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Early literature



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  • 1. Medieval and Renaissance Voices
  • 2. Medieval and Renaissance Literature
    • Much early literature took the form of poetry.
    • It is difficult to attribute some of the earliest poetry in the English language, from the Anglo-Saxon period, to female writers, as there is no definite evidence the women truly wrote them.
    • Some may be “female voiced” poems written by men, for example “The Wife’s Lament,” and “Wulf and Eadwacer”
  • 3.
    • It is easy for us, with early 21 st century perspective, to oversimplify the past: religion for early women was all pervasive, not just a once-a-week practice
    • Patriarchal culture was upheld by women
  • 4.
    • Misogynistic thinking and preaching was upheld by and disseminated by women
    • Therefore their literature is easy to misread, as not all texts with a female name associated with them were necessarily written by women, and ‘women’ (female characters) on stage were not even women at all, until the middle of the 17 th century.
  • 5. Forms of Early Literature
    • Religious writing
    • Translations
    • Conduct handbooks
    • Courtly writing
  • 6.
    • We see two themes in early literature:
    • First, female transgression and the male punishing of transgression
    • Second, the theme of public versus private: what can a woman say or write publicly? What can she say or write privately?
  • 7. Courtly Literature
    • Courtly literature deserves a mention. It took two main forms:
    • The ideal of “courtly love” in the Middle Ages: a male lover laments his desire for an unyielding, unobtainable mistress
    • think Lancelot and Guinivere, or Petrarch’s sonnets to Laura
  • 8.
    • Neo-Platonic philosophy advocating unconsummated passion as spiritually elevating
    • Secularization of Mariolatry: women as muse and mediator of writing
    • Men as producers of writing, women as receptacles of it
  • 9.
    • Courtly Panegyrics , poems that praise in verse a would-be patron or monarch
    • It was considered vulgar, ungentlemanly to write for print publication (that is, for the public).
  • 10.
    • Most courtly writers, therefore, wrote manuscripts that were unsigned, and therefore much went un-attributed.
    • Who was the writer? Men using female voices, which was typical in both Medieval and Renaissance poetry? Women writing to one another?
  • 11. Courtly Women Writers
    • Mary, Queen of Scots
    • Elizabeth I
    • Lady Mary Sidney
    • Lady Mary Wroth
    • Elizabeth Cary
    • These women represent the power of the female patroness.
  • 12.
    • The issue becomes one of a contrast between outward behavior versus inner feeling , and defense against intrusive interpreters
    • Often, aristocratic women wrote personal, sincere expressions not intended for any but a small circle, which are, expediently, allowed to “leak,” making them “public.”
  • 13.
    • For example, Mary Sidney’s admonition to Elizabeth I to be a better Protestant, and to encourage Protestantism throughout the world
    • Sidney veils this in a panegyric dedication presenting herself as the seemingly humble and submissive translator of the Psalms.
  • 14.
    • Courtly writing represents the overlapping of public and private, relativism in a culture transitioning from manuscript to print
    • This gives women the opportunity to ‘claim’ privacy as a pose for self-expression, to make “eloquent disclaimers” of ineloquence,
    • Women could proclaim reluctance to write as the pose for the act of writing itself, thus “publicizing its own privacy.”
  • 15.
    • Twentieth century people see writers as elite members of a metaphorical priesthood
    • In the Middle Ages writers were literally male Catholic priests.
  • 16.
    • Early notions of authorship were unstable and complex. Male and female writers could adopt the persona of the “humble transmitter of God’s divine authority”; few texts call attention to individual writers.
    • For example, Julian of Norwich, Margary Kempe don’t claim the words as their own, and therefore aren’t responsible for what they say, or thus punishable for transgressive language.
  • 17.
    • This begins to change when writing for pay to an unknown, unseen general audience began in the mid-1500s, during the reign of Henry VIII and the Reformation.
    • Literary patronage and manuscript circulation lasts through the 18 th century, but printing changes notions of authorship.
    • Printing is especially important for women writers – if they owned the text, they could sell it.