"'Watch, Gaze, and Marke': The Poetry of Mary Wroth"

Critic: Gary F. Waller
Source: The Sidney Family Romance: Mary Wroth, William Herbert, and the Early Modern Construction of Gender, Wayne State University Press, 1993, pp. 190-219.

[(essay date 1993) In the following essay, Waller contends that Wroth seeks in her sonnet sequences to construct a gender-neutral autonomy, and explores the ways in Wroth fit into, defied, and influenced poetic images of women in the late Renaissance.]

The women I have seen in clinical practice who present such images of spatial containment and inner space also have masochistic fantasies in which surrender is called forth by the other's power to penetrate, to know, and to control their desire. Yet in these fantasies we gradually discern a strand of seeking recognition for a force that originates within, a force imbued with the authenticity of inner desire ... what is experientially female is the association of desire with a space, a place within the self, from which this force can emerge.

Jessica Benjamin

Can this be me? The disposition of idealised bodies, anatomically like our own, in postures of dominance and subjugation, is not intended to do anything for us.

Marion Glastonbury1

Despite their apparent obviousness, the words we use to describe gender assignments are sites of continual struggle. "Man" and "woman" are sliding, not stable, signifiers. Nor are the material practices that embody our lived sexual roles adequately descibed by the tragic limitations of such binarism. New forms of gender assignment emerge; new patterns of what we persist in calling "masculinity" and "femininity" are engendered. Representations never fully correspond to lived experiences, yet experiences are given form only by means of their representations. No literary text attempting to articulate gendered experiences is, therefore, ever "merely" literary; inevitably part of the history of ideologies, it opens political, religious, racial, class, and gender related questions--and perhaps the more intensely so when it is situated on the margins of the dominant literary forms of its society, where it is a reminder that any moment in history is constituted by a multiplicity of material practices and that what appears to be dominant depends, in part, for its power on what has been, at least for the moment, marginalized.

Mary Wroth's poems constitute a major document in tracing the ways both assigned and lived gender roles were under pressure in the early seventeenth century. The first collection of Petrarchan love poetry in English by a woman, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus was published in 1621, appended to Wroth's prose romance, The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania. The date is important: even in the time it was written, it was a culturally marginal work. 1621 is some thirty years after the main vogue of sonneteering in England (and twelve years after even Shakespeare's belated and probably pirated collection appeared). In the previous decade Wroth had been mentioned by family members, a few friends, and dependents in a predictably adulatory manner as an inheritor of the Sidney poetic genius, but the actual publication of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus received virtually no notice. Nevertheless, along with the poems she inserted into Urania itself, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus is a major document at the end of the dominant tradition of Renaissance love poetry and a focal point in the long struggle to challenge the assumptions and practices of that tradition. It is a prime source for our attempting to read, today, what it was to be gendered as a woman in early modern England, and to try to write within and against the structures of desire determined by that gender assignment.

Vilified when they appeared in print, Wroth's writings were virtually unknown, except as curiosities, until the mid-1970s. After over three centuries of neglect, they are currently receiving an increasing amount of attention: since 1977 there have been three editions of her writings (with a further one, the complete Urania, awaited), a monograph, a collection of critical essays, and a number of articles and chapters of books on her.2 Much of the (very sparse) earlier attention she received was because she was a member of the Sidney family, but today it is largely because of the seriousness and power of her writing. Wroth is certainly the most important woman writer in English before Aphra Behn: we are not dealing as we are with Pembroke, with an undeniably minor writer for whom poetry was just a spasmodic pastime. Simply in terms of the amount of poetry she wrote, Wroth deserves careful attention. There are over two hundred of her poems extant: 103 in the 1621 version of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus; another nineteen in Urania itself (some of which had been in an earlier manuscript version of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, now in the Folger, which also contains an additional six poems that were excluded from the 1621 edition); another fifty-six in the published Urania and a further eighteen in the unpublished second part that were excluded from both versions of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus; and, finally, nine separate lyrics in her verse play, Love's Victory. It is possible that there are still more unidentified in manuscripts. So far as dating is concerned, from some internal references at least a few were probably written in the first decade of James I's reign--the period for which we have the most detailed documentary evidence for the liaison between Wroth and Pembroke--and some may have been circulating by 1613, when Jonson refers to Wroth's poems making him both a better lover and a better poet.3 There is no way of saying definitely which poems Jonson saw; if the poems he praises were indeed part of what became Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, they were no doubt revised in subsequent years, even as late as 1618-21, when Wroth was probably composing Urania and deciding which poems should be inserted into the romance. The years 1614-21, after her husband's death--when she was sexually and socially independent, when she bore her two illegitimate children, and when she wrote Urania--was most likely a period of great insecurity but, quite possibly, unexpected satisfaction to her. Even if it originated earlier, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus was almost certainly revised in these years, and records more directly than her other writings her struggles against the constraints of being a woman. Much of the power of her poetry lies in the record of those struggles.

In writing in the Petrarchan mode, Mary Wroth was following paths that were (to put it mildly) heavily trodden. Not only are her poems among the last recognizably Petrarchan poetry in English, but they are doubly "belated," to use Harold Bloom's term, in relation to her own family.4 The commitment to the poetic vocation and to the details of craft that all three of the first generation Sidney poets--Philip, Mary, and Robert--showed is evident in her poems, but no doubt being a Sidney was itself a provocation to write, even for a woman. That she took her writing seriously can be documented from the extensive changes she made over perhaps a decade to the poems. The holograph copy in the Folger contains corrections which were later included in the revised text appended to Urania, and many of the poems were moved back and forth between the main body of the prose romance and the appended sequence. The Folger manuscript is perhaps rather like the manuscript of Greville's Caelica, essentially a private, cumulative collection designed primarily or even exclusively for the author herself.5

Even though they are far less frustrating than Pembroke's, Wroth's poems still present any modern editor with a dilemma in reconstructing their history. If the 1621 printing is used as the copytext, then the editor needs to either ignore or find a way of sorting through printer's accidentals, and then must somehow fit in or append those poems found only in the Folger copy. If the Folger manuscript is used as copytext, then an undatable ordering, even though with authorial accidentals, becomes the basis for the edition, and the reordering, additions and omissions of 1621 are obscured. In my edition of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (1977), I chose the former course; in her edition of the complete poems (1983), Roberts followed the Folger text, but used the ordering of 1621. Neither is entirely satisfactory, and that in large part is because of the nature of the collection. As with most Petrarchan sequences, even as it was being written it was being reread and rewritten by its author. Adapting Deleuze and Guattari's terms, Roger Kuin has suggested that we should view the Petrarchan text as a desiring machine, combining the "power of the continuum" with "rupture in direction" in its "capacity for an unlimited number of connections."6 Pamphilia to Amphilanthus might be best seen as a continuous text, unravelling as it is put together, never resting in a final form, in which a variety of discoveries, demands, and changing occasions clash and contradict.

As with Pembroke's poems, we are clearly in the familiar world of belated Petrarchism--plaint and paradox, sophisticated but general emotions, rhetorical smoothness and lyric grace frequently counterpointed by the disruptiveness of question or cry, and beneath all the Petrarchan stock-in-trade of juxtaposed despair and joy. If Pembroke's poems are often more "Cavalier" than "Petrarchan," Wroth's poems often read as if they would be at home in the collections of poems that had been fashionable twenty and more years before. But the cousins share the central Petrarchan inheritance: as with his, it is easy to construct from her poems a miscellany of such Petrarchan clichés, almost three hundred years old by the time she is writing. Love is "truth, and doth delight," and yet makes the lover "true slave to Fortune's spite"; it is at once the "hottest beames of zeale" and shows a "coldenesse" which "can but my despaires descry." The lover's spirit is "cloyd with griefe and paine," captive and yet free; the joys of love are rapturous and yet "heape disdaine" on the lover; the spring which the lovers see around them reflects back on the "sad sowrs / Which from mine eyes doe flow" inside the lover's minds, which exist in the delicious agony of frustration and indecision: "Restlesse I live, consulting what to doe, / And more I study, more I still undoe" (Poems, p. 151). Such conventional paradoxes and complaints are frequently dressed in stylized neoplatonic garb, thus bringing Wroth closer to some of the poetic fashions of the Jacobean and Caroline court lyric. At times, in some of her less felicitous moments, her verse can sound like the drabbest of poets thirty years earlier, at others like a Jacobean court wit. Overall, her preferred style is closer to the direct voice of a Jonson than the elaborate wit of a Donne. Jonson may well have admired those many poems with direct and uncluttered metaphors:

Sleepe fy possess mee nott, nor doe nott fright
          Mee with thy heavy, and thy deathlike might
          For counterfetting vilder then deaths sight,
          And such deluding more my thought doe spite.

