Marriage, celibacy, and ritual in Robert Herrick's 'Hesperides.'
Swann, Marjorie. Philological Quarterly v. 76, no 1. p19-46. 01.01.1997.
Over the past two decades, Robert Herrick's relationship to Stuart culture has been steadily reassessed. Literary scholars have firmly refuted the notion that Herrick was a jolly naif who frolicked about Devon oblivious to the turmoil of the 1640s, and we now understand Hesperides as a deeply politicized work. Claude J. Summers has observed that ideologically charged epigrams, verses to the King and his family, and occasional poems on the Civil War express Herrick's "extreme royalist attitude."(1) Leah S. Marcus has demonstrated how Herrick's poems of rural festivity participated in a Laudian Anglican program of "cultural revival": communal holidays, constructed as "extensions of sacramental worship," were intended to affirm the authority of the Church within a hierarchical society governed by the `King.(2) Likewise, through his celebrations of childlike obedience, Anglican doctrine, and prohibited religious ceremonies, Herrick presents in Noble Numbers poems which are "resolutely and combatively Laudian."(3) This understanding of Herrick's political stance has been fruitfully complicated by Ann Baynes Coiro, who insists that the poet "goes beyond royalist propaganda" to engage in an "ironic questioning of Stuart ideals."(4) Thus we now regard Hesperides neither as a mindless "bale of butterflies,"(5) nor as a rote exercise in religiopolitical conservatism.
Despite this new appreciation for the politics of Herrick's poetry, assessments of Herrick's representation of women remain surprisingly ahistorical. In his fine study of Herrick's classicism, Gordon Braden has paid subtle, detailed attention to the eroticism of Hesperides; some recent critics have taken Braden's work as a point of departure, either building upon his analysis of Herrick's "obstructed desire," or refuting his contention that Herrick exhibits a "prepubescent sexuality."(6) Other scholars have insisted that we recognize the gendered dynamics of power at work in Herrick's amatory verse. Moira P. Baker has argued that Herrick's fragmenting depictions of the female body participate in "the cultural repression of women," while Bronwen Price finds in Herrick's textual self-censorship, fetishism, and voyeurism "a sexual politics bound up within an emerging bourgeois economy and discourse of subjectivity."(7) Although implying historical process, these feminist readings place Herrick's portrayals of women in a realm abstracted from Stuart England: like the non-feminist analyses of Herrick's eroticism, neither Baker's monolithic patriarchy nor Price's Foucauldian subject seems to engage with the religiopolitical struggle that informs much of Herrick's poetry. We find the most satisfying attempt to historicize Herrick's depiction of women in Heather Dubrow's illuminating study of the seventeenth-century English epithalamium. Dubrow argues that the epithalamium was an especially significant genre during the social upheaval of the Stuart period: marriage was anxiously viewed as "a source and a symbol of an orderly and harmonious society,"(8) and the epithalamium allowed poets both to explore and allay contemporary fears of social instability. Herrick's epithalamia, Dubrow observes, are populated by reluctant brides, and she argues that this antipathy toward consummation "destabilizes" Herrick's marriage poems.'(9) Dubrow stops short, however, of assessing the ideological significance of this distinctive feature of Herrick's epithalamia. If Herrick poetically "destabilizes" a ceremony designed to reinforce his society's gender divisions, how should we characterize the politics of gender in Hesperides? How might Herrick's depiction of women who resist marriage have resonated within Stuart culture?
Discussions of the "politics" of Hesperides rarely consider Herrick's representations of women; conversely, analyses of Herrick's depictions of women rarely allude to the poet's political sympathies. In this essay, by contrast, I shall examine how Herrick's portrayal of women complicates the political valence of his work. Rather than the frequently analyzed poems of voyeuristic eroticism, I shall focus on poems in Hesperides which depict women--usually groups of women--as participants in communal rituals.(10) These poems remove the interaction of men and women from a psychosexual domain, and more overtly explore gender relations as a site of social conflict. In some of his representations of women's participation in rituals, Herrick ostensibly promotes the Stuart ideal of patriarchy, yet simultaneously undercuts this position. Near the end of Hesperides, however, Herrick's ambivalence overwhelms political orthodoxy, and he portrays a social order in which traditional figures and institutions of male authority are absent or rejected.
HERRICK'S POETRY OF MARRIAGE
Taken as a whole, Hesperides is a very marriage-minded work. As Roger B. Rollin has observed, in "The Argument of his Book" Herrick refers three times to marriage--"I sing . . . / Of Bridegrooms, Brides, and of their Bridall-cakes"--before he announces that he will also "write of Youth, of Love."(11) This impulse to frame "Love" within the context of marriage--one facet of Herrick's principle of "Cleanly-Wantonnesse"(12)--likewise leads Herrick to alter traditional modes of amatory verse. Herrick revises the imperatives of the carpe diem mode to reflect his emphasis on marriage--"Then be not coy, but use your time; / And while ye may, goe marry" (84.1.13-14)--and he transforms the persuasion poem into a marriage proposal: "Choose me your Valentine; / Next, let us marry: / Love to the death will pine, / If we long tarry" (31.4.1-4).
