terms of coterie manuscript poetry is contrasted with a group of Mary Stuart’s texts to demonstrate ‘how both queens adapted poetic topoi to construct a language of female readership’.1 However, in constructing Mary’s poetics, the article briefly discusses one letter and a manuscript poem sent by Mary to Elizabeth in 1568, then focuses its argument for Mary’s textuality not upon her widely circulated body of writing, but upon a collection of her embroideries. Summit reads Mary’s use of Petrarchan figures as conduits of the author’s emotional state, as ‘confessions of her own vulnerability’, and as ‘a means of figuring her own fear and helplessness as effects of desire’.


Subject Position Generate Absence Woman Writer Lyric Agency Privileged Insider 
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  1. 1.
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© Rosalind Smith 2005

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  • Rosalind Smith

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