Around 1610, perhaps about the same time as she was starting to write what became Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, Lord Dudley North dedicated a treatise on poetry to her, which contains a strong attack on what was to become known as "Metaphysical" poetry and a defence of the plain Jonsonian style. Predictably setting his argument in terms of the prestige of the Sidney family, he claims that "the admirable inventions and matter of your unimitable Uncles extant works flourish in applause of all"; further, he praises such features as "the well wrought and exquisite harmony of their Cadence," their "round, cogent cleare and gracefull delivery," and asserts (again in accord with Jonson) that "the best eloquence is to make our selves clearly understood." It may well be that Wroth herself was starting to write with such notions in mind about the time that North was writing. Her poetry can therefore be placed in a transitional position between Elizabethan "drab" verse and the Jonsonian style which grew from it. Wroth's poems rarely catch the lyric qualities of Elizabethan song: in the terms I used to speak of Pembroke's poems, even the "songs" in Pamphilia to Amphilanthus are brooding and melancholy, "declamatory" rather than songlike. But the most significant aspect of her writing arises from the contradictions between the predominantly masculinist rhetoric of the Petrarchan sonnet and her sense of her own gendered position as a woman, lover, reader, and writer. What was it for a woman to write a blazon? To gaze at a woman's beauties, her "ruby lips, pearl teeth, damask cheeks, face, neck, chin, formed of purest snow" (Newberry 1, fol. 24) may seem a "natural" default position for a male writer. But what happens when the passive object of such "devotion" wants to write in the same mode? To what extent is she aware of being a multiply split subject? The conventional answer is that she should not notice: that the form itself dictates the response. But that is to assume that the "neutral" reading position is not gendered, while in fact it institutionalizes a wholesale gagging of women readers and writers. In 1630 the courtesy book writer Robert Cleaver voiced the whole culture's proscription of women's language when he recommended that "as the echo answereth but one word for many, which are spoken to her, so a woman's answer should be in a word." A very condition of Wroth's permission to write poetry meant that she had to locate herself within a tradition that largely denied her, as a woman, a place from which to speak.7

Pamphilia to Amphilanthus is more various than most collections of Petrarchan sonnets,8 and not surprisingly, critics intent on finding a "unity" to the whole--quite apart from the textual problem discussed above--have perceived quite different structural organizations. Jeff Masten argues that we should see Pamphilia to Amphilanthus not as a single collection, but as several sequences of poems copied into a single manuscript. This, he argues, accounts for the unusual numbering, which starts at #1 at several places and has blank pages between groups of poems. McLaren sees the 1621 order as divided into two, the title sequence and an unfinished "Crowne of Sonnets"; May Pauliessen sees four sequences: the opening one courtly, witty, and frequently flirtatious; the second, more erotic, "occult, more debauched"; third, the "Crowne"; and then a concluding group focusing on spiritual love. Roberts agrees on a four-fold structure, but sees the focus differently: an opening section of fifty-five sonnets and songs focusing on Pamphilia's struggle for love; a second on the darker side of love; the crowne of sonnets in which different versions of love are debated; and a final section in which unpredictability, pain, and loss are all acknowledged as an inevitable part of love.9 Roberts's reading is a pleasurable and comfortable (in Barthes's sense) narrativization, but, as we read any sustained collection of Petrarchan lyrics, inevitably we discover that what holds it together is less (or not only) the "story" but the arbitrariness of desire, the surges of discontinuity and surprise. It is as if the self that writes is continually being rewritten by the experiences it seeks to enclose and comprehend.

As I noted in the two previous chapters, the Petrarchan poem centers on its fragile and self-obsessed "I." It is a device, at once rhetorical and psychological, that functions to provide an impression of stability and continuity to the experience the poem tries to encode, but so often what the poem records (and evokes) is a disturbing instability. Part of the power of Petrarchism had traditionally been that it encouraged its readers (including the poet) to acknowledge that the self that writes feels not harmony but continual dissatisfaction. Except under the most stringent ideological constraints the Petrarchan "I" is always under attack, always liable to be surprised by change, dislocated by the pull of impossible futures and indelible pasts. In Wroth's case this painful discovery is all the more threatening because of the way the poems highlight the dilemmas of her gender assignment.10

Petrarchism involves the encoding of a set of recurrent, perhaps even inherent, male strategies for dealing with desire. I say "perhaps even inherent": a more optimistic reading suggests that they are typical of a society that rigidly hierarchizes gender differences along the lines of domination and submission. In this chapter I want to ask what variations and distortions occur when a woman, traditionally occupying the place of the ostensible object of the poet's devotion, the focus of the "I"'s gaze, takes up the subject position itself? Necessarily caught up in the enormously powerful discourses of an authoritarian patriarchy that went far beyond poetry, what opportunities did a woman poet at this time have to discover a voice that she herself owned, if not "individually," at least as a woman voicing the shared subjectivity of other women? In a poetic tradition where male formulations of desire were so dominant, could she settle for (or even envisage) anything more than fragmentation? Would it be the "same" fragmentation as that articulated on behalf of the male subject position? While these questions are fundamental to our understanding of Wroth, and all will recur in my discussion, rather than treating her as a "woman poet"--as if that were a self-explanatory category determined by a fixed gender role--I want to raise questions about how her options and possibilities as a writer were affected by her gender assignment. In chapter three I suggested that in her life and especially in her relations with her father, husband, and cousin, she was struggling to re-gender the fantasies and narratives of the Sidney family romance. Here I want to show how that process works out in a particular discursive form, the Petrarchan sonnet collection, which had traditionally been as rigidly coded "male" as the society that had engendered it.

There is no doubt that Wroth's poems, far more than those of her cousin, ring with a distinctive voice, one that speaks powerfully to her age and beyond. It is a rhetorically confrontational voice, something which derives only in part from the insistent sense of audience in the Petrarchan tradition. It typically makes demands on its audience for attention that seems, on occasion, defensive to the point of petulance:

Bee you all pleas'd? your pleasures grieve nott mee:
          Doe you delight? I envy nott your joy:
          Have you content? contentment with you bee:
          Hope you for bliss? hope still, and still injoye:

Frequently, it is a voice that seemingly resents speaking at all, at least so as to be overheard. Yet while reluctantly acknowledging the presence of listeners, the poems nonetheless convey a sense of active dialogue and dissension: conversations rather than monologues emerge through the poems. This is a paradoxical effect arising from the encoded situation of a woman writer: desiring to write, she finds herself unauthorized to do so by the very form she chooses in which to write. She resents being overheard trespassing on ground already occupied, but it is ground that she must nonetheless step firmly upon. Wroth is uncommonly effective at setting up multiple voices within the poem that belong to the speaker herself, brooding alone, giving herself advice:

Yett is ther hope: Then Love butt play thy part
Remember well thy self, and think on mee;
Shine in those eyes which conquer'd have my hart;
And see if mine bee slack to answere thee.

As in her uncle Philip's Astrophil and Stella or many of her father's lyrics (even some of her aunt's sometimes intensely dramatic psalm metaphrases), Wroth's poems stage the process of internalization by which both women and men alike were positioned by contradictory erotic and social demands. And sometimes, like those of her male relations, Wroth's poems show her heroine trying to withdraw from public responsibilities, even from public view, in order to deal with the internal dialogue of her desires. As in her father's and her uncle's poems, public or ideological contradictions are internalized as private debates. But in Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, most of these psychological divisions arise specifically from a woman's gender assignment:

Why should wee nott loves purblind charmes resist?
          Must wee bee servile, doing what hee list?
          Noe, seeke some hoste to harbour thee: I fly
Thy babish trickes, and freedome doe profess;
          Butt O my hurt, makes my lost hart confess
          I love, and must: So farwell liberty.