And beautious Bride we do confess y'are wise,As in "The delaying Bride," Herrick casts the woman's reluctant behavior as a cynical, sexually knowing piece of dissembling--Jane Pulteney's faked reluctance indicates her lewdness. Yet the poet's admonition, "What now you seem, be not the same indeed," is ambiguous--Herrick could also be advising the bride that she cannot allow her antipathy to be genuine. Earlier in his book, Herrick similarly berates Margaret Fuller for delaying her "Bridall-Rites" with Sir Thomas Southwell, and the poet instructs her "neerest kin" to "force her" over the threshold of her new home (53.2.12, 81-82). Herrick positions the Southwell poem, written in 1618, as the first epithalamium in Hesperides. When Herrick published his collection in 1648, the poem would have seemed mordantly ironic. The Southwell epithalamium concludes with a beatific vision of the newlyweds as an elderly couple, "two ripe shocks of corn," who will die contentedly together (58, 170). In fact, Thomas Southwell and Margaret Fuller died acrimoniously estranged. In 1634, Southwell was illegally cohabiting with another woman, and was fined for his failure to pay alimony to his wife, with whom he had had four daughters. A year later, Southwell's estate "was disposed of for the maintenance and provision of his mother, wife, and children." Southwell was subsequently charged with incest (with his wife's sister), adultery, and blasphemy. By 1637, Margaret Fuller was dead, and Southwell had married his convivante.(18) With hindsight, Margaret Fuller's reluctance to marry Thomas Southwell appears to signify her prescience, and Herrick's chidings of her hesitancy stand revealed as misguided officiousness. Herrick provides a rationale for Margaret Fuller's hesitancy even as he reproves her for it: the authority of Herrick's magisterial speaker has been undercut by history. Moreover, in choosing the Southwell poem as the first epithalamium of his book, Herrick casts an ironic light on the confident pronouncements of the stage-managers of the marriage poems which appear later in the volume.
In addition to hesitant brides, Herrick's epithalamia are also populated by women who collectively mourn rather than celebrate their friends' weddings. The nuptial poems of Hesperides thus evoke the tense dialogue of Catullus 62, in which a chorus of maidens voice their dread of marriage only to be silenced by a chorus of youths who argue that women should obediently get married whether they want to or not.(19) Whereas most Stuart writers tacitly reject Catullus 62 as an epithalamial model, Herrick embraces the poem's portrayal of gendered conflict and female resistance to marriage.(20) In the Southwell epithalamium, Herrick instructs a group of lamenting bridesmaids to leave the nuptial chamber:
Virgins, weep not; `twill come, when,"Now barre the doors," Herrick demands in the next line--the bride is separated from her circle of female friends and enclosed (imprisoned?) with her husband for the consummation of their marriage. In the Crew epithalamium, Herrick similarly depicts the reluctant bride as surrounded by lamenting female attendants. In the tenth stanza, he commands Jane Pulteney's tearful bridesmaids to prepare their friend for her wedding night:
Strip her of Spring-time, tender-whimpring-maids,The repetition of the monosyllabic imperative "strip" adds to the uneasy atmosphere of brutality and humiliation which haunts this stanza. Herrick presents the disrobing of Jane Pulteney as the removal of the woman's floral garments, a literal de-flowering.(21) He thus instructs the "whimpring" bridesmaids to rehearse the role of the bridegroom, to inflict a sexualized physical loss upon their friend. Terms like "co-opted" or "coerced" may seem too heavy-handed to describe Herrick's treatment of the bridesmaids here, yet in the next stanza, the group of deflowering women is replaced by "a thousand Cupids" who hover about the bride's eyes to fan the flames of love (107-10): Herrick has transformed the women's collective resistance to marriage into active involvement in the ritual of consummation. Jane Pulteney's attendants, like all the hesitant brides and weeping bridesmaids in Herrick's epithalamia, have not internalized a celebratory perspective on marriage, and Herrick's impresario-speaker must force his society's gender roles on them. Yet, in depicting how these reluctant women are constrained to participate in marriage, Herrick creates disquieting images of fear and intimidation--and female resistance to male authority.
HERRICK'S RITUAL OF CHURCHING
In Herrick's epithalamia, the bride is removed from a circle of female companions so that she may be deflowered within marriage. This pattern also underlies the ritual activity of "Julia's Churching, or Purification" (286.4). In the seventeenth century, the ceremony of churching became a site where the enforcement of religiopolitical authority took a specifically gendered form. Churching marked the end of a woman's month of postpartum "lying-in." By custom, the new mother, her midwife, and the women who had attended the birth would come to church together, the midwife and mother often sitting in a special pew located near the pulpit.(22) As directed by the Prayer Book, the priest would first enjoin the mother to "give hearty thanks unto God" for allowing her to survive "the great danger of childbirth," and then recite Psalm 121. After a kyrie eleison, the Lord's Prayer, several versicles and responses, and a short concluding prayer, the mother would "offer accustomed offerings" to the priest, donating either her child's baptismal chrisom-cloth, or the cash equivalent. (If the child died within a month of baptism, the chrisom-cloth was used as a burial shroud.)(23).
