Aemilia Lanyer 1569-1645
(Born Aemilia Bassano) English poet.
Lanyer is recognized as a notable English poet whose work has garnered critical attention in recent years for her unique female perspective on the role of women in Jacobean society. Her only volume of poems, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611), has been praised as the first significant book of original poetry published by an Englishwoman. The volume contains eleven dedicatory pieces, a long poem on Christ's passion, and the first of the “country-house” genre of poems to be printed in English. In recent years, feminist interpretations of her work have explored Lanyer's depiction of women's friendships, gender roles, and sexuality. Moreover, scholars have commended her appropriation of male-authored biblical stories and rewriting them from a female perspective. Critics assert that her poetry offers valuable sociological and historical insight into Jacobean England.
Lanyer was born at Bishopsgate in 1569, the illegitimate daughter of an Italian court musician. In 1576 her father died penniless, which forced her employment as a maid at a young age. While in the service of Susan Wingfield, countess of Kent, Lanyer received an education in religious theory, classical literature, and contemporary poetry—particularly that of Mary Sidney, countess of Pembroke, who proved to be an influential figure in her life. As a teenaged girl, she became romantically involved with Lord Henry Carey Hunsdon, first cousin to Queen Elizabeth. As his mistress, Lanyer was kept in comfort and became acquainted with several aristocratic and powerful ladies. When she became pregnant in 1592, Hunsdon abandoned her and she was married off to a court musician and soldier, Alphonso Lanyer. Lanyer tried to regain her previous status at court by advancing her husband's place in English society, and she hoped that he would be given a knighthood. Although he failed to receive this honor, in 1604 he was granted a hay-and-grain patent by King James I which provided them with a steady income. In the early 1600s Lanyer was inspired to write “The Description of Cooke-ham” after a visit with Margaret, the Countess of Cumberland, and her daughter, Lady Anne Clifford, at a country estate. Lanyer's religious verse was influenced by Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, who with her brother translated the biblical Psalms. In an attempt to attract patronage for her work, Lanyer published her poetry collection Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum in 1611. Although it was read by a number of influential people, the work failed to elicit patronage, and Lanyer never published again. After the death of her husband in 1613, Lanyer focused her attention on keeping the rights to his patent for her family and heirs. In 1617 Lanyer opened a school in the London suburb of St. Giles in the Fields, but stopped teaching when the lease was lost in 1619. At this time Lanyer lived with her son and, after his marriage in 1623, with his wife and children as well. There is no evidence that Lanyer wrote again. She died in March or April 1645 and was buried at St. James, Clerkenwell.
Major Poetic Works
The poems collected in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum praise the qualities of specific women whom Lanyer hoped would act as her patrons. Critics view the poems as an exploration of the major role women have played in promoting Christian values throughout history and a call for all women to turn to virtue and religious piety. Most commentary is devoted to two poems: “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” and “The Description of Cooke-ham.” The title poem focuses on the Passion of Christ, relating the events from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion from a female point of view—that of Pontius Pilate's wife. This was one of the first poems of religious devotion published by a woman and the first to grant women a higher religious authority than men. In this work Lanyer praises the virtues of females and argues that women have the right to be free of the subjugation of men. She also reflects on the role of contemporary Christian women, asserting that they must remain strong, virtuous, and pious and fulfill their obligations to Christian principles. Lanyer also paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth I in “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” and dedicated the poem to the Countess of Cumberland, praising her virtues and comparing her with the Queen of Sheba. “The Description of Cooke-ham” is an early English example of a country-house poem. Written after her visit to the Countess of Cumberland's estate at Cookham, the poem memorializes the noble estate and the companionship she shared with the inhabitants. Describing Cooke-ham as an ideal Christian community of women, she contrasts it to the misogynist world outside of the borders of the country home. Although Ben Jonson's “To Penshurst” is often cited as the first country-house poem, “The Description of Cooke-ham,” which was published five years before Jonson's poem, is recognized as being the first poem of this type to appear in print. The pastoral poem “The Authors Dreame to the Ladie Marie, the Countesse Dowager of Pembroke” pays tribute to Mary Sidney, whom Lanyer celebrates and praises as a major inspiration for her work.