To what extent are these poems autobiographical? Can we trace any consistent (or significantly inconsistent) relations between the "I" of the poems and their author? Or are we dealing, as we were with Pembroke, with the apparent anonymity of coterie verse? Unlike her cousin's poems, Wroth's include a tissue of narratives taken from her own life, the most obvious of which refers to her relationship with her cousin. Kristeva speaks of poetry enabling us to "play around that exquisite border where the 'true' trips over into the 'make-believe'," and, especially in the early sonnets of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, there are a number of references to the relationship between the two cousins that seem to hover titillatingly between personal revelation and fantasy, perhaps in the way that Philip's "Rich" sonnets do.11 Pamphilia claims that "many Poets write as well by imitation, as by sence of passion" (Urania, p. 77). The names attached to the sequence's hero and heroine--the names also of the main characters of Urania--mean, respectively, "all-loving" and "lover of two." That they are in part a projection of Wroth's wishfulfillment fantasies about her relationship with Pembroke, what she conceived as her own fidelity and his lack of commitment, seems undeniable. The two lovers in both the poems and romance are first cousins, whose love, we are told, though for no explicable reason, must be kept secret. It is clear, moreover, that while he gains from such secrecy, she suffers privately from lack of public recognition of her love. In Urania this insistent secrecy lasts even after the two have concluded a public vow of commitment: as I shall show in chapter eight, it is as if they both are and are not committed to each other, just as their love both is and is not secret. In the poems, although likewise no reason is provided, secrecy is also a given: "thy chiefe paine is that I must itt hide / From all save only one who showld itt see" (Poems, p. 107). Like the romance, too, the poems give clear signals about the "real" identity of the protagonists. There are recurring puns on the name "will," conventional enough in themselves, but too many to be coincidental. Such references include, from the sixth poem: "Long have I suffer'd, and esteem'd itt deere / Since such thy will; yett grew my paine more neere" (Poems, p. 88); or, two poems later:

But now, itt seemes, thou would'st I should thee love;
          I doe confess, t'was thy will made mee chuse;
          And thy faire showes made mee a lover prove
          When I my freedome did, for paine refuse.

In a song late in the collection, Wroth puns on both her cousin's name and her own, asserting that "your chiefe honors bee in this / By worth what wunn is, nott to leave," and admonishing him that "if worthles to bee priz'd / Why att first will you itt move, / And if worthy, why dispis'd?" (Poems, pp. 137-38). Merging the figure of Cupid with the male lover, she acknowledges that instead of falling in love with the "wanton boy" who shot her, she has found herself in love with "Will," who is the object of her poetry, and who is therefore even more dangerous than Cupid himself: "When love came blindfold, and did chaleng mee / Indeed I lov'd butt wanton boy not hee."12 In a poem in the the Folger MS, the poem's speaker identifies "Will" with her own will, and begs him not to seek freedom from the bonds of love. As Pauliessen suggests, the enigma or riddle of the poem is that, despite the poem's admonition to do so, "Wee will not seeke to free will." In another sonnet where she puns on her cousin's name in the opening line, "Deare cherish this, and with itt my soules will," the second part of the poem reads like "a coy letter of a proposal of love" to Will, suggesting that his heart will not be abused in the exchange: "Butt if you will bee kind, and just indeed, / Send mee your hart which in minds place shall feed." One poem in particular makes the biographical reference extremely clear:

How like a fire doth love increase in mee,
          The longer that itt lasts, the stronger still,
          The greater, purer, brighter, and doth fill
          Noe eye with wunder more, then hopes still bee
Bred in my brest, when fires of love are free
          To use that part to theyr best pleasing will,
          And now impossible itt is to kill
          The heat soe great wher Love his strength doth see.
My eyes can scarce sustain the flames my hart
          Doth trust in them my passions to impart,
          And languishingly strive to show my love;
My breath nott able is to breathe least part
          Of that increasing fuell of my smart;
          Yet love I will till I butt ashes prove.

As Roberts notes, this is "one of the very few places in which the identification of Amphilanthus is made explicit."13 The poem marks the end of the first section of sonnets and is signed "Pamphilia."

There are enough such references that if these poems were circulated among Wroth's family and close friends, the autobiographical level would surely have been recognized. J. B. Broadbent speaks of the "air of public intimacy" of such verse, with its tone of a friendly correspondence that we are invited to overhear. Unfortunately, none of Wroth's poems seem to be "answer" poems like those Pembroke wrote with Rudyerd, so the connections between the two cousins' poems are generic rather than specific. What they share is the ubiquitous Petrarchan paraphernalia: metaphors of lovers stealing glances, the contradictions of love, its magnetizing disdain and compulsive misery. Stretching matters somewhat, we could put Pembroke's "If her disdaine" alongside some of Wroth's sonnets and see it replying to a number of hers. But if we are, as Pauliessen argues, in the middle of a coterie, it is a coterie of all Petrarchist poets, a ubiquitous rather than a private lexicon, with only occasional specific references to note.14

So far as a narrative is concerned, only the opening sequence of forty-eight sonnets and six songs seems to have any plausible internal coherence, and that at such a general level that no precise sequence of biographical references could be constructed. It seems likely, indeed, that this group of poems was organized into a sequence. It starts out with two sonnets dealing with the opening of a love affair. The speaker feels, not entirely happily, that she has been picked out by love (1); this victimization has occurred in an encounter within the court (2); she thus finds herself in the conventional Petrarchan state of oscillation between misery and hope (3-5). This opening group of six sonnets culminates in an assertion in which she indicates that the source of her joyful grief lies in the desires of another: "Long I have suffer'd, and esteem'd itt deare / Since such thy will" (6). (I will not, at this point, pause over the gender politics of that subservience to another's desire, but will return to it and like sentiments later.) A song is placed after each group of six sonnets, except the last: in song 1, Pamphilia bewails the contrast between the spring outside and her internal winter, and vows that if she is not happy, she will at least make poetry from her miseries. The second group (sonnets 7-12, song 2) resumes the bewailing of her fate: the pun on "will" is again in evidence. She writes poetry to contain her misery (8), and asserts that she is married not to her beloved but to sorrow (9). Her lover arrives, a weary traveler (10), causing her increasing torments, especially as she lies awake at night (11, 12). The second song, concluding the second group of sonnets, depicts her weeping, alone, at night. The third group (sonnets 13-18, song 3) again starts with a sonnet begging that she, "one, who att your will, yeelds to the grave," will be spared destruction (13), even though she cannot resist him (14). This is followed by four sonnets (15-18) and a song on sleeplessness.

The next group (sonnets 19-24, song 4) continues the concern with sleeplessness and brooding alone. Pamphilia considers her plight while her beloved is outside hunting (23), and warns herself against jealousy (24). The following group (sonnets 25-30, song 5) focuses on her absence from the beloved. A light, courtly song (song 4) announces the theme, and then the following sonnet (25) pleads with him to return from his journey. The next sonnet once again points to the identity of the beloved, begging him for an exchange of hearts (26), especially as he produces only hopelessness and grief in his absence (27-30). The fifth song is, appropriately, a complaint against time. The sixth group (sonnets 31-36, song 6) opens with Pamphilia lying down, asking Fortune for comfort: she regrets that love has to be snatched from time (31), thus producing increasing frustration. She describes herself as a hive of love (32), is aware of and even glorifies in being watched in public (33, 34), even though she feels her love is hopeless (35) and must be hidden from all except one (36). The song that concludes the sequence concerns eyes, the means by which she is watched. The seventh group (sonnets 37-42, song 7) opens with poems on night (37) and banishment (38), followed by an expression of the inadequacy of her poetry, even when it is admired (39). The group concludes with two sonnets on emphasizing that true love is an inner state (40, 41) and one affirming that her great love is also her great woe (42), while the concluding song of the group also dwells on sorrow. The final group (sonnets 43-47) starts by imagining her lover as a light shining everywhere except where she is: "But now alas, your sight is heare forbid, / And darkness must these poore lost rooms posesse." Again, her state is contrasted with the burgeoning spring (44), as she bewails her lover's absence (45). Once again punning on "will" (46), she acknowledges she has engaged in a forbidden love and that, therefore, her devotion is hopeless (47). Then, in the final sonnet, signed "Pamphilia" in the Folger manuscript, she simply acknowledges that however unfulfillable it may be, she cannot help the increase of her love, and once again, in this culminating sonnet of the sequence, explicitly acknowledges the commitment to "Will": "Yett love I will till I but ashes prove."

In this way, one can, then, construct a coherent reading of the main sequence of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus. But what does such a reading give us beyond some extremely general narrative coherence and some scattered if undeniable biographical references? When we have "identified" the beloved as a fantasy projection of Pembroke, what have we gained? More important than tracking down biographical references, I suggest, are the ways in which Wroth's poems are written by broader discursive structures, and therefore, as I did with Pembroke's, I turn to the poems as articulations of cultural, not merely individual, narratives.