Put on thy Holy Fillitings, and soIn the opening words of the poem, Herrick enjoins Julia to "Put on thy Holy Fillitings" (referring to the pieces of cloth comprising her veil), to enter the church in the company of her midwife and gossips, and to approach the priest "With reverend Curtsies," an allusion to the proper format of kneeling at the altar. Herrick specifies that the priest wears a "candid Stole," indicating a Laudian concern with proper vestments, and he instructs Julia that she must not scant on the offering she makes. In these ways, Herrick's poem affirms the ceremonialist practice of churching. However, in emphasizing the ceremony's function of reestablishing gender hierarchy, Herrick introduces some highly idiosyncratic features into his representation of churching. Most obviously, the title of Herrick's poem--"Julia's Churching, or Purification"--recalls the rubric of the 1549 Prayer Book in which the ceremony was designated as "The Order of the Purification of Women." In the 1552 Prayer Book, the ritual was renamed "The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, Commonly Called the Churching of Women." The change in title signified an official emphasis on the ceremony as an occasion of thanksgiving, and subsequent generations of clergy similarly discounted the notion that the ritual implied that women were unclean after childbirth (although Puritan objectors would continue to complain that churching was enmired in "Jewishness"). Herrick, by contrast, entirely omits any reference to "Thanksgiving" and reintroduces the prohibited concept of "Purification."(28) Herrick also makes no mention of Julia offering her gratitude to God, despite official insistence that the priest must ensure that the woman "make her thanksgiving." In breaking with Laudian protocol, Herrick structures the ceremony of churching to emphasize further the power of the officiating priest. As the historian David Cressy observes, "Correctly considered, `the churching of women' was an ecclesiastical action, performed by the priest, in which the role of the woman being `churched' was passive. `Thanksgiving,' by contrast, was the woman's active duty to participate in the service, to recognize God's mercy and to make her offering at its end."(29) In Herrick's representation, Julia has no role other than to obey silently the commands she is given: Herrick eliminates the space for female agency within the ceremony and magnifies the role of the male priest, who both "churches" and "purifies" the woman. Herrick thus revises Laudian practice to enhance the ritual's gendered display of ecclesiastical power.
Herrick's unorthodox aggrandizement of male agency also informs his depiction of the effect of the ceremony on Julia's body:
All Rites well ended, with faire Auspice comeIn childbirth, only the midwife was allowed to touch the laboring woman's genitals and, as we have noted, a husband was prohibited from having postpartum sexual relations with his wife until she had been churched. Thus as part of the restoration of order marked by the ceremony of churching, control of the new mother's sexual organs passed from women to a man. The conclusion of Herrick's poem emphasizes that Julia's husband has regained his authority over her sexuality. Strikingly, however, Herrick converts Julia's churching into a wedding: the ritual miraculously transforms Julia into a virgin, and the poem ends by celebrating the "consummation" of the marriage as the newly intact woman enters her husband's bed with "feare" (15).
Herrick's refashioning of the churched mother as a timorous virgin connects Julia with the hesitant brides of his epithalamia. Once Julia has completed her lying-in, Herrick emphasizes, men exert control over her body: the male speaker of the poem tells Julia how to dress and how to behave, the priest restores her hymen, her husband will continually take the "Maiden-head" which she will dutifully "Bring" to him.(30) In a poem addressed to his brother Thomas, Herrick similarly characterizes wifely chastity as perpetually renewed virginity: "But still thy wife, by chest intentions led, / Gives thee each night a Maidenhead" (35, 41-42). Rather than indicating the poet's "attraction to celibacy,"(31) his recurring interest in female virginity and its loss within marriage signifies the desire for social stability which underpins many of Herrick's religiopolitical verses. In the sexual economy of Hesperides, the defloration of his wife is the ultimate expression of a husband's authority, an act which both symbolizes and creates order in society. As in the epithalamia, this gendered assertion of control in "Julia's Churching" also marks the removal of the wife from a group of female companions. Like the brides in Herrick's epithalamia, Julia enters the poem amid women attendants, undergoes a religious ceremony, and concludes the poem as the sexual property of her husband. Herrick thus emphasizes how the ritual of churching, like the wedding ceremony, functions to dismantle the power of a female collectivity and institutionalize male control over a woman's sexuality.
WOMEN IN HERRICK'S NOBLE NUMBERS
As we have seen, Herrick places great importance on the control of women within marriage, and aligns this assertion of male authority with Anglican ceremonialism. However, even as Herrick exhorts virgins to marry, he reveals the unease with which women assume their proper social roles as wives, and he undercuts his male proponents of marriage. In Noble Numbers, the collection of religious verse which concludes Hesperides, these doubts about male authority sometimes become overwhelming. In analyzing Herrick's politicized ceremonialism and Arminian theology, critics have failed to assess how some of the Noble Numbers subvert the Laudian reinforcement of patriarchy.(32) In "The Widdowes teares: or, Dirge of Dorcas" and "The Dirge of Jephthahs Daughter: sung by the Virgins," the bridesmaids and childbed attendants of the epithalamia and "Julia's Churching" are transformed into articulate female collectivities whose repudiation of gender roles cannot be contained or silenced. Herrick's portrayals of women in Noble Numbers thus undermine the traditional social order envisioned by the Laudian reformers, and promulgated by Herrick himself throughout much of his verse.
And though thou here li'st dead, we seeThe Song of Songs was regularly allegorized as a dialogue between Christ and the Church. By placing these words in the mouths of Dorcas' female companions, however, Herrick emphasizes the distance between biblical representations of divine authority and his poetic midrash: the evocation of the Song of Songs, uttered in this conspicuously male-free environment, indicates the erotic intensity of the women's regard for Dorcas. The widows do not leave their friend's side, and the poem concludes with the women declaring their life-long allegiance to Dorcas:
Sleep with thy beauties here, while wePeter never appears: Dorcas' goodness, rather than Peter's miracle, becomes the focus of the story. The poem thus ends not with the death-defying command of St. Peter--"Tabitha, arise"--but with Dorcas' tomb echoing the eulogy uttered by her faithful companions.