Upon its publication in 1611, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum attracted little or no attention. Until recently, Lanyer has remained an obscure minor poet. In 1973 A. L. Rowse identified Lanyer as the “Dark Lady” in Shakespeare's sonnets—a theory that was quickly refuted by other Shakespearean scholars. The controversy brought attention to Lanyer's verse, and critics began to investigate her feminist interpretation of Christianity and explore the sociological value of her work. As an outsider—a woman of lower socioeconomic rank—her views on an aristocratic, patriarchal society that sought to marginalize women is considered an essential historical and sociological perspective. In particular, commentators regard Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum as a valuable cultural document that expands our understanding of women's religious roles. Lanyer's expression of ambivalence toward the power of the patronage system is considered a noteworthy commentary on the practice of patronage in the arts. The influence of the Jacobean court on Lanyer's life and work has been another topic of critical discussion. Recent studies have focused on homoerotic aspects of her poetry and have examined the attachments between women during the Jacobean period, perceiving these bonds as a way for women to transcend class differences to create a community of women. In addition to these issues, Lanyer has been praised for her vivid imagery and mastery of rhyme and meter, and “The Description of Cooke-ham” has attracted critical interest for the role it played in defining the conventions of the country-house poetic genre. In the past few decades, critical evaluations of her work have deemed Lanyer a major author and ready for inclusion in the canon of significant English writers.
SOURCE: Lewalski, Barbara K. “Of God and Good Women: The Poems of Aemilia Lanyer.” In Silent but for the Word: Tudor Women as Patrons, Translators, and Writers of Religious Works, edited by Margaret Patterson Hannay, pp. 203-24. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1985.
[In the following essay, Lewalski admires Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum for its “quite remarkable feminist conceptual frame.”]
A volume of religious poems published in 1611, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, was written by a gentlewoman who identified herself on her title page as “Mistris Aemilia Lanyer, Wife to Captaine Alfonso Lanyer, servant to the Kings Majestie.”1 Since...
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SOURCE: Krontiris, Tina. “Women of the Jacobean Court Defending Their Sex.” In Oppositional Voices: Women as Writers and Translators of Literature in the English Renaissance, pp. 102-20. London: Routledge, 1992.
[In the following excerpt, Krontiris elucidates the strategies employed by Lanyer to gain financial compensation and acceptance as a female writer.]
The Jacobean period was a time of advances in the status of women. Comparing it to earlier periods, Retha Warnicke states that it is the one most deserving the label ‘golden.’1 Many more women than before were receiving some form of education, and more female precedents had been established in...
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SOURCE: Goldberg, Jonathan. “Canonizing Aemilia Lanyer.” In Desiring Women Writing: English Renaissance Examples, pp. 16-41. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997.
[In the following essay, Goldberg provides a favorable evaluation of Lanyer's contribution as a female poet and considers the importance of sexuality and gender roles in her life and work.]
In the opening paragraph of an essay offering an important rejoinder to the emphasis on “idealized sisterhood” in “current studies devoted to early modern women writers” (an intervention that guides the pages that follow), Ann Baynes Coiro notes a remarkable fact about one of these writers: in the...
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SOURCE: Lewalski, Barbara K. “Seizing Discourses and Reinventing Genres.” In Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre, and the Canon, edited by Marshall Grossman, pp. 49-59. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1998.
[In the following essay, Lewalski views Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum as an appropriation and rewriting of patriarchal ideology and discourse.]
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)....
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SOURCE: Grossman, Marshall. “The Gendering of Genre: Literary History and the Canon.” In Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre, and the Canon, edited by Marshall Grossman, pp. 128-42. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1998.
[In the following essay, Grossman investigates Lanyer's place in and influence on English literary history.]
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...
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SOURCE: Guibbory, Achsah. “The Gospel According to Aemilia: Women and the Sacred.” In Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre, and the Canon, edited by Marshall Grossman, pp. 191-211. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1998.
[In the following essay, Guibbory analyzes Lanyer's relationship to the sacred as expressed through her poetry.]
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...
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SOURCE: Woods, Susanne. “Lanyer and English Religious Verse.” In Lanyer: A Renaissance Woman Poet, pp. 126-62. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
[In the following essay, Woods discusses Lanyer's religious verse and places her among several key religious poets, including John Donne and John Milton.]
Religion defined the social, political, and intellectual life of medieval and Renaissance Europe. From the imperialist folly of the Crusades to individual sacrifices, from cathedrals and epics to vestments and sonnets, religion also infused and transported the period's artistic imagination. Today many find it hard to grasp the ubiquity and power of religion in the...