Far more self-consciously and with more evident effort than a male poet working within the Petrarchan tradition, Wroth has to struggle to define her own voice in her poems against overwhelming gender stereotypes. How does a woman poet write within such an overwhelmingly male discourse? What emerges through her poetry is a variety of moods, only some of which she shares with male poets in the tradition. They range from passive uneasiness to outright anger at the treatment that she, as a woman, receives. Some of these feelings are common to male protagonists of Petrarchan poems, but others seem to grow more directly from becoming conscious of what it is to be assigned the "woman's part" in a relationship. And some are directed towards the very structures that have brought her poetry and, more broadly, her very sense of being a woman, into existence. Like a kleptomaniac, she must steal what has hitherto been the prerogative of the male. Drawing on both case studies and theoretical work by Otto Fenichel and Gregorio Kohon, Kaplan explains how in a society where power rests largely in the hands of a few superior males, the kleptomaniac may feel both revenge and erotic excitement. Cautioning that how "the theft relates to her childhood deprivations and humiliations can be understood only by a reading of her unique unconscious script," Kaplan nonetheless notes that there are some prototypical kleptomania scripts. In the clinical literature, some relate specifically to modern commodity fetishism, with consumption as an outlet for anxiety and emptiness; others more readily grow from pre-capitalist society where the power possessed by men and desired by women also included language, movement, autonomy of many kinds. Kaplan sees Joan of Arc as a historical prototype: as Denny's reaction to the publication of Urania shows, men can be content when a woman's ambitions are held within approved limits, but should she "openly declare her ambitions in territories that have been defined as masculine," then she may have to "awaken the infantile fantasy that [her] intelligence is a stolen trophy," and often she must "run for cover" in her "masquerades of womanliness." Historically, Kaplan notes, when women have expressed themselves in politics or writing, males have commonly reacted by constructing the image of the virago, "convinced that the castrated ones are out to castrate the phallic ones." Denny's virulent reaction to Mary Wroth's leaving the approved confinement of pious translator and "stealing" the roles of erotic poet and romance writer is the classic reaction, even to the point of his anger being articulated as sexual abuse. Her reaction to withdraw the work and retire from public exposure is likewise the classic reaction of the abused victim of the patriachal system.15

We do, however, have the spoils of her thefts. In Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, Wroth explores a series of situations in which her protagonist searches for the causes of her restlessness. In some poems she focuses on the very institution that from early in her life had complemented her family as the institutional reinforcer of her gender assignment, the court. Often her suspicion of the court is conventional, emerging in the commonplace otium of the pastoral:

Love as well can make abiding
          In a faythfull shepheards brest
As in Princese whose thoughts sliding
          Like swift rivers never rest.

Less conventional, however, is the insistence that becomes repeated, even obsessional, as the collection moves along: that the court should be left "to faulscest lovers" (Poems, p. 93). Such rejection characteristically suggests that the true lover may find his or her happiness in the country, since there too infidelity and, especially in her case, imprisonment and frustration are found. Love is fundamentally deceptive, whether in the court or the fields. A woman is happy only when alone, in some rare private space--which may be only inside her head--where she can be silent with her memories. Even there, in the supposedly comforting stability of her mind, however, she discovers she cannot escape. The intense melancholy of the sequence is more focused than the usual betrayal of the Petrarchan plaint. It is rooted in a woman's alienation from the court and from the continual pressure to occupy the disempowering roles which the court and the wider patriarchal society it represents have constructed for her. Her innermost thoughts, "stolen" from the public world in which she must perform demeaning roles, are hers when she is alone. The poems thus present a fascinating gendered variation of a common Petrarchan paradox: she is trapped yet free. Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, then, enacts a distinctively gendered fantasy of autonomy. Pamphilia's speaking, even to herself, is like Wroth's writing itself, an act of self-assertion. But it is never an easy achievement: the more agency is affirmed, the more she finds that, because she is a woman, she must struggle in what the poems repeatedly term a "labyrinth." Both Wroth and Pamphilia are unavoidably caught up in discursive positions that they occupy only at the cost of self-violation. In psychoanalytic terms, a turn to writing--like any act of agency--is to turn from the mother to the father, to choose assertion, activity, possession of the phallus over passivity, castration, and masochism. Nowhere would such moves be a greater breach with the gender assignment of a woman than in a noble family in early modern England. Yet once presented to her--in the form of sexual possibilities or the encouragement to write--the choice is one that must be taken. This is a recurring pattern in Wroth's work: in Urania women seem inevitably to be punished for making sexual choices, yet they insist on making them since, however dimly, it is through such choices that they are offered the possibility of emulating or stealing for themselves the autonomy apparently enjoyed by men.

In the previous chapter [of The Sidney Family Romance] I argued that Pembroke's poetry, in common with the Petrarchan tradition, articulates a range of characteristically male perversions. Wroth's poems, I suggest, illustrate the classic kleptomaniac tendencies of the woman living in a repressive society and wanting to affirm herself. But, like Pembroke's, her poems display a broad range of what Kaplan terms characteristic "female" perversions. Most especially, they betray a masochism born of frustrated wishes to emulate the apparent freedom of men and a desire for a mutual relationship that the masochistic, self-destructive desires in which she finds herself caught continually deny her. The "molestation" on which I commented in chapter three is a recurring metaphor for her situation. Kaplan writes of how we use our fantasy lives to work over the "ordinary, expected traumas of childhood," but if these traumas are reinforced by society as the child grows up, then the mind may be crippled not only from them but by the very survival mechanisms she has "to enlist to continue to think and feel." Behind the term "molestation," then, may be historically specific physical realities and powerful myths. Molestation is thus closely related to what Clark terms an "extension of the social construction of male sexuality as active, dominant and aggressive."16 Once a woman starts to resent being regarded as the property of a man, she might well regard the traditional proprietal sexual actions of a patriarchal husband as invasive and "molesting" in a direct physical sense. Part of a sense of agency is the right to say no; to have that no taken as rebellion, or as in fact saying yes, is part of "molestation." Wroth is evoking part of the cultural unconscious, the fears built into being a woman in a society in which gender relations are structured by an ideology of bipolar authoritarianism.

Within Pamphilia to Amphilanthus's rewriting of the Petrarchan scheme, these contradictions of a woman's gender assignments often emerge as a discontented passivity and are given a distinctively masochistic edge. The conventional emphasis in Petrarchism on love as an invasion of a (supposedly) more powerful beloved encourages a stance of helpless passivity by the lover. The conventional masculine response is to look for relief or rescue not directly to the beloved but to a fetishized token for her absent presence, even to a higher love, perhaps to God for whom she is, at least in his rhetoric, a privileged though imperfect substitute. Wroth associates the lover's anguish not just with conventional postures of pain or martyrdom--Cupid "still adding fire / to burning hearts," or the feeling that one is kept in a cage, or the recurring metaphor of a labyrinth in which the lover suffers (Poems, pp. 85, 121, 127)--but, more characteristically, with the emotional and physical retreat, even regression, into the roles that have been assigned to her as a woman.

But such a move may be tactical, not merely reactive: in which case it might be seen as an attempted act of agency. As Benjamin comments, "the masochist's wish to be reached, penetrated, found, released--a wish that can be expressed in the metaphor of violence as well as in metaphors of redemption--is the other side of the sadist's wish to discover the other." The masochist's desire to experience her "authentic, inner reality in the company of another parallels the sadist's wish to get outside the self into a shared reality."17 Pamphilia describes herself as desiring isolation and silence--desiring, that is, precisely what the dominant ideology prescribes for women: to have her organs of self-assertion, her mouth (for speech), her genitals (for sexual self-assertion), and the door or gate of her room, house, or garden closed or locked.18 She knows that by voicing her miseries, pursuing love, or going abroad, she could overcome her victimization, but instead she accepts her assignment of silence, isolation, and frigidity. Her posture is frequently described as sleeping, or near sleep, or lying down in a small space, and addressing the shadows around her as comforting, even if confusing. In one poem she broods:

How oft in you I have laine heere opprest,
          And have my miseries in woefull cries
          Deliver'd forth, mounting up to the skies
          Yett helples back returnd to wound my brest.