Herrick's emphasis on Dorcas' female mourners is unprecedented. If they mention the widows at all, commentators echo Chrysostom's suggestion that the lamenting widows were a nuisance, and that Peter sent them away lest "with importunate mourning [they] might distract his praying."(36); Herrick, by contrast, transforms the women's "importunate mourning" into the text of his poem--a text in which the male voice and male authority are significantly absent. In their speech from the Song of Songs, the lamenting widows usurp the role of Christ. Moreover, in delivering an obsequy for Dorcas, the women also assume the role of the priest at an Anglican funeral. Summers argues that Herrick's representation of a funerary service constitutes Laudian defiance, since the Directory of Public Worship banned such ceremonies. However, Laudians insisted that a priest must perform funerals: in Herrick's poem, Peter--the founder of the Church--and his early modern apostolic successors have no place in the rituals surrounding Dorcas' death. Instead, a group of unmarried women collectively dedicate themselves to perpetuating the memory of Dorcas' good deeds. The religiosity Herrick depicts in "The Dirge" is rooted not in Laudianism, but in a women's culture of charity and remembrance which, it seems, has no need for men.
In "The Dirge of Jephthahs Daughter: sung by the Virgins" (359.5), we likewise find Herrick idiosyncratically revising scripture to focus on a group of women. According to the eleventh chapter of Judges, Jephthah, a military leader of Gilead, vows that if he defeats the Ammonites in battle he will sacrifice the first creature that emerges from his house and present it as a burnt offering to God. The Gileadites succeed and Jephthah's daughter, his only child, leaves their house "to meet him with timbrels and with dances" in celebration of his victory (Judges 11:34). Upon seeing her, Jephthah berates her for causing him such pain, and reveals the conditions of his vow. The daughter immediately affirms that Jephthah must fulfill his pledge, but requests that he allow her to retreat for two months into the mountains with her female companions to "bewail [her] virginity" (Judges 11:37). Jephthah agrees; when she returns, he sacrifices her. The story concludes by mentioning an annual ceremony in which women mourn the death of Jephthah's daughter.
As a disturbing exhibition of paternal power and filial obedience, the story of Jephthah has elicited diverse reactions from commentators. In the 1547 homily "Against Swearing and Perjury," Jephthah appears as an example of "them that make wicked promises by an othe." Jephthah's vow, the homily contends, was made "against Gods eternal! will and the lawe of nature."(37) In his Epistle to the Hebrews, by contrast, St. Paul names Jephthah as an exemplar: along with David and Samuel, he is lauded as a hero "Who through faith subdued kingdoms" (Hebrews 11:33). To reconcile the Judges narrative with such praise, one hermeneutical tradition transformed the daughter's sacrifice into celibacy, arguing that Jephthah did not actually kill his daughter, but forced her into lifelong virginity. A commentary published in 1645 insists, "Neither can we probably think, that Jephthah . . . should offer his daughter for a burnt-offering, seeing it is odious to God."(38) In this work, John Downame and his coauthors embroider the daughter's injunction that her father must fulfill his vow: "and seeing thou hast consecrated me, as holy to the LORD, to live a virgin, and as a Nazarite all my dayes; I willingly agree unto it."(39) The 1651 edition of Downame's commentary further justifies this reading, arguing that a Christian must "acquit" Jephthah of murder, "seeing the Holy Ghost hath been pleased so much to honour him."(40)
Whether he is excoriated for his rashness or exonerated of murder, Jephthah, rather than his daughter, is the focus of commentators' attention. Thus the young woman's fatewhether death or celibacyis assessed as it affects her father. In the Judges narrative, when Jephthah sees his daughter emerge from his house, he admonishes her, "Thou hast brought me very low" (11:35). Downame's commentary glosses this statement to underscore that his only child's celibacy would constitute a tragedy for Jephthah: "if we consider how great a blessing it was in those times to be fruitful! . . . and that all hope was cut off from Jephthah, the chief Magistrate in the Common-wealth, from living in his posterity, we cannot but confesse that he had great cause of bitter grief."(41) Another seventeenth-century commentary, although accepting that Jephthah did indeed kill his daughter, similarly glosses the young woman's desire to "bewail her virginity" as a sign of her "natural grief" that she has ruined her father: "thy posterity [will] fail in me, and therewith all thy joy and comfort, I dying unmarried, and without issue."(42) The daughter has importance only as her father's reproductive resource: whether his daughter lives as a virgin or dies as a sacrifice, Jephthah must dedicate his daughter's body to God, thus frustrating his genealogical aspirations. Like the commentaries on the Jephthah story, Herrick's poem explores the significance of female virginity within a patriarchal society. However, as in "The Dirge of Dorcas," Herrick chooses to rewrite scripture from a female perspective. In "The Dirge of Jephthahs Daughter," the women who accompany the daughter into the mountains and lament her death become the source of exegesis. Herrick's focus on the daughter and her female companions is unique: the women are peripheral to both the Judges account and subsequent treatments of the narrative. The opening invocation of Herrick's poem establishes his unusual emphasis on the women in the biblical story:
O Thou, the wonder of all dayes!The chorus of women immediately identifies the daughter as an exemplar of virtue and a "martyr." Herrick does not align himself with the sacrifice-as-celibacy school of hermeneutics: according to Herrick's dirge, Jephthah has killed his daughter. The first three stanzas of the poem comprise a memorial service, as the lamenting women "compasse round" the daughter's grave (7), placing flowers on her tombstone. Like the rituals performed in "The Dirge of Dorcas," the rites of mourning Herrick depicts here would have offended contemporary Puritans. However, the politics of the women's ceremony cannot be neatly aligned with Laudian dogma. In the fourth and fifth stanzas, the chorus' mood shifts from grief to anger:
Too soon, too deere did Jephthah buy,In George Buchanan's sixteenth-century drama Iephthes, the young women of the chorus hail the sacrificed daughter as a heroine, but also express grief for Jephthah, whom Buchanan portrays sympathetically.(43) In other treatments of the story, even when Jephthah is criticized for rashness, as in the homily on swearing, his actions are assessed as an insult to God, not as an injustice to his child. Herrick's chorus, by contrast, focuses on Jephthah's daughter, and depicts her as a casuality of the economics of male power. Unlike the narrator of Judges, the chorus presents Jephthah's fateful behavior not as a verbal act, but as a business deal: Jephthah chose to convert his "Pearle of praise" into hard currency with which he could "buy" a "deere" position of enhanced authority.(44) Herrick's chorus acknowledges the perspective on Jephthah expressed in Hebrews, that through his "faith" and military prowess, Jephthah "subdued kingdoms"--"He slew the Ammonites, we know." However, the women can regard Jephthah neither as a victim nor as a hero: his daughter, not Jephthah, "didst pay" to "purchase" Jephthah's victory. Herrick's chorus insists on interpreting the Judges narrative as the tragedy not of Jephthah, but of his daughter.