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SOURCE: Rogers, John. “The Passion of a Female Literary Tradition: Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judæorum.” Huntington Library Quarterly 63, no. 4 (2000): 435-46.
[In the following essay, Rogers delineates the social and cultural conditions that influenced the creation of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum and regards the volume as an “unprecedented achievement.”]
As the first significant book of original poetry published by an Englishwoman, Aemilia Lanyer's 1611 volume of poems, Salve Deus Rex Judæorum, bears a considerable burden. The volume self-consciously assumes the task of delivering to posterity a new literary tradition, a newly public,...
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SOURCE: Woods, Susanne. “Anne Lock and Aemilia Lanyer: A Tradition of Protestant Women Speaking.” In Form and Reform in Renaissance England: Essays in Honor of Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, edited by Amy Boesky and Mary Thomas Crane, pp. 171-84. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Woods finds connections between the English author Anne Lock and Lanyer.]
Two of the most interesting early modern English women writers are Anne Vaughan Lock (c. 1534-c. 1590) and Aemilia Bassano Lanyer (1569-1645). Lock, a confidant of John Knox, published translations of Sermons of John Calvin, Upon the Songe Ezechias Made after He Had Been Sicke...
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SOURCE: Seelig, Sharon Cadman. “‘To All Vertuous Ladies in Generall’: Aemilia Lanyer's Community of Strong Women.” In Literary Circles and Cultural Communities in Renaissance England, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, pp. 44-58. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Seelig explores the community of women described by Lanyer in the poems of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.]
Pondering the question of literary circles in Renaissance England and attracted by the thought of a literary circle in Dearborn, I began to wonder, with Joan Kelly-Gadol, whether women had literary circles. They did, of course: one thinks of the...
(The entire section is 6364 words.)
SOURCE: Lamb, Mary Ellen. “Patronage and Class in Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.” In Women, Writing, and the Reproduction of Culture in Tudor and Stuart Britain, edited by Mary E. Burke, Jane Donawerth, Linda L. Dove, and Karen Nelson, pp. 38-57. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Lamb views the poems of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum within the context of the patronage system and the socioeconomic structure of the period.]
Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum shows evident, even blatant, signs of its production under a patronage system: eleven prefatory dedications, the tailoring of various...
(The entire section is 7981 words.)
SOURCE: Huntington, John. “Postscript: The Presumption of Aemilia Lanyer.” In Ambition, Rank, and Poetry in 1590s England, pp. 147-53. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Huntington discusses the themes of social ambition and courtly ambition in the Lanyer's poetic work.]
At the time of the publication of Jones's translation of Nennio and Chapman's “Ovids Banquet of Sence” in 1595, some poets could envision a moment of utopian promise when Fabricio's “virtues of the mind” might seem a viable form of cultural capital, when an intellectual might reject both the rules of courtly discourse, which however much they reward...
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SOURCE: Holmes, Michael Morgan. “Rich Chains of Love: Desire and Community in Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judæorum.” In Early Modern Metaphysical Literature: Nature, Custom and Strange Desires, pp. 89-105. Basingstoke, Hampshire, England: Palgrave, 2001.
[In the following essay, Holmes contends that in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum “the commingling of religious piety, a defence of women, and a celebration of their mutual passion and devotion engagingly denaturalizes customary power relations and gender identities.”]
Aemilia Lanyer devoted herself to God and other women. Her visions of past and future utopian worlds consistently place love of the...
(The entire section is 6974 words.)
SOURCE: Bowen, Barbara E. “The Rape of Jesus: Aemilia Lanyer's Lucrece.” In Marxist Shakespeares, edited by Jean E. Howard and Scott Cutler Shershow, pp. 104-27. London: Routledge, 2001.
[In the following essay, Bowen analyzes Lanyer's inclusion of a quote from Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece in the title poem of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.]
The terms of the national debate have subtly, insidiously shifted. What used to be called liberal is now called radical; what used to be called radical is now called insane.
(Tony Kushner, “American Things,” in Thinking about the Longstanding Problems...
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Hodgson, Elizabeth M. A. “Prophecy and Gendered Mourning in Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 43, no. 1 (winter 2003): 101-16.
Contends that “in at least one respect Lanyer has a consistent goal and strategy throughout Salve Deus: to invoke a particular type of spiritual foremother in a quest to define and defend her own role as prophetic poet.”
Loughlin, Marie H. “‘Fast Ti'd unto Them in a Golden Chaine’: Typology, Apocalypse, and Woman's Genealogy in Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.” Renaissance Quarterly 52, no. 1 (spring 2000): 133-79....