In the next sonnet, she states that "lay'd downe to ease my paine," she still is trapped and can rise only by the aid of "Fortune," who is interestingly described as a fellow woman lover, who "in her bless'd arms did mee inchaine." As she rises, she acknowledges that even with another woman, she is responding rather than initiating: "I, her obay'd, and rising felt that love / Indeed was best, when I did least itt move" (Poems, p. 105). Discussing what he believed to be the inherently masochistic situation of being a woman, Freud claimed that it consisted of neurotic passivity, whether shown in ordinary timidity or the "extreme instance" of sexual satisfaction being "conditional upon suffering physical or mental pain at the hands of the sexual object." Either way, he saw it as an individual aberration, and one inherent in being a woman. But the construction of female (or for that matter, male) masochism in our cultural history is far more complex than Freud's account. The unconscious is not a given, biological "place"; it is rather a metaphor for those assumptions and practices whereby the contradictions of a society's ideology are repressed, transferred, and reproduced. The passivity that Pamphilia sometimes displays--and I choose that exhibitionist term deliberately--is more a cultural construct than the "individual" neurosis of which Freud speaks. "Female masochism" is not, as Freud thought, biological: even though biological factors enter into its being women's most characteristic perversion; it is predominantly the result of women's socialization and gender assignments in patriarchal society.19

In the Petrarchan scheme the lover typically asserts that he becomes the victim of the power of the beloved. From such a systematization of the dynamics of desire, it seems that only two possible gender positions are possible, "one of rapacious domination, the other of docile submission."20 Yet though the (male) lover may assert that he is trapped or paralyzed by the power of the (female) beloved, he is inevitably the active participant: he pursues, is called to public duties as courtier or soldier; he speaks out, hunts, fights, complains. A man has the independence to move, to be restless, unfaithful, or simply assume the freedom to move through the world; a woman remains at home, constant, reassuring, mothering. Wroth's emphasis on Pamphilia's constancy never removes her from this male fantasy in which a man assumes he may move, travel, or choose, and a woman stays at home. The woman's role is to be the focus for his self-division and his physical and emotional restlessness. Moreover, her absence or coldness, while a matter for complaint, and the cause of his insecurity, is often the necessary stimulus for his being able to feel that self-division and to write about it. If she were present, which he desires, he would not write, which he also desires. She is therefore required to be absent so he can desire her presence, a paradox that Greville grimly deconstructs in Caelica 45, when he insists that absence, far from being the ideal state of love, the "glorious bright" of absence is in fact, pain:

But thoughts be not so brave,
With absent joy;
For you with that you have
Yourself destroy:
The absence which you glory
Is that which makes you sorry
And burn in vain:
For thought is not the weapon,
Wherewith thought's ease men cheapen,
Absence is pain.21

Greville's is a rare, unqualified demystification of the Petrarchan pose by a male poet. Wroth's critique is more detailed and more interesting because it is written by and on behalf of a woman.

The role of Petrarchan mistress in which Pamphilia finds herself is primarily, then, a passive one. Her desire is defined and licensed by her lover's "will." She is positioned by forces, reified as "love," that are, she assumes, outside her control, and the range of feelings she is permitted consists almost entirely of the largely negative ones of entrapment, loss, and bondage. Unlike her male lover, she has no recourse to other activities by which to develop a sense of autonomy. She accepts that she must wait upon his initiative: the female "complement to the male refusal to recognize the other is woman's own acceptance of her lack of subjectivity, her willingness to offer recognition without expecting it in return."22 She makes herself available to her lover when he chooses to visit her. Her satisfactions are those of the master/slave relationship, finding satisfaction in submission, humbling herself not out of fear but because she has been socialized, in the family and beyond, to find self-recognition in service. Moreover, she feels, in part, that she is a willing accomplice in her own victimization, as if the "molestation" she experiences is not merely a consequence of her being a woman but in some sense her own fault. A woman is more helpless than a man before love's deceptiveness because she does not have the male assumption of agency in love--represented by his ability to move, change, accept or even revel in unpredictability. She cannot claim any autonomy, it seems, without submitting to further pain and disillusion. In waiting and being hurt by him, she feels that she is at least being reached: her pain gives her authentication. As Masud Khan noted in his study of perversion, it is important to find a witness for one's psychic pain, the audience allowing for the achievement, however temporary, of a deeper sense of achievement. "Molestation" may thus be the alternative to psychic breakdown.23

The dominant code by which women have historically been made available for male pleasure rather than their own (or even for mutual) pleasure, is based on this reification of what had traditionally been praised as a woman's constancy. Donne's poem of that name dramatizes, albeit amusingly, the male nervousness before the threat embodied (literally) in women that they will be untrue, unavailable, beyond possession. The reassuring mother must always be, if not present, at least available when need calls. Elaine Beilin has argued that "constancy," which is particularly intensely apostrophized in the final sonnet of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, has a "fundamental importance" in Wroth's scheme, and that "separated from Amphilanthus ... Pamphilia is wholly dedicated to the love of virtue."24 But repeatedly in Wroth's poems, constancy seems to be a role forced upon a woman in a dangerous environment, a defensive posture at best, an assigned and unavoidable role within an aggressively patriarchal situation at worst--and far more typically. In her constancy, Pamphilia has internalized the residual female role of possessing a "faith untouch'd, pure thoughts ... wher constancy bears sway" (Poems, p. 134). In one of the later sonnets she acknowledges that "No time, noe roome, no thought, or writing" can give her "loving hart" quiet, and yet she is powerless to give up her love:

Yett would I nott (deere love) thou shouldst depart
          Butt lett my passions as they first began
          Rule, wounde, and please, itt is thy choysest art
          To give disquiett which seemes ease to man.

The erotic Cupid can give only "disquiett"; by contrast, the divine offers "glory," presented as a relief from the perpetual disease of erotic desire:

When all alone, I think upon thy paine
          How thou doest traveile owr best selves to gaine;
          Then howerly thy lessons I doe learne,
Think on thy glory which still assend
          Untill the world come to a finall end,
          And then shall wee thy lasting powre deserne.

Constancy, then, is hardly the virtue it seems. Indeed, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus is a remarkable demystification of the ideal of constancy as, in effect, a device of patriarchy to keep women under control and available whenever the needs of their struggles for individuation become unbearable: women need to be in a state of unchanging constancy so as to relieve men of some anxieties. Amphilanthus' own sister Urania points out to Pamphilia that "tis pittie ... that ever that fruitlesse thing Constancy was taught you as a vertue" (Urania, p. 400). Men are not required to be constant. Why then should women? This is a theme on which Urania dwells incessantly. ... Whereas a courtier, like Amphilanthus, has a sense of assigned agency, the autonomy of continual adventure and innumerable mistresses, Pamphilia must wait, resigned and insecure, threatened by her love and by her own faithfulness:

Love grown proud with victory,
          Seekes by sleights to conquer me,
          Painted showes he thinkes can bind
          His commands in womens mind,
Love but glories in fond loving,
I most joy in not removing.

The "painted showes" of the court--including the masques and celebrations that had won Wroth herself some momentary "glories"--are here taken as a metonymy for the seductive attractions by which the court lady is assigned her passive, decorative role. Love, like the court itself, is characterized by superficiality and insecurity. And the speaker? Do we read the last line as "most" or "must"? If as "most," then the passive, masochistic, self-punishing role has been accepted; if "must," then the reluctance to accept such a role is inevitable but still resented. Either way, constancy, with its idealized tone of willing devotion and dedication, is proved to be deceiving, a construct designed by men to keep women in subjection.

Perhaps the idealization of constancy throughout the sequence can be read as a clear, if singularly depressing, indication of how a dominant masculinist ideology has been internalized by a woman. Seen in that light, it acts to conceal the contradictions of Pamphilia's assigned roles. The ninth sonnet records a protracted degree of bitterness at such an assignment, as it caustically describes the lover married only to sorrow in a socially constructed world where faithfulness, although imposed as a duty and a sign of belonging to a male lover, seems nonetheless an imposition:

Bee you all pleas'd? your pleasures grieve nott mee:
          Do you delight? I envy nott your joy:
          Have you content? contentment with you bee:
          Hope you for bliss? hope still, and still injoye:
Lett sad misfortune, haples me destroy,
          Leave crosses to rule mee, and still rule free,
          While all delights theyr contrairies imploy
          To keepe good backe, and I butt torments see.
Joyes are beereav'd, harmes doe only tarry,
          Dispaire takes place, disdaine hath gott the hand:
          Yett firme love holds my sences in such band
          As since dispis'ed, I with sorrow marry;
Then if with griefe I now must coupled bee
Sorrow I'le wed: Dispaire thus governs mee.