After the fifth stanza, Herrick omits all mention of Jephthah, and the poem becomes an account of female commemoration. The chorus' attention returns to the dead woman's grave:
For which obedient zeale of thine,The daughter's companions respond to Jephthah's mercenary slaying of his daughter by converting the daughter's tombstone into an "Altar" (361, 77) and establishing a sacrificial economy of their own. The gifts the chorus offer are profoundly intimate, as the women synecdochically offer their own bodies to their slain companion. As the chorus enumerates the tributes they will bring to Jephthah's daughter, the force of the women's lamentation overwhelms the boundaries of Herrick's stanza form, and the enjambed list of funerary gifts surges into the eighth verse:
. . . to these we bring,This act of prosodic transgression marks the beginning of the women's abandonment of their socially sanctioned roles, as they repudiate both marriage and communal festivities:
No more no more, since thou art dead,Unlike the biblical commentators, Herrick does not evoke female celibacy in order to mitigate the brutality of Jephthah's actions. The female resistance to marriage depicted in Herrick's wedding poems has reappeared, but in a powerfully articulate new form: voices of female lamentation, marginalized both in Herrick's epithalamia and in the biblical story of Jephthah, now express a subversive sexual politics. To commemorate her death, the daughter's companions will participate neither in the institution of marriage nor in the "yeerly Festivalls" championed by the Laudian reformers. The female speakers of "The Dirge of Jephthahs Daughter" thus repudiate the social order which Herrick elsewhere anxiously attempts to reinforce. Herrick's impresario-speaker has disappeared: no voice of male authority attempts to dissuade the chorus from collectively abandoning their dual roles as obedient women and compliant members of the ceremonialist Church. Rather than celebrating May Day or disrobing brides at weddings, the women will now devote themselves to adorning the sepulchre of Jephthah's daughter:
May all shie Maids, at wonted hoursThe daughter's companions defiantly embrace virginity as the basis of an all-female community: the grief-stricken women refuse to be transformed into brides, and refuse to take their proper place in the social order promoted by Laudian clergymen like Robert Herrick.
In Noble Numbers, Herrick innovatively rewrites biblical stories from the perspective of marginalized female characters. At the same time, Herrick foregrounds the motif of women's resistance to marriage which informs many of his poems about communal rituals. In both "The Dirge of Dorcas" and "The Dirge of Jephthahs Daughter," Herrick depicts groups of unmarried women who articulate and enact an all-female religiosity which subverts male authority. These loquacious women would have struck an uneasy chord in the minds of Herrick's contemporaries. As Linda Woodbridge has observed, the "gossips' meeting" was a traditional butt of early modern satire,(45) and this demonization of groups of women became more topical during the religiopolitical struggles of the late Stuart period. As ecclesiastical control disintegrated, women seized upon new opportunities for religious and political activism, often in tandem with other women. Groups of women petitioned Parliament, reports of women's religious gatherings spurred London officials to complain to Parliament in 1646 of "private Meetings of Women Preachers," and female prophets and visionaries roamed the land, often aided by women friends.(46)
Hallelujah, Hallelujah LordIn "The Dirge of Dorcas" and "The Dirge of Jephthahs Daughter," Herrick portrays groups of women who, like radical "holy sisters," are threateningly unmarried. In Noble Numbers, the role of obedient, subordinate wife, forced upon women earlier in Hesperides, is abandoned as women forge all-female communities to commemorate beloved friends. By evading marriage and ecclesiastical control, the unruly women of Noble Numbers locate themselves beyond the pale of seventeenth-century gender roles and Anglican conformity.
This vision of "women on top" does not, of course, indicate a latent strand of feminism in Robert Herrick. Like his contemporaries, Herrick represents social instability in gendered terms, and in Noble Numbers, he rewrites scripture to symbolize the collapse of a traditional political and ecclesiastical order. The women who subversively mourn Dorcas and Jephthah's daughter encounter no male resistance. This striking absence of male authority also characterizes Herrick's depiction of Christ's Passion. At the conclusion of Noble Numbers, Herrick presents a sequence of poems which recounts the Easter story. The final poem in the sequence is "His coming to the Sepulcher":
Hence they have born my Lord: Behold! the StoneIn Mark's account of the Passion, women followers of Jesus see the empty tomb, but are reassured by a male angel, "Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here" (Mark 16:1-6). In Herrick's rewriting of this encounter, by contrast, the angel never speaks, the Resurrection is never acknowledged, and the poem concludes with an image of Christ harrowing Hell. It appears that neither the angel nor Christ himself can aid the speakerNoble Numbers ends with the deafening silence of the angel and Herrick's vision of an unresurrected Savior.
