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Thinking Allegory Otherwise$

Brenda Machosky

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780804763806

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804763806.001.0001

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Allegory and Female Agency

Allegory and Female Agency

Chapter:
(p.163) Seven Allegory and Female Agency
Source:
Thinking Allegory Otherwise
Author(s):

Maureen Quilligan

Publisher:
Stanford University Press
DOI:10.11126/stanford/9780804763806.003.0008

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter looks at materiality in works where allegory seemed mostly abstraction. It considers allegory in the Renaissance by focusing on Christine de Pizan's City of Ladies and the way in which she literalizes the metaphor of her literary work. It discusses the long-standing debate over the typically female gender of personifications and allegorical figures as materially and not merely metaphorically (or linguistically) gendered. The chapter situates Christine de Pizan and Mary Wroth in a distinctive relationship against and within the patriarchal tradition of allegory. Clearly empowered by the gendered forces contending within the allegorical figure of personification, both writers revisit its violent workings to provide forceful narratives about the agency of women.

Keywords:   allegory, materiality, Renaissance, Christine de Pizan, City of Ladies, female agency, gender, Mary Wroth, personification

Why do allegorical personifications so often have female gender? Does it have anything to do with actual female agency? Is it simply a question of linguistic convenience having to do with the fairly arbitrary rules of gender in Latin and therefore in most romance languages? Or are there more interesting answers to be found to these questions?

In a recent study of the underlying theological purposes of the use of female personifications in a vast range of medieval texts, Barbara Newman argues that the feminine gender of personifications allowed medieval writers a freedom to discuss religious concepts that would have been transgressive had they been predicated of the male trinity. For example, the three daughters of God that Christine de Pizan animates in the Livre de la Cité des Dames are female, according to Newman, because talk about the actual Trinity was too dangerous, and so it became convenient to talk about imaginary daughters instead. According to Newman, the positing of the existence of the many daughters of God enabled a far wider discursive space in which medieval writers could freely consider the nature of God: “It was much safer to theologize about them, than about the Trinity.”1 The (p.164) daughters of God (Nature, Holychurch, Poverty, and so on) allowed discussion of religious experiences that did not fall within recognizable church doctrine; they also provided means for safely analyzing conflicts within divinity, similar to the power of personification to analyze human conflicts. Female personifications were theologically convenient.

Gordon Teskey's analysis in Allegory and Violence posits a far more compelling if also more problematic reason for the gender of personifications in allegorical narrative. For him, their gender specifies the peculiar kind of female agency that haunts any allegory. Because Teskey's purview includes more literary history than that of the Middle Ages, his argument on the face of it may have more purchase on Renaissance practice than Newman's. But Teskey's argument also seems to be able to account for the real power of Newman's thesis and thus, I think, deserves careful consideration.

Teskey argues that personification is a trope by which abstractions, figured as masculine in Western philosophy, must take on the material agency of embodied nature, often imagined as feminine in the same philosophical tradition; the rhetorical figure of personification thus requires a violent appropriation of female materiality by male abstraction for the philosophical abstraction to gain narrative agency. Teskey's important insight is that the “trace” of this violent and fully completed raptio lies in the characteristic predication of the feminine gender to refer to most personifications. Thus Justice becomes a woman who engages in just actions; Boethius's Philosophy is a woman who carries books. In Le Roman de la Rose, Lady Reason is a woman who offers reasonable arguments. The violence is completely hidden, and the operation of personification looks perfectly pacific. According to Teskey, however, occasionally we can see this process of raptio or “capture” caught half way, and there the violence is fully on display.

Two such moments are Francesca da Rimini's lament in Dante's Cornmedia and Amoret's torture in Book III of Spenser's Faerie Queene; both episodes reveal a similar violence in the figure of “capture,” where allegory makes clear the epistemological “rape” that is at the heart of the trope of personification. According to Teskey, neither Francesca nor Amoret are fullblown personifications because the philosophical process of the nonetheless violent transformation is incomplete, and we are thus treated to scenes that reveal the violence of the allegorical process itself:

In the more powerful allegorical works this prevenient [sic] violence is unexpectedly revealed at moments that are so shocking in their honesty (p.165) that they are consistently misread as departures from allegorical expression. Such moments literalize a metaphor from Neoplatonism, the moment of raptio, or “seizing,” in which Matter perversely resisting the desire of the male, must be ravished by Form before being converted and returned to the Father. We are confronted with a struggle in which the rift between heterogeneous others is forced into view. The woman continues forever to resist being converted into an embodiment of the meaning that is imprinted on her.