The poem is racked by a deep helplessness. Demands are made upon the speaker that are seemingly irresistible; petulant defiance seems the most positive alternative to helpless acquiescence. Although one of the more extreme of the sonnets, it is typical in that love is presented not only as deceptive and disruptive, as it is so often to a male Petrarchan lover, but as enforcing helplessness and passivity. A woman is a "stage of woe" (Poems, p. 111) on which others' desires rather than her own are acted out. Her constancy, the virtue with which she is most praised and thereby by what she is imprisoned), may be opening her to further victimization. Writing on "mourning and melancholia," Freud speaks of the melancholic's sense of loss involving "painful dejection, cessation of the interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-revilings."25 Many sonnets show Pamphilia withdrawn to her bed, both night and day, brooding over her misery and her lover's absence. But where Freud insisted that narcissistic melancholia was an "individual" neurosis, Wroth's poems show how thoroughly it is socially constructed. It is as if the need for secrecy, the sense of non-fulfillment and above all the awareness that the beloved is an active agent elsewhere--hunting, traveling, moving through more complex social worlds--provides a contrast that is at once humiliating and yet inescapable. Pamphilia's withdrawal is an attempt to restore some sense of an acceptable self-representation. She needs the sense of her own loss and pain to buttress any feelings she retains of having a coherent sense of self.

Discussing Pembroke's poetry in the previous chapter, I noted that one of the recurring metaphors of male Petrarchism is the controlling power of the male gaze. It is built upon an assumption so deeply rooted in our history's dominant ideologies of perception and knowledge production that it has overwhelmingly seemed unassailably true. Men gaze at women; women are gazed at and, as Kaplan puts it, "the man's excited responses to her body reassure the woman that she actually exists."26 What response could a female protagonist have to such a situation? Was it possible to construct an alternative to the dominance of the gaze? Part of Pamphilia's enforced (or chosen) passivity--her acknowledgement that love "indeed was best, when I did least it move"--is the awareness that she is being both watched by others for signs of her love and thereby in a sense given an identity by their gazes.

Within recent feminist theory, the psychosocial dynamics of the gaze have been much debated. A standard viewpoint, represented by the work of Tania Modleski and Laura Mulvey, has focused on the male gaze as the normal subject position for the viewer of classic cinema, and the need to develop an alternative point of view, especially for women viewers. More recently, Gaylyn Studlar has argued that, on the contrary, many films interpellate a male viewing position not simply based on the desire to over-see and dominate, but rather on a masochistic fear/desire of being dominated and absorbed themselves by women. Both analyses, of course, may be pointing to the variety of ways by which the dominance of the male subject position has been reinforced. Either way it is clearly rooted in the way our history has constructed our dominant gender assignments. But perhaps it is possible to discuss the confounding of such situations by the woman's own active participation in the gaze. As Constance Penley puts it, if the gaze in traditional art is "an inscription of the look on the body of the mother, we must now begin to consider the possibilities of the mother returning the look."27 What happens, in short, if "she" looks back at "him"? Or even actively watches herself being watched and instead of feeling positioned as an object, and assumes "gazing back" is a viable subject position? If vision connotes aggression and control, can a woman--even while she knows she is the object of the gaze--appropriate its power? Wroth's poems explore a number of these possible subject positions. At times Pamphilia is "molested" by her role as an object of the desiring gaze; at others she tries to escape the gaze of lover and other people's, in loneliness, isolation, or sleep. Such reactions are attempts to avoid the repetitive constructing of sexual relations by patterns of male desire and domination and female submission. In such relationships the values of the patriarchal male predominate: they emerge as the urge to overwhelm, penetrate, defeat, and triumph over.

As I suggested in the previous chapters, an analysis of the gender politics of Petrarchism suggests that this, one of the dominant discourses of desire in the western world, has been overwhelmingly destructive for at the very least half of those human subjects caught up in it: the traditional Petrarchan situation against which Pamphilia to Amphilanthus is written is part of a historical pattern of "normal" sexuality as defined by Western society, in which, as Stoller puts it, "an essential purpose is for one to be superior to, harmful to, triumphant over another."28 The seeming neutrality of "one" in Stoller's remark covers the preponderant historical identification of assumed control with the male. Beneath the language of sexual dependence, idealized admiration, even (occasionally) sexual reciprocity to which the Petrarchan lover lays claim, there is a predominantly one-sided emphasis on domination and submission. One of the poems in Wroth's opening sequence in Pamphilia to Amphilanthus is a remarkable critique of this whole tradition. It attempts to subvert the dominant male subject position by appropriating not only the gaze, but its pleasure:

Take heed mine eyes, how you your lookes do cast
          Least they beetray my harts most secrett thought;
          Bee true unto your selves for nothings bought
          More deere then doubt which brings a lovers fast.
Catch you all waching eyes, ere they bee past,
          Or take yours fixt wher your best love hath sought
          The pride of your desires; lett them bee taught
          Theyr faults for shame, they could noe truer last;
Then looke, and looke with joye for conquest wunn
          Of those that search'd your hurt in double kinde;
          Soe you kept safe, lett them themselves looke blinde
          Watch, gaze, and marke till they to madnes runn,
While you, mine eyes injoye full sight of love
          Contented that such happinesses move.

The poem opens with a warning against indiscretion, but the tone is unusually paranoid, as if guarding not just against betrayal of a secret with which the woman has been entrusted, but of the multiple "selves" in which she lives. The tactics of the poem, indeed, become not the passive slipping into the role of a secret lover or of the modest object of another's forbidden desire, but the more aggressive one of "catching" or trapping and defeating "all waching eyes." It is a matter of self-identity, not merely of love--primarily a matter of acknowledging how the self is constructed. Given that identity consists in being assigned a multiplicity of roles, that very multiplicity and its contradictory assigned positions will, she determines, become her basis for action. Her fantasy of female agency becomes based on her returning the gaze, on reminding herself to "looke with joye for conquest wunn," and acknowledging that it is her own active desire--accepting her construction by the contradictory gazes and returning them--that affords her power. Stoller remarks--as so often, irritatingly essentializing but nonetheless pointing to a seemingly fixed aspect of Western patriarchy--on the little boy's assumed "right to sexual looking and a little girl's training that she is not to permit that looking." Placed within the history of gender assignment, Wroth's Pamphilia marks an attempt, however spasmodic and isolated, to break with such a pattern. She is not merely fixed by the gaze, but turns it to an active and defiant exhibitionism. She has started to reappropriate herself as a subject, distancing herself from the narcissism of self-involvement and starting to see herself as a man might see her. But because she appropriates both the traditional gender roles and so sees with both the eyes of a woman and the gaze of a man, by involvement and reflection, she acquires a secret authority unknown to the men who gaze on her and think they control her. It is the clearest expression of the fantasy of emulation, what Kaplan terms "a retribution scenario, a vengeance on those who have been assigned to abandonment and mutilation."29 Or, more optimistically put, she has asserted her right to gaze back, just as her poems assert the right to talk back.

This poem also reflects upon another part of the Petrarchist situation, the interpellation of the reader (him)self as a voyeur. The gaze of the (male) reader is a part of the male display built into Petrarchism: Sidney's poems, for instance, typically look out to their audiences, often with a wink or an invitation to laugh, inviting his reader's amusement as well as disapproval of or sympathy with his dilemmas. Astrophil and Stella is typical of the mode: it is what Barthes terms a playful text,30 one that depends strongly on an audience, inviting our participation, asking us to watch, identify, judge, laugh, and learn. But it assumes a "universal" gaze that in fact is that of the dominant male, and the sympathy it asks for is for the suffering lover, wanting separation from and yet desiring the presence of, the woman. What we are asked to watch and assume to be "natural" is the textual/sexual spectacle of another human displaying him- or herself according to gender-specific stereotypes--or refusing to, which in its effect on the viewer amounts to the same thing. Women display for men; men display for themselves, and then are authorized to display, in writing, their accounts of the experience. What happens when such a situation is complicated by having a woman protagonist/poet? By a woman who displays herself, not merely sexually but textually as well, in her act of writing? The reader's trajectory of desire makes his (or her) complicity more complex. Where the male reader/spectator can see his own gendered roles in harmony with those valorized by the poems, the gaze can appear neutral. When the gaze is complicated by gender, either by a woman reader or, in the way that operates in Wroth's poems, by a woman writer, then the male power over objects in the Petrarchan scheme is called into question.

