In this essay I argue that the marginalisation of women's work in the early modern period was, sometimes, an enabling condition. Shakespeare's Bianca converses with her lover in a secret language, and Mary Stuart similarly smuggles letters out of prison to her supporters in code, trying to circumvent Elizabeth's spies and cryptographers. Women writers did not always seek to circulate their words or see them in print, in other words, and what looks like illiteracy on the part of women - poor spelling or garbled syntax or a crabbed penmanship - may instead mark a skillful command of letters, a dazzling 'high' literacy which rivals Latin learning, and occasionally disables it. Many women at Elizabeth's court during the years of Mary Stuart's intriguing display a similar expertise in cryptography. I also explore Jane Seager's 1589 New Year's gift to Elizabeth as well as some of Elizabeth's speeches about Mary Stuart as evidence that early modern women writers might represent themselves as practitioners of secret knowledge, disdaining publication, courting misreading.
Blabbs and Cryptographers at Elizabeth I's Court
Roger Ascham has been credited with rehabilitating Elizabeth Tudor's image after a near-disastrous seduction at the hands of her stepmother's husband Thomas Seymour. But in many ways Ascham's tutelage merely continues a process the Lord Admiral had already begun, educating a young girl about what to wear, how to comport herself, and how to regard her male teacher, all necessary steps in the programme Vives details as removing 'the residue of her infancy'. This essay examines Ascham's seductions and Seymour's pedagogy with the larger aim of exploring the Tudor classroom, at once an official site of humanist learning and kind of rival space where women were taught to read and to write and to counteract the designs of male teachers. If images of Lucretia and Griselda resurface in accounts of Elizabeth's prodigious learning, there were other female figures - like Katherine Parr and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth's governess Kat Ashley and the Duchess of Suffolk - who shaped a humanism of the household just as crucial as the humanism of the university.
This article investigates the transformation of Spenser’s image of himself as poet in the interval between the first and second instalments of The Faerie Queene. The poet’s habits of gazing are informed by the lessons Britomart learns about seeing, but Spenser also explores the issue in two other poems written during this period, The Epithalamion (1595) and The Prothalamion (1596). Both works clearly place the poet next to pictures of occluded male gazers, Spenser’s bridegroom as marginal and as crucial as the Essex who emerges only briefly from Leicester House. Both of these male figures are ultimately sidelined by other gazers, their vision finally irrelevant to the nuptial proceedings unfolded in each poem. The 1596 cancellation of the reunion between Amoret and Scudamour is accompanied by a revised representation of Britomart, too. Taught to move beyond the magic mirror she encounters early in Book 3, Britomart is guided to put herself in the larger world and – like the poet – to look away from the image reflected in and by her gaze.
Bianca at Large
This article explores how Shakespeare transforms his early picture of female virtue embodied by Bianca Minola – safely stowed in her chambers in The Taming of the Shrew – into the freedom we find in Othello's Bianca, who is an emblem of the larger world; her movements aligned with integrity, the ability to reason, and mastery of her body. I investigate how Bianca's 'nomadic' status guarantees her safety and speech, and also locate her agency and mobility alongside the movements of female characters like Moll Cutpurse, Isabella Whitney's dejected maidservant, and Spenser's Britomart – all guardians of a world to which they only peripherally belong.
Graham Holderness, Vassiliki Markidou, Elizabeth Mazzola, James Walton and James Wilper
Notes on contributors
Marilyn Hacker, Graham Holderness, Caroline Lamb, Vassiliki Markidou, Elizabeth Mazzola and Ruth O'Callaghan
Notes on contributors