Within this void of male silence and uncertainty female voices gain new prominence. Herrick perceives that the breakdown of ecclesiastical and political control may allow women to reject traditional gender roles: as Herrick's mourning women talk their way out of the structure of patriarchy, they establish a subversive no-man's land of female autonomy. Women in Noble Numbers perform their own funerary rites, unconstrained by male religious authority, and create all-female communities, thus evading the secular domination of husbands. In abandoning their roles as dutiful laypersons and obedient women, the friends of Dorcas and Jephthah's daughter resemble Anna Trapnel's beloved "Companions" who "are not wedded to anything" but their radically Protestant God. One could argue that Herrick's lamenting choruses are even more unorthodox than Trapnel's sectarian sisters; indeed, by devoting themselves to memorializing other women, the female speakers of Herrick's dirges practice a religiosity which does not acknowledge a male deity at all. Significantly, however, Herrick does not satirize the unruly women of Noble Numbers. The virgins who mourn Jephthah's daughter react against the brutality of a patriarchal theocracy; Dorcas' companions apparently have no Father of the Church to resurrect their friend. Rather than causing social instability, Herrick depicts these women's subversive religiosity as arising in response to corrupt or abdicated male leadership. Just as he hints in his secular poetry that women justifiably resist marriage, in Noble Numbers Herrick depicts female rejection of patriarchy as a rational response to men's religious, political, and domestic failures. Like the bewildered speaker of "His coming to the Sepulcher," the women of Herrick's dirges inhabit a world which lacks male saviors. In his depictions of autonomous groups of women in Noble Numbers, Herrick thus critiques the Laudian polity even as he laments its demise.(50)
(1) Claude J. Summers, "Herrick's Political Poetry: The Strategies of His Art," in Roger B. Rollin and J. Max Patrick, eds., "Trust to Good Verses": Herrick Tercentenary Essays (U. of Pittsburgh Press, 1978), 172. On Herrick's royalism, see also Roger B. Rollin, Robert Herrick, rev. ed. (New York: Twayne, 1992), 154-58; and Summers, "Herrick's Political Counterplots," SEL 25 (1985): 165-82.
(2) Leah S. Marcus, The Politics of Mirth: Jonson, Herrick, Milton, Marvell, and the Defense of Old Holiday Pastimes (U. of Chicago Press, 1986), 145, 17. Under Archbishop William Laud's program of reform, the Anglican Church rejected the doctrine of predestination and emphasized the sacraments, ceremonialism, and the holiday pastimes advocated in the Book of Sports. The Laudian agenda was also designed to gain greater power--intellectual, spiritual, economic, and political--for the clergy. For brief, cogent analyses of Laudianism, see Andrew Foster, "Church Policies of the 1630s," in Richard Cust and Ann Hughes, eds., Conflict in Early Stuart England: Studies in Religion and Politics 1603-1642 (New York: Longman, 1989), 193-223; and Nicholas Tyacke, "Puritanism, Arminianism and Counter-Revolution," in Conrad Russell, ed., The Origins of the English Civil War (London: Macmillan, 1973), 119-43. Studies of the Laudian elements in Hesperides include Leah S. Marcus, "Herrick's Hesperides and the `Proclamation made for May,'" SP 76 (1979): 49-74; Achsah Guibbory, "The Temple of Hesperides and Anglican-Puritan Controversy," in Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, eds., The Muses Common-Weale: Poetry and Politics in the Seventeenth Century (U. of Missouri Press, 1988), 135-62; Guibbory, "Enlarging the Limits of the `Religious Lyric': The Case of Herrick's Hesperides," in John R. Roberts, ed., New Perspectives on the Seventeenth-Century English Religious Lyric (U. of Missouri Press, 1994), 28-45; and Peter Stallybrass, "`Wee feaste in our Defense': Patrician Carnival in Early Modern England and Robert Herrick's Hesperides," English Literary Renaissance 16 (1986): 234-52.
(3) Leah S. Marcus, Childhood and Cultural Despair: A Theme and Variations in Seventeenth-Century Literature (U. of Pittsburgh Press, 1976), 130.
(4) Ann Baynes Coiro, Robert Herrick's "Hesperides" and the Epigram Book Tradition (Johns Hopkins L. Press, 1988), 9. Assessments of Herrick's political ambivalence include Coiro, "Herrick's Hesperides: The Name and the Frame," ELH 52 (1985): 311-36; Janie Caves McCauley, "On the `Childhood of the Yeare': Herrick's Hesperides New Year's Poems," George Herbert Journal 14 (1990-91): 72-96; Jonathan F. S. Post, "Robert Herrick: A Minority Report," George Herbert Journal 14 (1990-91): 1-20, esp. 11-18; and Katharine Wallingford, "`Corinna,' Carlomaria, the Book of Sports, and the Death of Epithalamium on the Field of Genre," George Herbert Journal 14 (1990-91): 97-112.
(5) Don Allen Cameron, Image and Meaning: Metaphoric Traditions in Renaissance Poetry, rev. ed. (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1968), 138.
(6) Gordon Braden, The Classics and English Renaissance Poetry: Three Case Studies (Yale U. Press, 1978), 223; William Kerrigan, "Kiss Fancies in Robert Herrick," George Herbert Journal 14 (1990-91): 155; Roger B. Rollin, "Robert Herrick and the Erotics of Criticism," in Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, eds., Renaissance Discourses of Desire (U. of Missouri Press, 1993), 134. See also Lillian Schanfield, "`Tickled with Desire': A View of Eroticism in Herrick's Poetry," Literature and Psychology 39 (1993): 63-83.