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Lanyer, Aemilia (Vol. 30)
Aemilia Lanyer 1569–1645
(Born Aemilia Bassano. Also Emilia; also Lanier) English poet.
The following entry presents a selection of criticism on Lanyer from 1960 to the present. For additional information on Lanyer's life and works see Literature Criticism from 1400-1800, Volume 10.
A minor seventeenth-century English poet, Lanyer contributed to the limited canon of literature by female writers of the Shakespearean age with Salve deus rex judaeorum, a small volume of poetry considered unique for its feminist recasting of Christ's Passion. Attempting to revise misogynistic interpretations of Christian belief, Lanyer revealed a keen intellect in her argument for women's essential role in perpetuating Christianity. Only recently rediscovered, Lanyer's work provides valuable historical and sociological insight into Elizabethan England.
Lanyer's life is briefly sketched both in Salve deus and in the notebooks of Simon Forman, an astrologer who cast her horoscope. Born at Bishopsgate in 1569, she was the illegitimate daughter of an Italian court musician, whose mismanagement of family funds and death in 1576 necessitated her employment at a young age. While working as a maid in the household of Susan Wingfield, countess of Kent, Lanyer appears to have gained the initial academic background that would eventually include a strong working knowledge of the Bible, Classical literature, and the poetry of such contemporaries as Mary Sidney, countess of Pembroke—an impressive scholarly display for any Elizabethan woman, much less one of such modest means and social standing. Sometime during her teenage years, presumably while in attendance upon the countess of Kent, Lanyer met and became the paramour of Lord Henry Carey Hunsdon, first cousin to Queen Elizabeth. Well-kept by Hunsdon, Lanyer, through his connections, became acquainted with the aristocratic ladies to whom she would later appeal for patronage. Upon becoming pregnant in 1592, she was discarded by Hunsdon and married off to a court musician and gentleman soldier, Alphonso Lanyer. Their union was unhappy and they were separated periodically due partly to Alphonso's extended military excursions, but also, apparently, by design. During one such separation, Lanyer resided for a short period with Margaret Clifford, countess of Cumberland, at the Berkshire estate of Cookham. Clifford's influence proved crucial to Lanyer's development as a poet, for while at Cookham Lanyer received additional academic tutelage and experienced a religious conversion, becoming devoutly Protestant. Lanyer attributed her literary endeavors and the religious nature of her subject matter to the behest of the countess, whose patronage may have made it possible for Salve deus to be published in 1611. Not surprisingly, Clifford is the central female character of Salve deus: the dedication, "To the Ladie Margaret," relates her preparation to assume the role of a bride of Christ, almost one-quarter of the title poem addresses the countess's numerous Christian virtues, and "The Description of Cooke-ham" recounts the poet's remembrance of her idyllic life at the Berkshire estate. In 1613, some time after Lanyer had left Cookham, her husband died, leaving her to engage in multiple lawsuits concerning potential revenue from his estate. Aside from a brief record noting Lanyer's unsuccessful attempt to establish a school for young women in 1617 and a court petition indicating her involvement in financial litigation in 1635, little else is known of her life between the publication of Salve deus and her death in 1645 at age seventy-six.
Salve deus rex judaeorum, Lanyer's only known work, is a poetic reinterpretation of Christ's Passion that emphasizes the role Christian women have played in upholding social morality throughout history. Composed of eleven dedications, the title poem, and a short country-house poem, Salve deus is intended solely for women: Lanyer made no attempt to address a male audience, concentrating instead upon enlightening women of all classes to the essential nature of their Christian mission. The dedications, addressed to potential patronesses and typical of Tudor literature, emphasize the exemplary characteristics of each noble woman. The title poem reinterprets biblical history beginning with Adam and Eve, meditating on the Passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, and concluding with commentary on the state of Christianity in contemporary England. Asserting that Christ chose women to continue his work on earth, Lanyer contrasted the failures of Adam, the apostles, and the male sex in general, with the virtues of the redeemed Eve, the Virgin Mary, and the daughters of Jerusalem. Central to Lanyer's fusion of biblical history with an ideal contemporary society is her admonition of Clifford and other contemporary noble women to prepare to assume honored positions as brides of Christ. Salve deus concludes with the elegiac poem "The Description of Cooke-ham," in which Lanyer painfully acknowledges the discrepancy between her dream vision of an ideal Christian world of women (based upon her experience at Cookham) and the reality of the imperfect world of men to which she must return.