Both of the proof texts for his argument, the conversation with Francesca da Rimini in Dante's Commedia and the torture of Amoret in Spenser's Faerie Queene, are crucial moments in canonical texts. Perhaps more importantly for understanding the historical engagement of the trope of personification with actual female agency, they are also moments that two separate female authors (one medieval and one Renaissance) chose to revise with articulate and self-conscious protofeminist purposes. Teskey's discussion of the gender of personification takes on a special relevance to any consideration of allegory and female agency because of the remarkable coincidence by which Christine de Pizan and Mary Wroth chose to revise his two proof texts.2 While I do not intend the following argument to be a wholesale endorsement of Teskey's point that allegory depends on what he calls an “allelophagic” desire for mutual engulfing, I do think that his accounting for the prevalent female gender of personifications in allegorical narrative in terms of of the nature of neoplatonic philosophy is far more interesting than the less forceful cause (which I have relied on elsewhere) based on the grammar of certain classes of nouns in romance languages.3 At the very least, Christine de Pizan and Mary Wroth witness the interesting canniness of Teskey's choice of proof texts. If he can unknowingly select two episodes in major canonical texts that were already tabbed some 600 and 400 years ago by two female writers as interesting moments they might wish to revise in specifically gendered terms, his theoretical inquiry may well have opened up some interesting connections between gender and allegory.

Teskey's invocation of Dante and Spenser episodes aims to make a point about the theoretical nature of allegory as a genre, which remains the same through all of its historical periods. By juxtaposing Christine's rewrite of Dante with Wroth's rewrite of Spenser, I hope to be able to see not only what remained the same in allegorical technique but also what changed from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. If we keep in mind Joan Kelly Gadol's famous question—Did women have a Renaissance?—we may be (p.166) able to see how Christine's revisions of Dante and Wroth's rewriting of Spenser elucidate very different potentialities in the genre of allegorical narrative, and so we can begin to gauge the changes in the genre from one historical period to the next. Christine's rewrite of Dante in 1405 revivifies allegory by literalizing the feminine gender of personification; Christine's revisions of Dante form a major contribution to the creation of the canon of texts for Western medieval literature and for the very institution of literature itself. Her revisions are foundational for the place of Dante within French literature and literature more broadly. Wroth's revisions of Spenser in 1621 indicate allegory's changing use as a narrative genre, heralding the beginning of narrative techniques, which respond to the changing economic substratum of society, an evolution to which Wroth pays due attention with her ironic imitations of Cervantes's Don Quixote.

Paul Alpers was one of the first to note that the stanza of Amoret's torture was a central moment for Spenser's poetic:

  • And her before the vile Enchaunter sate,
  • Figuring straunge characters of his arte,
  • With liuing bloud he those characters wrate,
  • Dreadfully dropping from her dying hart,
  • Seeming transfixed with a cruell dart,
  • And all perforce to make her him to love,
  • Ah who can love the worker of her smart?

Teskey agrees that the moment is pivotal and summarizes: “In a literary genre concerned more than any other with the metaphysical implications of gender, such moments are infrequent. It is more broadly characteristic of allegory—though by no means more true of it—for violence such as this to be concealed so that the female will appear to embody, with her whole body, the meaning that is imprinted on her.” Engaged with the metaphysical implications of gender and not merely responding to grammatical structures, as Teskey insists, allegory would thus appear to be a genre most conducive to investigations into the problematic exercise of female agency.