(7) Moira P. Baker "`The Uncanny Stranger on Display': The Female Body in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Love Poetry," South Atlantic Review 56 (1991): 22; Bronwen Price, "The Fractured Body--Censorship and Desire in Herrick's Poetry," Literature and History, 3rd ser., 2 (1993): 24. See also Sarah Gilead's painstaking analysis of "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," in which she argues that Herrick uses the carpe diem tradition to replace sexuality with textuality ("Ungathering `Gather ye Rosebuds': Herrick's Misreading of Carpe Diem," Criticism 27-: 133-53).
(8) Heather Dubrow, A Happier Eden: The Politics of Marriage in the Stuart Epithalamium (Cornell U. Press, 1990), 49.
(9) Dubrow, Eden, 85-86, 248.
(10) Studies of Herrick's ritual which emphasize the poet's commingling of classical and Christian elements include Robert H. Deming, Ceremony and Art: Robert Herrick's Poetry (The Hague: Mouton, 1974) and A. Leigh Deneef, "This Poetick Liturgie": Robert Herrick's Ceremonial Mode (Duke U. Press, 1974).
(11) Rollin, Robert Herrick, 74; Robert Herrick, "The Argument of his Book," 11.3-5, in The Poetical Works of Robert Herrick, ed. L. C. Martin (Oxford U. Press, 1956), 5. All future references to Herrick's poetry are to this edition. I have followed Martin's format for references to Herrick's poems: i.e., (page number, number of poem on page line number[s]). The continuation of a poem is referred to by page and line number.
(12) On Herrick's aesthetic of "Cleanly-Wantonnesse," see Paul R. Jenkins, "Rethinking What Moderation Means to Robert Herrick," ELH 39 (1972): 49-65.
(13) My account of the early modern sex-gender system draws on S. D. Amussen, "Gender, Family and the Social Order, 1560-1725," in Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson, eds., Order and Disorder in Early Modern England (Cambridge U. Press, 1985), 196-217; Peter Stallybrass, "Patriarchal Territories: The Body Enclosed," in Margaret W. Ferguson et al., eds., Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe (U. of Chicago Press, 1986), 123-42; and D. E. Underdown, "The Taming of the Scold: The Enforcement of Patriarchal Authority in Early Modern England," in Fletcher and Stevenson, eds., Order and Disorder, 116-36.
(14) See, e.g., "How the Wall-flower came first, and why so called" (14.4).
(15) Bridget Hill, "A Refuge from Men: The Idea of a Protestant Nunnery," Past and Present 117 (1987): 119.
(16) Leah S. Marcus, Politics of Mirth, 156-65.
(17) My account of Herrick's delaying brides is indebted to Dubrow's perceptive analysis of Herrick's epithalamia, esp. pp. 233-58.
(18) My account of the Southwell marriage follows Martin's note to the poem (509-10, 53.2n).
(19) Catullus 62 ends with an evaluation of female virginity as property in which young women have only a minority interest: "virginitas non tote tuast, ex parse parentumst; / tertia part patrist, pars est data tertia matri, / tertia sola tuast: noli pugnare duobus, / qui genero sue iura simul cum dote dederunt." (Your maidenhead is not an your own; partly it belongs to your parents, a third part is given to your father, a third part to your mother, only a third is yours, do not contend with two, who have given their rights to their son-in-law together with the dowry.) Text and translation from G. P. Goold, ed., Catullus, Tibullus and Pervigilium Veneris, 2nd ed., The Loeb Classical Library (Harvard U. Press, 1988), 90-91.
(20) Dubrow, Eden, 241.
(21) Earlier in Hesperides, Corinna is told, "Rise, and put on your Foliage, and be scene / To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and greene" (68, 15-16). By refusing to put on her "Foliage," Corinna pre-empts her experience of the nuptial stripping to which Jane Pulteney is subjected.
(22) William Coster, "Purity, Profanity, and Puritanism: The Churching of Women, 1500-1700," in W. J. Sheils and Diana Wood, eds., Women in the Church, Studies in Church History 27 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 383. My account of churching also draws on David Cressy, "Purification, Thanksgiving and the Churching of Women in Post-Reformation England," Past and Present 141 (1993): 106-46; Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), 42-43, 68-69; and Adrian Wilson, "The Ceremony of Childbirth and its Interpretation," in Valerie Fildes, ed., Women as Mothers in Pre-Industrial England (New York: Routledge, 1990), 68-107.
(23) ,u>The Book of Common Prayer 1559: The Elizabethan Prayer Book, ed. John E. Booty (U. Press of Virginia, 1976), 314-15; Cressy, "Purification," 126; OED, s.v. "chrisom."
(24) In using the term "Puritan," I follow David Underdown's definition of Puritanism as "the set of beliefs held by people who wished to emphasize more strongly the Calvinist heritage of the Church of England; to elevate preaching arid scripture above sacraments and rituals, the notions of the calling, the elect, the `saint,' the distinctive virtue of the divinely predestined minority, above the equal worth of all sinful Christians" (Revel, Riot, and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England 1603-1660 [Oxford U. Press, 1985], 41).
(25) Lawrence Stone analyzes the role of Protestantism in reinforcing patriarchy in The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977), esp. pp. 154-55.
(26) Thomas Morton cited in William Ames, A Fresh Suit against Human Ceremonies in Gods Worship (1633), 346, qtd. Cressy, "Purification," 133-34.