Virtually no criticism on Lanyer's work exists prior to the 1970s. Upon its publication in 1611, Salve deus appears to have attracted little or no attention, and Lanyer was all but forgotten for over three centuries until her work was rediscovered in 1973 by A. L. Rowse. Claiming that Lanyer was the Dark Lady alluded to in Shakespeare's sonnets, Rowse theorized that Salve deus was written as an angry rebuttal to Shakespeare's portrait. This hypothesis, which was quickly refuted by other Shakespeare scholars, brought Lanyer's life and work to light, but also shifted initial attention away from the work itself. Hence the small body of criticism that now exists on Salve deus which has examined the poet's interpretation and presentation of Christian mythology, her technical competence, and the potential sociological value of her work. In general, critics deem Lanyer's feminist portrayal striking and, as Barbara K. Lewalski concludes, "[of] considerable intrinsic interest as a defense and celebration of good women." Lanyer's poetic talents, however, have been variously assessed. While critics praise her work as occasionally brilliant in imagery and acknowledge her basic command of rhyming and iambic pentameter, she is considered but a modestly skilled poet. Most commentators concur with Lewalski's opinion that "'The Description of Cooke-ham' is the gem of the volume," and also with Rowse's assessment that "she was too facile and fluent: she wrote too much, she padded out what she had to say—it [the volume] would have been more effective if shorter." Scholars have begun not only judging the artistic merits of Salve deus, but assessing the work's value as a potential source of historical insight as well.
SOURCE: "Aemelia Lanier: 1570(?)—1640(?)," in The Female Spectator: English Women Writers Before 1800, The Feminist Press, 1977, pp. 73-87.
[Below, Mahl and Koon place Lanyer in relation to her husband's occupation as a court musician and the cultural developments that took place in England during her lifetime.]
When George Ballard wrote in 1752 that he had been forced to omit certain women "of distinguished parts and learning" from his Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain because he had "been unable to collect very little else relating to them," his list included Elizabeth Grymeston, Bathsua Makin, and Æmelia Lanier. And today little more is known of...
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SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Dark Lady, A Question of Identity," in Shakespeare and Others, Associated University Presses, 1985, pp. 63-79.
[In the following excerpt, first published in 1980, Schoenbaum challenges A. L. Rowse's theory that Lanyer was the "Dark Lady" of Shakespeare's sonnets.]
On January 29, 1973, The Times carried a feature article, headed "Revealed at Last, Shakespeare's Dark Lady," by A. L. Rowse. Once published, The Times article was summarized in newspapers and magazines the world over. For weeks afterwards the correspondence columns of the paper reverberated with responses—heated, facetious, or merely informative. Even Dame Agatha...
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SOURCE: "Imagining Female Community: Aemilia Lanyer's Poems," in Writing Women in Jacobean England, Harvard University Press, 1993, pp. 213-41.
[In the following excerpt, Lewalski analyzes the three parts of Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum: the dedications, the title poem, and her country-house poem, "The Description of Cooke-ham."]
Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645) was the first Englishwoman to publish a substantial volume of original poems, and to make an overt bid for patronage as a male poet of the era might, though in distinctively female terms. Her volume of (ostensibly) religious poems, published in 1611, was entitled Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. The...
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Salve Deus: The Dedications:
The nine dedications make a bold bid for patronage on a very wide front: they are obviously intended to call Lanyer to the attention of past patrons or acquaintances from her better Elizabethan days, and to attract new ones. She has chosen her targets very carefully, reaching out to all the obvious female power brokers of the court. In the opening dedication to Queen Anne, Lanyer laments that she does not now enjoy the associations and favors of that earlier time, when "great Elizaes favour blest my youth" (sig. a 4v), intimating that the present Queen might like to renew that happy condition. She next addresses Princess Elizabeth, whom she does not claim...
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The Title Poem:
Lanyer's Passion poem, the Salve Deus (in eight-line pentameter stanzas, rhymed a b a b a b c c) proposes Christ as the standard that validates the various kinds of female goodness her poems treat, and condemns the multiple forms of masculine evil. The poem also undermines some fundamental assumptions of patriarchy, in that it presents Christ's Passion from the vantage point of good women, past and present. Lanyer as woman poet recounts and interprets the story. The Countess of Cumberland is the subject of the extended frame, as chief reader and meditator on the Passion, as well as exemplary image and imitator of her suffering Savior. And the Passion narrative itself...
