Monday, August 29, 2011

Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 3

Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 2

Not long after her marriage to Alphonso Lanyer, Aemilia may have become involved with William Shakespeare. According to Rowse, she was the inspiration for the Bard's infamous "Dark Lady."

Then again, Rowse also seems to believe every word of Forman's journal and interprets broadly from its contents in determining whether Aemilia succumbed to Forman. Moreover, he claims Aemilia "always exaggerated" (Rowse 34) and defines her strength of will in terms of "rampant feminism" (Rowse 20). His little asides are condescending in the extreme, like a sly nudge-wink to the reader, whom Rowse assumes will share his point of view.

Aemilia's one collection, Salve Deux Rex Judaeorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews), was first published in 1611.

The 11 prefatory pieces are dedications to various royal and noble women, as well as "To all vertuous Ladies in generall." Such blatant flattery as displayed in these pieces is well in keeping with the practice of the day. Stroke the right egos, specifically those attached to persons of wealth and power, and suddenly you are running with the In Crowd. In the following excerpt from "To the Queenes most Excellent Majestie," Aemilia opens with praise for Queen Anne, the wife of James I.

          Renowned Empresse, and great Britaines Queene,
          Most gratious Mother of succeeding Kings;
          Vouchsafe to view that which is seldome seene,
          A Womans writing of divinest things:
                   Reade it faire Queene, though it defective be,
                   Your Excellence can grace both It and Mee.
(Lanyer 1993, 3)

Early introduction of a self-deprecating tone does not hurt, either. The author humbly declares the undertaking to be beyond her meagre skills then goes on to (hopefully) meet the challenge.

In her short prose piece "To the Vertuous Reader," Aemilia fairly screams her reason for writing the main poem, "Salve Deux Rex Judaeorum." She feels that women in general -- and perhaps herself in particular -- have suffered undue slander from men and women alike. Men should remember they are born of woman, she asserts, and women should support their own. True to the life-hands-you-a-lemon tradition, Aemilia entreats virtuous women "not to regard any imputations, that they undeservedly lay upon us, no otherwise than to make use of them to our owne benefits, as spurres to vertue, making us flie all occasions that may colour their unjust speeches to passe currant" (Lanyer 1993, 49). If Rowse's Dark Lady theory is correct, this piece may be Aemilia's reaction to the 1609 publication of Shakespeare's Sonnets, in which the Dark Lady is so prominent a figure.

Whether Aemilia was truly the inspiration for the Dark Lady or merely perceived as such by the public, she would have considered the characterization to be libelous. In such a scenario, she would have struck back in kind, voicing her contempt with the printed word.

Aemilia's apparent reactionary stance is reinforced in the body of the main poem, wherein she writes:

          But woe to them that double-hearted bee,
          Who with their tongues the righteous Soules doe slay;
          Bending their bowes to shoot at all they see,
          With upright hearts their Maker to obay;
          And secretly doe let their arrowes flee,
          To wound true hearted people any way:
                    The Lord wil roote them out that speake prowd things,
                    Deceitfull tongues are but false Slanders wings.
(Lanyer 1993, 55-56)

She was clearly expressing her anger against those who wilfully spread falsehoods. One might safely assume that Aemilia herself was the target of such defamatory comment. However, if her invective was aimed at anyone in particular, such detail was not revealed to the reader.


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