At this point, my excurse in chapter four into reading theory and a discussion of the place of gender in reading acquires some immediacy. Wroth's poems, parading the gender of both their author and protagonist, catch us in a reading situation where the shifts in subject position call into question any "natural" order of gender. We are not simply observing the woman's acceptance of the conventional role of cruel beauty and perpetual tease, produced to both generate a man's desire and overcome his fears of that desire. However fitfully it is occurring, we can observe the slow and contradictory emergence of alternative subject positions for women and, implicitly, for men. As Belsey, Francis Barker, and others have argued, before the development of the humanist subject in the seventeenth century, women were afforded places within the period's dominant ideology only by being incorporated into structures and discourses which assigned them subsidiary roles, as objects of others' desires, not as subjects of their own. There is, in the early modern period--in Hamlet, most forcefully--the emergence of a new sense of subjectivity, a claim for a unique and "essential interiority, which, even if it is never fully articulated and is therefore historically "premature," nonetheless anticipates the emergent claims of a bourgeois subjectivity that will emerge in the next century or more. Wroth's poems record the stirrings--against enormous odds, it needs to be stressed--to establish an equivalent female subject position. Her poems' struggle to find an authentic voice for a woman are related to the frustrations of gender assignment. The dominant gendered subject positions of early modern England did not permit such autonomy to a woman writer or protagonist--any more than they did, as Dollimore has argued, to gays. But we can note, across the range of constructed gender roles, points of strain and contradiction where alternatives are struggling to emerge.31

As I noted in chapter four ["Late Petrarchism: The Inter(dis)courses of the Sidney Family Romance"], the dominant gender politics of Petrarchism are constructed so that the male lover-poet can fulfill his desires even if his beloved is absent. If she is present, he is fulfilled as a lover; if absent, as a poet. He therefore plays, according to his own rules, an elaborate version of the fort-da game Freud so famously described, moving her at his will back and forth, from presence to absence. Within the Petrarchan framework, however much a man may protest, he has the autonomy to love or leave, to write or be silent. But a woman? If she is not accorded her own desire, what role can she claim? What starts to emerge in Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, taking on even greater significance in the stories in Urania, is a counter-discourse of indignation and envy of men's autonomy and movement, what are termed their "adventures." Pamphilia also yearns for her own "adventures." Even if they are denied her, over and over she struggles to find them and, through them, a sense of an individuated self that seemingly is "natural" to a man. So if the residual oppression of "constancy" is, in the end, part of the patriarchal entrapment of women, producing at worst a subordinated passivity and at best anger and envy, against it must be set surges of defiance and claims of autonomy. The two areas that stand out within the poetry are those which, as I have suggested, we can observe struggling within Wroth's life as a whole--her writing and her sexuality.

Writing is an act shared by Pamphilia with her creator. So far as Wroth's writing is concerned, we should not underemphasize its importance as an act of self-affirmation, even a defiance of patriarchy, despite the encouragement afforded by being a member of the Sidney family. Mary E. Hazard has noted that, typically, a Petrarchan poet fashions for (him)self a fictive role (which may at times be close to that claimed by the poet outside the poems). The one constructed in Pamphilia to Amphilanthus for both writer and character is more varied than most. It certainly includes, as we have noted, passivity, "constancy." But it also includes a measure of defiance and self-assertion that echoes something of the desires of the author herself. Even though her family probably encouraged her to see herself as a writer, Wroth took that permission far more daringly than, say, her aunt, the countess of Pembroke, had. To write a prose romance, a pastoral play, and, perhaps above all, a collection of Petrarchan love poems, was to go well beyond what the family might have seen fit--and it is significant that it was in part because she exceeded what were felt to be the decorous precedents of translation and devotional works set by her pious aunt that Wroth was bitterly attacked by Denny upon the publication of Urania. Even, as Masten suggests, the seemingly mundane acts of arrangement, revision, and circulation of her poems--or, he insists, not to be underestimated as an act of choice, the refusal to circulate them--were acts of defiance. Within the poems, too, writing is depicted as a way of giving a woman not merely reactive roles to male desires but multiple and changing voices of her own. Like the male Petrarchan lover, Pamphilia determines to "seeke for some small ease by lines," only to realize that "greife is nott cur'd by art." Poetry "tires" her mind, yet the "debate" it produces in her makes her realize that it is her thinking, brooding mind that is carving out an area of autonomy--even through her pain--which affords her not only comfort but power (Poems, pp. 90, 91, 92). While others, men in particular, may be subject to the whims of the king, or to some "pleasing past time" required by their roles at court, she has, she claims, a small but autonomous space to explore:

When every one to pleasing pastime hies
          Some hunt, some hauke, some play, while some delight
          In sweet discourse, and musique showes joys might
          Yett I my thoughts doe farr above thes prise.

Masten's argument that the poems "encode" a desire for "withdrawal from circulation" has some force here. Refusing to voice one's love and doing so in anguished public language is, of course, a conventional trick of the Petrachan poet--"they love indeed, who quake to say they love" as her uncle Philip's volubly silent Astrophil put it in Astrophil and Stella, 54. But Pamphilia to Amphilanthus is not trying to carve out a space for a dominant male subject who can be assured of his audience even (and perhaps especially) when they are eloquently told not to listen to his inner and supposedly private revelations. The space Wroth is trying to establish is for a female subject, one who necessarily has to absorb and neutralize metaphors that have been encultured by dominant male practice: "When others hunt, my thought I have in chase." Masten points up the paradox that Wroth "is writing in Petrarchan discourse to write against it," but there are broader cultural issues at stake: in so doing she is contradicting on more than the level of conceit the encoded subject position of the male speaker of Petrarchan poetry. She claims withdrawal as a tactic of self-affirmation for a woman's subjectivity.

If writing is an act--or at least an enacted fantasy--of agency, what of desire itself? If, as Marx put it, praxis--meaning sensuous human activity, the practices of the body--is the basis of real power, what space is Pamphilia to Amphilanthus trying to carve out not only for its protagonist but also for its author, and for the language and praxis of women's desire? As I have suggested, much of Pamphilia's desire emerges as pain, deprivation, molestation, by which sexuality is experienced as harm, shame, self-obliteration. Wroth overwhelmingly offers us a distinctively privileged perspective on the negative eros produced by male domination and female masochism. This perspective allows us to see the relative paucity of love "objects" to which a woman had access in the early modern period. Freud noted frequently that repressed objects of desire are represented by a series of unsatisfying substitutes: Pamphilia's growing self-awareness, her "waking" as a lover, brings her the realization of the distinctive kind of cruelty Cupid affords women. He is responsible for love's "wounding ... delights," the producer of displays, for male delectation, of "endless torments" upon "this stage of woe," ending in self-immolation, even death. Repeatedly the lover is "in chaines" or trapped in a "labyrinth" (Poems, pp. 86, 92, 111, 123). The recurring labyrinth metaphor is the nightmare underside of a woman's private space. The extremely popular mazes in Elizabethan and Jacobean gardens reflect an obsessive concern with what Wotton termed a "very wilde Regularitie," a special place designed to transgress the restrictions of the house and its regime of harmony and control. But such a view is from the perspective of the proprietor of the house or the architect. For someone lost in the labyrinth, the point of view may be very different. The private chamber is an area of orderliness and control, however compromised by its surroundings; the labyrinth consists of potentially infinite attempts to find an escape: it constructs a series of "tense" blind spaces that produce incessant, frustrated, "restless" movements to escape. Petrarch had used the labyrinth as an image of the cognitive and emotional confusion in love, and there were a number of commonplace analogies between the labyrinth and the sonnet itself.

The "crowne of Sonetts dedicated to Love," which are grouped together towards the end of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, explore some of these difficulties from the viewpoint of the woman lover trapped within, certainly not a designer of, labyrinths. The "crowne" consists of fourteen sonnets, the last lines of each constituting the first line of the next. Roberts speaks of the "universalized concept of love" in the Crowne and Beilin of its "catalogues of love's divinity," but the Crowne sonnets are more distinctive for their demarcation of contradictions than in its acceptance of some kind of transcendent resignation. The labyrinth is, despite its emphasis on puzzlement and entrapment, a metaphor of action: one enters a labyrinth and tries to find one's way out, or to its heart, or both. Pamphilia, surrounded by alternatives, nonetheless insists that contradiction and difficulty offer her more fulfilling choices:

In this strang labourinth how shall I turne?
          Wayes are on all sids while the way I misse:
          If to the right hand, ther, in love I burne;
          Lett mee goe forward, therin danger is.