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The Country-House Poem: "Cooke-ham":
"The Description of Cooke-ham," in 210 lines of pentameter couplets, presumably executes the Countess of Cumberland's charge, referred to in Salve Deus as not yet fulfilled, to write "praisefull lines of that delightfull place," the "Paradice" of Cookham (sig. A). Although the house and estate do not survive, the area is still a beauty spot. Located in Berkshire a few miles from Maidenhead, it has extensive frontages on the Thames, rich woodlands, lush meadows, picturesque scattered hamlets, and high hills in the west. The poem sustains a gentle elegiac tone throughout, since this is a valediction by author and residents to an Edenic pastoral life...
(The entire section is 2501 words.)
SOURCE: "The Feminist Poetics of Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum," in Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory, edited by Lynn Keller and Cristanne Miller, University of Michigan Press, 1994, pp. 208-36.
[Here, Mueller analyzes Lanyer's feminist theology, stating that "in her handling, universalism and essentialism empower a feminism that proves rich, outrageous, and originary by any present-day standard."]
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 "Mistris Aemilia Lanyer, Wife to Captaine Alfonso Lanyer,...
(The entire section is 7984 words.)
Beilin, Elaine V. "The Feminization of Praise." In her Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the English Renaissance, pp. 177-207. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.
Examines Lanyer's glorification of women's virtue and spiritual prominence in her Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.
Lewalski, Barbara K. "Re-writing Patriarchy and Patronage: Margaret Clifford, Anne Clifford, and Aemilia Lanyer." The Yearbook of English Studies: Politics, Patronage and Literature in England 1558-1658 21 (1991): 87-106.
Discusses the literary works of Lanyer, Margaret Clifford, and Anne Clifford....
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Lanyer, Aemilia (Vol. 83)
Aemilia Lanyer 1569-1645
(Born Aemilia Bassano) English poet.
The following entry presents criticism of Lanyer's works from 1993 to 2001. For earlier commentary on Lanyer's career, see LC, Volumes 10 and 30.
Lanyer is regarded as an important early English female poet. Her collection of poetry, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611), is considered by some critics to be the first feminist publication in England. Lanyer's poems, all of which are dedicated to women, are written from a female point of view and celebrate the achievements of the female community. The title poem, “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum,” though centered on Christ's suffering, also extols the virtues of women. Some scholars, however, dispute feminist readings of Lanyer's work, contending her purpose in writing such poetry was to attract patronage from wealthy women of the English aristocracy. The last poem in the collection, “The Description of Cooke-ham,” is sometimes recognized as the first of the “country-house” genre of poems to be printed in English.
Born in London in January 1569, Lanyer was the youngest child of Baptist Bassano and his common-law wife, Margaret Johnson. Bassano, a musician at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, died when Lanyer was seven years old. After her father's death Lanyer was raised and received her education in the household of the Countess of Kent, Susan Bertie. At age eighteen, after her mother's death, Lanyer began seeking favor at court. She soon became the mistress of the much older Henry Cary, the Lord Chamberlain of Queen Elizabeth. Lanyer's days at court came to an abrupt end in 1592, when she became pregnant by Cary and was effectively banished from court life. Not long afterward she married Alphonso Lanyer, a court musician, and gave birth to a son, Henry. Lanyer tried to regain her previous status at court by advancing her husband's place in English society, and she hoped that he would be given a knighthood. Although he failed to receive this honor, in 1604 he was granted a hay-and-grain patent by King James I which provided them with a steady income. In the early 1600s Lanyer was inspired to write “The Description of Cooke-ham” after a visit with Margaret, the Countess of Cumberland, and her daughter, Lady Anne Clifford, at a country estate. Lanyer's religious verse was influenced by Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, who with her brother translated the biblical Psalms. In an attempt to attract patronage for her work, Lanyer published her poetry collection Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum in 1611. Although it was read by a number of influential people, the work failed to elicit patronage, and Lanyer never published again. After the death of her husband in 1613, Lanyer focused her attention on keeping the rights to his patent for her family and heirs. In 1617 Lanyer opened a school in the London suburb of St. Giles in the Fields, but stopped teaching when the lease was lost in 1619. At this time Lanyer lived with her son and, after his marriage in 1623, with his wife and children as well. There is no evidence that Lanyer wrote again. She died in March or April 1645 and was buried at St. James, Clerkenwell.