Teskey points to the importance of Amoret's act of resistance, and that she cannot be made to represent an allegorical character beyond herself. If Teskey is right, it makes sense that readers have found it difficult to specify the exact label for the scene of Amoret's torture. While Amoret cannot be guilty herself of the transgressions for which we see her being punished, it is (p.167) equally difficult to see how Spenser can escape the guilt that Busyrane exhibits in this shocking and writerly torture.4 As Harry Berger has succinctly put it, the “busy-reign of the male imagination becomes busier and more frenzied as the feminine will recoils in greater disdain or panic.”5 Teskey's point about the gender question here is that by envisioning Amoret's torture Spenser is only being honest about the machinery of his genre. Busyrane is not at fault in this scene; allegory is. Allegory—at least here—is held responsible for its necessary (and violent) appropriation of a female gendered materiality.

In Teskey's formulation, “material in allegory [is] that which gives meaning a place to occur but which does not become meaning itself” (p. 19). Such an argument about allegory—that makes women to be the material site of meaning when they can have no access to that meaning—situates allegorical processes within a problematic for female agency very similar to that which Claude Levi-Strauss exposed by saying that men use woman as signs in the semiotic system of kinship—predicated on the “traffic in women”—but that women cannot speak for themselves in that system.6 Such a curious congruence between modern anthropological theory and Renaissance philosophy helps to reinforce Teskey's insistence on the philosophical importance of Spenser's scene and to lend greater weight to his formulation that the force of gender difference subtends agency in philosophical narratives. As we shall see, the parallel also points to another odd congruence between Levi-Strauss' understanding of the laws of kinship structure and the proof texts Teskey chooses for his discussion of female agency in allegorical narrative.

Importantly, Teskey neglects to consider an important element of Spenser's scene (he is not writing a commentary on Spenser's poem). Amoret is not the only female agent in Spenser's scene. Britomart's presence makes all the difference. The difference may not be due so much to the change from Dante's Middle Ages to Spenser's Renaissance as to the fact that Spenser was “shadowing” with Amoret's sister, the armed warrior Belphoebe, one part of the nature of the actual female ruler who had immense agency over Spenser as a subject of her realm.7 Because Britomart—progenitor of Elizabeth I—is present in the scene, Amoret's situation is very different from that of Dante's Francesca, where instead of a female in full battle dress who makes oblique reference to a major female agency outside the text, there is a doubled male poetic tradition in the persons of Virgil and Dante. Spenser explicitly tells us that Book III, with its climactic scene of Amoret's torture and release by (p.168) Britomart, aims to elucidate Elizabeth I's peculiar brand of chastity. Her presence as first reader of the text contextualizes its narrative as part of what Louis Montrose has recently called “the Elizabethan imaginary,” a set of cultural codes that aimed to adjust to the anomalous power Elizabeth, as woman, held in a patriarchal society.8 Britomart's bizarre contextualization in Spenser's text by strange incest narratives also point to an uncanny congruence between the issue of gender in this allegory and Levi-Strauss' arguments about incest. In Book V Britomart dreams of coupling with her beloved under the guise of Isis and Osiris, incestuous brother and sister.9

While Francesca exercises a most important agency, Paolo does not. She speaks. He does not. And indeed Francesca speaks to resist the justice of the punishment meted out to her and her partner, so she speaks for him. As with Spenser, Teskey again tends to slide by a problematic part of the gender issue he uncovers in his discussion of Francesca's objections. While he notes that, as with Spenser's insistence on Amoret's resistance, Dante lays bare the workings of allegory in the Paolo and Francesca scene, Teskey also mentions the pivotal importance of Semiramis: “In reading the episode it is of some importance not to mistake which sin is reaching out to Francesca to make her its mask. Given the authority with which the word lust has been applied to her, it should be noted that the word lussuria is used in the canto only to characterize Semiramis, a rather special case” (p. 26). Teskey thinks Semiramis's “special” nature—that she is guilty of incestuous lust, while Francesca is guilty only of acting on her desire—allows Francesca legitimately to complain against the punishment given her.