(27) On the performance of domestic duties during the lying-in, see Wilson, "Ceremony," 76-77; and Cressy, "Purification," 115. For contemporary accounts of sexual abstinence during the postpartum period, see Wilson 77-78.
(28) Gail Kern Paster argues that early modern medical discourse worked to stigmatize the all-female seclusion of childbirth and lying-in by "attaching shame and obscurity to the birth process" (The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England [Cornell U. Press, 1993], 186). Herrick's insistence that churching constitutes a "Purification" liturgically reinforces this medical conceptualization of the postpartum female body. Nonetheless, Herrick's revisions of the Laudian ceremony also indicate that he views the women's culture surrounding childbirth as a threat to a patriarchal social order.
(29) Cressy, "Purification," 124.
(30) Cf. Baker's reading of the poem ("Uncanny Stranger," 20-21).
(31) Dubrow, Eden, 243.
(32) For assessments of Herrick's Laudianism in Noble Numbers, see Leah S. Marcus, "Herrick's Noble Numbers and the Politics of Playfulness," English Literary Renaissance (1977): 108-26; David W. Landrum, "`To Seek of God': Enthusiasm and the Anglican Response in Robert Herrick's Noble Numbers," SP 89 (1992): 244-55; Landrum, "Robert Herrick on Predestination," ELN 30.3 (1993): 24-30; Thomas Moisan, "Robert Herrick's `Rex Tragicus' and the `Troublesome Times,'" Viator 21 (1990): 349-84; and Lisa M. Zeitz, "`What Sweeter Musick': The Politics of Praise in Herrick's `Christmas Caroll' and Wesley's `Hymn for Christmas-Day,'" English Studies in Canada 14 (1988): 270-85.
(33) John Downame et al., Annotations upon all the Books of the Old and New Testament, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (London, 1651), 2, Acts 9:39 (no pagination).
(34) The Commentaries of M. John Calvin upon the Actes of the Apostles, trans. Christopher Fetherstone (London, 1585), 231. On the history of the interpretation of the Dorcas story, see Janice Capel Anderson, "Reading Tabitha: A Feminist Reception History," in Edgar V. McKnight and Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, eds., The New Literary Criticism and the New Testament (Valley Forge, Penn.: Trinity Press, 1994), 108-44.
(35) Claude J. Summers, "Tears for Herrick's Church," George Herbert Journal 14 (1990-91): 56. Summers reiterates this argument in "Herrick, Vaughan, and the Poetry of Anglican Survivalism," in Roberts, ed., New Perspectives on the Seventeenth-Century English Religious Lyric, 46-74.
(36) John Downame, et al., Annotations, 2nd ed. (1651), 2, Acts 9:40.
(37) Ronald B. Bond, ed., Certain Sermons or Homilies (1547) and A Homily against Disobedience and Wilful Rebellion (1570): A Critical Edition (U. of Toronto Press, 1987), 132.
(38) Downame, et al., Annotations (1645), Judges 11:36. God's reputation for beneficence is also at stake in this hermeneutical exercise--after all, if God prevented Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, why does He not intervene to save Jephthah's daughter? For the history of the interpretation of the Jephthah narrative, see David Marcus, Jephthah and His Vow (Lubbock: Texas Tech Press, 1986), 8-9.
(39) Downame, et al., Annotations (1645), Judges 11:36.
(40) Downame, et al., Annotations, 2nd ed. (1651), 1, Judges 11.
(41) Downame, et al., Annotations, 2nd ed. (1651), 1, Judges 11:35.
(42) Giovanni Diodate, Pious and learned annotations upon the Holy Bible, 3rd ed. (1651), Bb3.
(43) George Buchanan, Iephthes, 1331-39, 791-97, in P. Sharratt and P. G. Walsh, eds., George Buchanan: Tragedies (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1983), 21-94.
(44) This depiction of the daughter as a commodity may remind us of Hamlet's remarks to Polonius: "O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou!" (Hamlet 2.2.403-4). This fourteener line, presumably from a lost ballad about Jephthah, places Ophelia in the role of Jephthah's doomed child. On this and other literary treatments of the Jephthah story, see Wilbur Owen Sypherd, Jephthah and his Daughter: A Study in Comparative Literature (U. of Delaware, 1948).
(45) Linda Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620 (U. of Illinois Press, 1984), 236.
(46) Ellen A. McArthur, "Women Petitioners and the Long Parliament," English Historical Review 24 (1909): 698-709; Commons Journals, 15 Jan. 1645/6, qtd. Anne Laurence, "A Priesthood of She-Believers: Women and Congregations in Mid-Seventeenth-Century England," Studies in Church History 27 (1990): 354; Dorothy P. Ludlow, "Shaking Patriarchy's Foundations: Sectarian Women in England, 1641-1700," in Richard L. Greaves, ed., Triumph over Silence. Women in Protestant History (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1985), 99; Phyllis Mack, Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophecy in Seventeenth-Century England (U. of California Press, 1992), 97-98.
(47) Patricia Crawford, Women and Religion in England 1500-1720 (London: Routledge, 1993), 129.
(48) "A Psalm of Mercy," Rump: or an Exact Collection of the Choyest Poems and Songs Relating to the Late Times (London 1662), 1, 195-96; cited Keith Thomas, "Women and the Civil War Sects," Past and Present 13 (1958): 49.
(49) Anna Trapnel, Voice of the King of Saints (1658), qtd. Mack, Visionary Women, 95.
(50) I wish to thank Richard F. Hardin, Janet M. Sharistanian, and William M. Tsutsui for their helpful comments on this essay.