The poems collected in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum praise the qualities of specific women whom Lanyer hoped would act as her patrons. The majority of these works also display religious themes or undercurrents. Most critical commentary is devoted to two poems: “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” and “The Description of Cooke-ham.” The title poem focuses on the Passion of Christ, relating the events from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion from a female point of view. This was one of the first poems of religious devotion published by a woman and the first to grant women a higher religious authority than men. In this work Lanyer praises the virtues of females and argues that women have the right to be free of the subjugation of men. Lanyer presents many of these arguments in the voice of Pontius Pilate's wife, including a defense and explanation for Eve. Lanyer also paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth I in “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” and dedicated the poem to the Countess of Cumberland, praising her virtues and comparing her with the Queen of Sheba. “The Description of Cooke-ham” is an early English example of the country-house poem. Written after her visit to the country estate at Cooke-ham, the poem memorializes the noble country estate and the companionship she shared with the inhabitants. Although Ben Jonson's “To Penshurst” is often cited as the first country-house poem, “Cooke-ham,” which was published five years before Jonson's poem, is recognized as being the first country-house poem to appear in print. The pastoral poem “The Authors Dreame to the Ladie Marie, the Countesse Dowager of Pembroke” pays tribute to Mary Sidney, whom Lanyer celebrates and praises as the woman who was an major inspiration for her work.
Lanyer's poetry gained the attention of critics during the late twentieth century, a time when many critics began to focus on women's concerns. Many scholars have concentrated on the perceived feminist issues in Lanyer's works, such as her depiction of an idyllic female community and her distinctly female voice. However, some critics contest such readings, arguing that Lanyer was more interested in attracting patronage than in exploring feminist concerns. Related critical concerns have centered on the poet's consciousness of race and class, which a number of scholars view as stemming from Lanyer's status as the daughter of a Jewish father and as an exile from court life. In addition to these issues, Lanyer has attracted critical interest for the role “The Description of Cooke-ham” played in defining the conventions of the country-house poetic genre. One point of scholarly debate involves Lanyer's connection to the “dark lady” of William Shakespeare's sonnets. Although some scholars have argued that Lanyer was the “dark lady,” to whom many of the poems were addressed, most commentators dismiss this idea. Critics will likely continue to debate Lanyer's status as a feminist; however, most agree that she was an important and exceptional female writer of her time.
SOURCE: Coiro, Ann Baynes. “Writing in Service: Sexual Politics and Class Position in the Poetry of Aemilia Lanyer and Ben Jonson.” Criticism XXXV, no. 3 (summer 1993): 357-76.
[In the following essay, Coiro explores issues of gender, class, and authorship in Lanyer's poetry and compares her work to that of Ben Jonson.]
The growing and increasingly central interest in writings by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century women is beginning to have some material effects on the literary profession. In the fifth edition of the Norton Anthology (published in 1986), for example, a literature teacher could find a couple of poems by Lady Mary Wroth, one psalm by the...
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SOURCE: Woods, Susanne. Introduction to The Poems of Aemilia Lanyer: Salve Deus Rex Judæorum, edited by Susanne Woods, pp. xv-xli. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
[In the following essay, Woods provides an overview of Lanyer's life and works and analyzes several of her major poems.]
Aemilia Lanyer's life, like the lives of the vast majority of her contemporaries, is mostly shrouded in the indifference of the past. Various public records offer some information, and we know or can reasonably induce more from two additional sources. The astrologer Simon Forman (1552-1611) kept a professional diary and detailed casebooks about the people who came to him for...
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SOURCE: Schnell, Lisa. “‘So Great a Difference Is There in Degree’: Aemilia Lanyer and the Aims of Feminist Criticism.” Modern Language Quarterly 57, no. 1 (March 1996): 23-35.
[In the following essay, Schnell analyzes feminist criticism of Lanyer's poetry, primarily focusing on “The Description of Cooke-ham.”]
One of the most dramatic changes to the Renaissance canon has been the inclusion of women, both as they are represented (or not represented) in work by male writers and, more significantly, as writers themselves. Fifteen years ago, even Renaissance specialists would have had a difficult time naming a single woman writing between 1500 and 1660. Today,...
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SOURCE: McBride, Kari Boyd. “Remembering Orpheus in the Poems of Aemilia Lanyer.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 38, no. 1 (winter 1998): 87-108.