Her determination is to "take the thread of love," to be constant to her growing sense of self, to "feele the weight of true desire," and to produce a mutual, united love. Such agency within contradiction allows each lover to open him(or her)self to previously unsensed possibilities: "Itt doth inrich the witts, and make you see / That in your self, which you knew nott before" (Poems, pp. 128, 130). Yet even in such a fantasy of love, stasis--what she terms "constancy"--is never the end. The final poem points to the self-exploration that love has opened up, not to achieve a final goal so much as to begin a never-ending search: "Soe though in Love I fervently doe burne, / In this strange labourinth how shall I turne?" (Poems, p. 134).

So far I have read Wroth's poems in terms of their struggle, fitful but not entirely accidental, to assert some sustained, even momentary, agency for women. They articulate one of the dominant fantasies of the woman's family romance, to achieve the same sense of agency that has been promised, as he emerges from childhood, to the boy: becoming a man, he will, like his father, assume independence, autonomy, power over others, especially over women. There are, however, signs in Pamphilia to Amphilanthus of another counter-discourse taking shape. There is, for instance, the acknowledgement that the victimization of women is not Pamphilia's alone: other women share her helplessness or anger. The poems frequently address other women, sometimes an unnamed friend and sometimes, as Naomi Miller points out, those women who have been described in the lines of men's poems. In the sonnet just quoted, for instance, Fortune is described as Pamphilia's supporter. Fortune is, conventionally, female and a consoler of the suffering male; but because the poem is spoken and written by a woman, Fortune takes on a less conventional role. She becomes a fellow female sufferer, helping Pamphilia face the anguish of being a mistress whose desires are controlled by her lover. The community of "oprest" women lovers in the poems includes Night, Reclining, and other personifications of the assigned female passive role, providing, as Miller puts it, a "litany of parallels" with Pamphilia's grief, which in some of the poems often deepens into anger at being pressured by overwhelming social forces into accepting the roles society thrusts upon them because they are women. As Lamb notes in her splendid analysis of anger in Urania, "the Renaissance offered women few healthy models for encouraging the expression of justified rage or for acknowledging the heroism of their ordinary lives." It offered even fewer models for an alternative fantasy of genuinely mutual constancy.

The experience of most women in the early modern period--that they were not possessors of their own bodies, that they did not have a sense of choice and deliberation in their gender assignments--causes, as Erikson noted in his classic studies of life stages, "the most pervasive anger." How can a fantasy of mutual constancy be generated from such a situation? We are used today to women's relations to their own bodies being, no less than for men, a source of power, vulnerability, betrayal, a space of agency as much as of restriction. Such a spectrum of relations with a sense of self was only barely becoming possible in the early modern period. Wroth's poems are a kind of dream space, in which only dimly graspable subject positions are being tentatively and partly unconsciously explored, interacting with more powerful discourses of restriction. Pamphilia to Amphilanthus is a dream of a still to be found autonomy that will lead not to dominance but to mutuality.


1Benjamin, Desire of One's Own, pp. 19-20; Marion Glastonbury, "At the Mercy of Men's Dreams," New Statesman, 102, no. 2042 (6 November, 1981), 18.

2An annotated bibliography of studies of Wroth through 1990 may be found in Reading Mary Wroth, ed. Miller and Waller, pp. 229-34.

3Roberts, Poems, p. 19.

4Roberts, Poems, pp. 47-48.

5The Folger text is a puzzling one and--even if Jeff Masten's suggestion that it does not necessarily pre-date the 1621 edition is wrong--it does not look as if it is designed for circulation, but rather for working over in private. It was not used as the copytext for 1621, so one or more intermediary copies must also have existed. 1621 is substantially rearranged, with some poems dropped and some placed into the text of Urania; as Josephine Roberts notes, despite the large number of printer's accidentals in 1621, such revisions are "clearly not the kind of change likely to have been made independently by a compositor or typesetter." See Jeff Masten, "'Shall I turne Blabb?': Circulation, Gender, and Subjectivity in Mary Wroth's Sonnets," in Reading Mary Wroth, ed. Miller and Waller, pp. 67-69; Roberts, Poems, pp. 62-63.

6Roger Kuin, "Astrophil and Stella (the early Quartos): The Text as Desiring-Machine," Sidney Newsletter, 9.1 (1988), 68-69.

7Lester Beaurline, "Dudley North's Criticism of Metaphysical Poetry," Huntington Library Quarterly, 35 (1935), 304; Robert Cleaver, A Godly Form of Household Government (London: T. Man, 1630), p. 32.

8Warkentin, '"Love's Sweetest Part," pp. 14-23.

9For different versions of the structure of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, see: Masten, "'Shall I turne Blabb?'," pp. 68-69; May Nelson Pauliessen, The Love Sonnets of Lady Mary Wroth: a Critical Introduction (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1982), pp. iv-v; Roberts, Poems, pp. 44-46; McLaren, "Urania," p. 143; Elaine Beilin, Redeeming Eve: Women Writers in the Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), p. 234.

10Vance, "Love's Concordance," p. 49; Forster, Icy Fire, pp. 3-4.

11Kristeva, Tales of Love, pp. 11, 225.

12Pauliessen, Love Sonnets, pp. 140-41. Pauliessen's was the first extended discussion of the references to Pembroke in the poems: see esp. pp. 44, 66-67, 139-41.

13Roberts, Poems, p. 115.

14J. B. Broadbent, Poetic Love (London: Chatto and Windus, 1964), p. 143; Pauliessen, Love Sonnets, pp. 139-40.

15Kaplan, Female Perversions, pp. 285, 295, 296.

16Kaplan, Female Perversions, p. 443; Clark, Women's Silence, p. 6.

17Benjamin, Bonds of Love, p. 73.

18Stallybrass, "Patriarchal Territories," p. 129.

19Freud, "Three Essays on Sexuality," Standard Edition, VII, p. 159; Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, p. 413; Kaplan, Female Perversions, p. 518.

20Kaplan, Female Perversions, p. 238.

21Donne, Complete English Poems, p. 85; Fulke Greville, Selected Poems, ed. Thom Gunn (London: Methuen, 1968), pp. 76-77.

22Benjamin, Bonds of Love, p. 78.

23Benjamin, Bonds of Love, p. 61; Benjamin, p. 61, n. 11, quotes Masud R. Khan, Alienation in Perversions (New York: International Universities Press, 1979).

24Beilin, Redeeming Eve, p. 241.

25Freud, "Mourning and Melancholia," Standard Edition, XIV, p. 244; "Three Essays on Sexuality," Standard Edition, VII, p.157.

26Kaplan, Female Perversions, pp. 105, 258.

27Penley is quoted by Stephen Heath, "Difference," Screen, 19 (1978), 97. See also Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. 361-73; Gaylyn Studlar, In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988).

28Stoller, Perversion, p. 90.

29Stoller, Perversion, p. 90; Kaplan, Female Perversions, p. 257.

30Roland Barthes, "Theory of the Text," in Untying the Text, ed. Robert Young (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981), p. 42.

31Francis Barker, The Tremulous Private Body: Essays on Subjection (London: Methuen, 1984), pp. 31, 36; Catherine Belsey, The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama (London: Methuen, 1985), both cited in Masten, "'Shall I turne Blabb?'," pp. 80-81.

32Freud, "Beyond the Pleasure Principle," Standard Edition, XXIV, pp. 14-17. See also Kaplan, Female Perversions, pp. 218, 220.

33Mary E. Hazard, "Absent Presence and Present Absence: Cross-Couple Convention in Elizabethan Culture," Texas Studies in Language and Literature, 29 (1987), 4.

34Masten, "'Shall I turne Blabb?'," pp. 82-85.

35See, e.g., Freud, "A Special Type of Object Choice Made by Men. (Contributions to the Psychology of Love I)," Standard Edition, XI, p. 140.

36Wilson, "Extraordinary Forms."

37Roberts, Poems, p. 45; Beilin, Redeeming Eve, pp. 238-40.

38Naomi J. Miller, "Ancient Fictions and True Forms: the Role of the Lady in Lady Mary Wroth's Pamphilia to Amphilanthus," unpub. paper, 8; Lamb, Gender and Authorship, p. 141.

39Erik H. Erikson, Life History and the Historical Moment (New York: Norton, 1975), p. 227.

Source: Gary F. Waller, "'Watch, Gaze, and Marke': The Poetry of Mary Wroth," in The Sidney Family Romance: Mary Wroth, William Herbert, and the Early Modern Construction of Gender, Wayne State University Press, 1993, pp. 190-219.