While Semiramis may indeed be a special case in notions of female lust, the extremity of the case of mother—son incest may not be so easily cordoned off from other exertions of female agency and desire. Just as Spenser places Britomart and her incest-haunted desire within the scene with Amoret, so Dante's episode also includes it. This congruence, unremarked by Teskey, is important. In her now classic article critiquing Levi-Strauss, Gayle Rubin has built on Levi-Strauss and importantly argued that the incest taboo is constructed to interdict any sort of active female desire, not merely desire for a close family member.10 Any fully active female desire is as threatening to the proper traffic in women as Semiramis's trammeling of the law against mother—son incest, because any desire that does not simply follow the prescriptions of the men who do the trading threatens to halt the exchange. Incest is thus the special case that authorizes the suppression of all active female desire; the laws of exchange require a quiescent female desire that (p.169) will passively follow the path for the traffic chosen by males. Any active female desire is tantamount to incest itself and thus any exhibition of female agency will naturally signal this extreme limit case. At least, both Dante's and Spenser's proof texts do so, quite noticeably. It is not just Christine de Pizan who witnesses Semiramis's importance in Dante's text.

As if to prove that Semiramis's position in the first circle of hell is no mere accident by association, Boccaccio made her the first famous pagan woman he discussed in the De Claris Mulieribus. For Boccaccio, she is famous both for her great achievements and also for the great sin of incest that stained everything she did. When Christine thus chooses to make Semiramis one of the first stories she tells in her own book about famous women, specifically making hers the first foundation stone in the building of the allegorical City of Ladies, she not only imitates her immediate precursor Boccaccio, she also reinvests Dante's Semiramis with a discursive power Dante denigrates in her. Dante has Francesca condemn the book Paolo and Francesca have been reading, just as Christine herself condemned the immoral sexuality of Jean de Meun's Roman de la Rose. Christine would thus have found Dante's strictures about reading the wrong literature as central to her own way of assessing literature. (In her letters against the Rose, she counseled her readers to read Dante rather than Jean.11)

Christine's defense of Semiramis depends on the specific literary terms of Dante's denegration. According to Dante, Semiramis is evil because she “libito fe licito in sua legge” (she made lust licit in her laws). In contrast, Christine reverses these terms in her exoneration of Semiramis because, when she had sexual intercourse with her son, “adonc n'estoit encore point de loy escripte” (there was as yet no written law).12 While Dante's Semiramis decrees her own law, Christine's lives before a written one. Christine's emphasis on the written nature of the law speaks not only to the legal ramifications of the elementary structure of kinship as Levi-Strauss terms incest, but also to the fascinating violence of the written, the violence itself enacted in the reading Francesca and Paolo undertake.13 Christine's Semiramis not only responds to Dante's argument against the Babylonian queen, she also situates herself outside the institution of literature, importantly prior to it.

This is not to argue that Christine denigrates literature or writing itself; indeed she is trying to bring an oral tradition into the realm of letters, correcting the erroneous version passed on by the misogynist, male-authored textual transmission. Christine is also clearly interested in Dante's Semiramis because she is twinned with Dido, another lustful queen, but one (p.170) who also built a city. Her choice to begin building her city with Semiramis is thus profoundly bound up with the fundamental nature of the empire-founding agency of women, and Christine duly tells Dido's story later in her text. Francesca is, for her part, a mere reader of Arthurian romance, that is, the reader of a story where a queen's infidelity destroys a kingdom. Augustine had gone notoriously astray in his pity for Dido; Dido's creator also stands before Francesca as one of her accusers in Dante's hell. Dante's scene is thus profoundly associated with the power reading and writing have in deciding the kinds of cities one is going to build. Like Augustine himself, who turns away from Virgil, Christine critiques her own precursor Dante when she rehabilitates Semiramis.

While Christine is, as I hope I have here suggested, an inspired and profoundly nuanced reader of Dante, whom she imitates in myriad subtle ways in other texts, she also understands that, to found a female tradition of authority, she will have to stand outside the tradition of male auctores. Dante's turn away from Virgil to Beatrice, a Christian woman, reenacts the step taken by Augustine, but Christine needs to take it, as she does here, at the outset of her narrative, not midway through. Hence her insistence on the written nature of the law before which Semiramis lives. As I have elsewhere argued in greater detail, Christine accentuates the unscripted, oral quality of the female authorities she follows in her building of the city.14 Dante's Semiramis stands for the illicit law opposed to the one that decrees the architecture of hell down which Vergil and Dante scramble in the Inferno. Christine takes the illicit “legge” Dante associates with Semiramis and gives to it her own legitimacy, making it provide the foundation, literally so, in terms of her own architectural metaphor, for an alternate, unwritten tradition of female authority. That the walls of the city are circular may also be further testimony to her conscious troping of Dante's structure.