[In the following essay, McBride examines Lanyer's use of pastoral conventions in her poetry.]
Writing in 1611, Aemilia Lanyer, like other women poets of the era, faced the challenge of professing a poetic vocation in a cultural context that, rather than providing models for female poetic subjectivity, denounced women writers and belittled their efforts, largely reserving poetic profession to men. Lanyer used many means in the Salve Deus Rex Judæorum to countermand this “anti-tradition”: by writing...
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SOURCE: Richey, Esther Gilman. “Subverting Paul: The True Church and the Querelle des Femmes in Aemilia Lanyer.” In The Politics of Revelation in the English Renaissance, pp. 60-83. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998.
[In the following excerpt, Richey argues that Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum is a revision of St. Paul's interpretation of Genesis.]
And then the world by womans hands shall rul'd be and obey But when the widow over all the world shall beare the sway And cast into the sea the gold and silver with disdayne And cast the brass of brittle man and yron into the main Then shall the worldly elements all desolate remain.
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SOURCE: Bowen, Barbara. “Aemilia Lanyer and the Invention of White Womanhood.” In Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women's Alliances in Early Modern England, edited by Susan Frye and Karen Robertson, pp. 274-303. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
[In the following essay, Bowen examines issues of race and womanhood in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.]
“Woman,” in the late-capitalist United States at least, is a racial term. Some of the most powerful work of modern feminism has been devoted to revealing the correlation between race and womanhood that white supremacy must suppress; “all the women are white,” the title of a black feminist collection...
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SOURCE: Ng, Su Fang. “Aemilia Lanyer and the Politics of Praise.” ELH 67, no. 2 (summer 2000): 433-51.
[In the following essay, Ng contends that Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum illustrates how Lanyer used both religious and feminist rhetoric as a means for securing patronage for her writing.]
The religious core of Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judæorum (1611) has been too easily dismissed by some critics as at best peripheral to her true subject of the “commendable qualities of women” and at worst merely self-serving “art for lucre's sake.”1 But compare, for instance, George Herbert's “Submission,” from his very popular devotional...
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SOURCE: DiPasquale, Theresa M. “Woman's Desire for Man in Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 99, no. 3 (July 2000): 356-78.
[In the following essay, DiPasquale argues that in the poems of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, Lanyer questioned the notion that female heterosexual desire implies the willing subjugation of women by men.]
“Let him kisse me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better then wine,” cries the Bride in the Song of Songs (1: 1).1 In the Christian tradition, her desire for her spouse symbolizes the soul's longing for Christ; and poets of the English Renaissance often adopt...
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SOURCE: Rienstra, Debra. “Dreaming Authorship: Aemilia Lanyer and the Countess of Pembroke.” In Discovering and (Re)Covering the Seventeenth Century Religious Lyric, edited by Eugene R. Cunnar and Jeffrey Johnson, pp. 80-102. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Rienstra examines the influence of Mary Sidney Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, on Lanyer’s writing.]
Twenty years after A. L. Rowse “discovered” Aemilia Lanyer's substantial, peculiar body of religious poetry, her work has recovered from its initial presentation as a Shakespeare-related curiosity to an established fixture in the sub-canon of early modern women's...
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SOURCE: Cook, Patrick. “Aemilia Lanyer's ‘Description of Cooke-ham’ as Devotional Lyric.” In Discovering and (Re)Covering the Seventeenth Century Religious Lyric, edited by Eugene R. Cunnar and Jeffrey Johnson, pp. 104-18. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Cook argues that “The Description of Cooke-ham” belongs to the poetic genre of the devotional lyric rather than that of the country-house poem.]
Recent studies of “The Description of Cooke-ham,” the concluding poem of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, have reclaimed Amelia Lanyer's priority in the generic tradition of the English country-house poem. Published in...
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Jenkins, Hugh. “Petitions for Absolute Retreat: Genre and Gender in the Country-House Poems of Aemilia Lanyer and Anne Finch.” In Feigned Commonwealths: The Country-House Poem and the Fashioning of the Ideal Community, pp. 146-73. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1998.
Analyzes “The Description of Cooke-ham” as a country-house poem, and compares it to poems by Anne Finch and Ben Jonson.
Keohane, Catherine. “‘That Blindest Weakenesse Be Not Over-Bold’: Aemilia Lanyer's Radical Unfolding of the Passion.” ELH 64, no. 2 (summer 1997): 359-90.
Examines recent critical interest in Lanyer and...
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