The canniness of Teskey's reasoning about Francesca's resistance to the “imprinting” of the word lust is thus strangely anticipated by Christine's defense of Semiramis's relationship to the written. Amoret is absolutely engaged in resisting Busyrane's bloody script; Christine's revision of the Francesca episode makes the inherent violence of that same writing quite clear. Semiramis does not know the written law that would condemn her; Francesca, a mere girl and a reader, resists that law and in the process speaks for the two queens whom Dante renders silent. Compared to Dido and Semiramis, Francesca is a nobody; she builds no city, wins no battles, rules over no kingdoms. She is a far easier mark. Compared to the fully embodied (p.171) bodied personification of lust, however, Francesca has a compelling tragic story that lures us to a sympathy Augustine was wrong to feel for Virgil's queen. However mild, private, timid, and domesticated Francesca's romantic sexual desires may seem in comparison to Semiramis's and Dido's heroic accomplishments, even she cannot be silenced utterly. She is doubtless there to silence them, speaking as she does for them (would Dante's Dido have had something more to say than Virgil's did?); but even she makes a compelling case for herself.

Christine makes an even more compelling case for Semiramis, even though Semiramis does not speak for herself. Instead, Lady Reason narrates her story to Christine herself, named (as Dante is) as the author of the text the reader reads. If we may, for a moment, compare the disposition of the scenes in Dante and in Christine with respect to their dramatis personae: (1) Francesca speaks to Dante and Virgil; (2) Lady Reason speaks to Christine about Semiramis. As such a comparison makes clear, Lady Reason stands in the place of the primary narrator. What we have, in broad outline, is Christine's replacement of Francesca as speaker for female agency with her own Lady Reason, a personification. In Teskey's terms then, Christine privileges the full fledged personification Lady Reason over Francesca, the figure of “capture” who still exercises some rudiment of materialized female agency. Seen from this perspective, Christine's rewrite proves Teskey wrong when he argues that the figure of capture speaks for the repressed female materia as a personification can never do; either that, or it demonstrates that Christine is an allegorist who chooses not to show the violence allegory does to feminine materia, another instance, Sheila Delaney might say, of her remarkable conservatism. Christine's current standing among allegorists, certainly not as high as Spenser's or Dante's, suggests that perhaps she is less “strong” than they, who can risk the revelation of allegory's prevenient violence. As I very much hope to help adjust her standing in the canon (which she did so much to create, especially Dante's position within it) I do not think such an option is the one to select. Instead, we need to see what further purposes the Semiramis episode serves in Christine's intervention into the canon of allegorical literature.

In the City of Ladies, Lady Reason is a direct answer to Jean de Meun's Raison. Christine had already privileged Dante over the Roman de la Rose; she specifically names Dante, but refers to Jean's poem by its title, thus denying him the status of auctor while conferring that status on Dante. She specifically explains that Jean's poem is the text that most needs to be critiqued in its misogyny. In a direct rewrite of the interview between Amant (p.172) and Raison in the Rose, Lady Reason tells Christine that those who have attacked women “ce ne vint onques de moy” (“have never originated with me [Reason]”) (p. 643; p. 18). Such a specific attack on the authority of Jean's figure, Raison, allows the gender of the figure in Christine's text to assume a literalness that recuperates some of the materiality lost to the abstraction in the process of personification. The position of a “real” human female Christine, author of the text and possessor of the same ontological space as Dante and Virgil in the Commedia, revivifies the personification in ways that are not entirely available in a male-authored text; or, at least, a text that does not make the question of gender difference so specifically a focus in the conversation between the two interlocutors. Because Christine's critique is leveled at a mindless tradition of the empty citation of literary authorities, which contrasts to the evidence presented by Christine's own physical female body, the text negotiates the interstice between materiality and literary abstraction as its specific overt topic:

  • Autres, pour monstrer que ils on biaucoup veu
  • d'escriptures, se fondent sur ce qu'ilz ont trouvé en
  • livres et dient aprés les autres et aleguent les autteurs. (p. 643)
  • Others, in order to show they have read many authors, base
  • their own writings on what they have found in books and
  • repeat what other writers have said and cite different authors. (p. 18)

Lady Reason's understanding of Semiramis's transgression of an as-yet-to-be-written incest taboo stands outside the textual tradition mindlessly handed down by men. Before Reason narrates Semiramis's story, she helps Christine to carry away all the dirt of misogynist opinion left lying all over the “field of letters.” All allegorical narrative proceeds by means of such literalizing of the metaphors inherent in the trope of personification; literalizing the gender of such figures is another version of the wordplay generic to allegorical narrative.15 Christine even plays with her own name as the feminine form of Christ when Lady Justice narrates the story of Saint Christine, who receives her name directly from Jesus. Justice emphasizes the violence of this story—the longest of the saints' lives narrated in this section, specifically the excision of Saint Christine's tongue, so that she is able to spit a piece of it into her torturer's eye, blinding him. As such a grisly detail implies, female personifications understand the violence done to material bodies—both male and female.

(p.173) The vast testimony Barbara Newman has amassed to demonstrate the widespread theological instrumentality of female personifications throughout a number of centuries underscores the need for “safety”; her argument implicitly assumes that violence does, in fact, threaten somewhere in the arena of theological debate that the daughters of God enabled writers to evade. To say, as Newman does, that the goddesses provide “safe” havens is another way of saying that no violence will happen in the landscapes they populate, an argument that bears at least a remote relationship to Teskey's own formulation. Teskey's fundamental point is that we do not ordinarily see the violence of personification except in those few strange places where the greatest allegorical poets allow us to view its mechanisms stripped bare in the moment of incomplete “capture”; the rest of the time, the medieval narratives operate with just the efficient analytical “safety” Newman so beautifully describes in the many texts she elegantly surveys. It is important to remember that very existence of the Trinity owes its own special internal dynamic between the Father and the only begotten Son to the female materiality the Son borrows from His human mother so that he may, in fact, be able to suffer a violent death on the cross. It may be impertinent to argue that while the Logos is far more than a mere personification, the violence done His materiality is one of the most crucial elements of His Passion. To say, then, as Newman does, that the theological nature of the goddesses in medieval literature guarantees their distance from the violence that would threaten any discussion of the actual male Trinity itself calls attention to the miraculous disruption of normative human relations required by the very theology of the Incarnation and Passion. The violence of the Passion allows the Christian revision of Old Testament written law. Teskey and Newman are not, finally, in essential disagreement about the profound philosophical and theological difficulties allegorical personifications manage, in their normal workings, to evade.

In Teskey's second scene of “capture” the violence is impossible to forget: Amoret's heart is withdrawn from her chest cavity and placed in a bowl of blood:

  • At that wide orifice her trembling hart
  • Was drawne forth, and in siluer basin layd,
  • Quite through transfixed with a deadly dart,
  • And in her bloud yet steeming fresh embayd. (3.12.21)

(p.174) It is this “wound” that the female warrior Britomart makes disappear; she forces Busyrane to reverse his verses:

  • The creull steele, which thrild her dying hart,
  • Fell softly forth, as of his owne accord,
  • And the wide wound, which lately did dispart
  • Her bleeding brest, and riuen bowels gor'd,
  • Was closed vp, as it had not been bor'd,
  • And euery part to safety full sound,
  • As she were neuer hurt, was soone restor'd'
  • Tho when she felt her selfe to be unbound
  • And perfect hole, prostrate she fell vnto the ground. (3.12.38)

Such an undoing of sadistic art has at times been read as playing on the image of the postcoital detumescent penis. If so, the genital terms can be seen aptly to literalize the Neoplatonic metaphor of raptio, which Teskey argues subtends the scene. Similarly, readers have also noticed that being rendered perfectly “hole” does not mean that Amoret is no longer penetrable; though virginal, she is still capable of intercourse, that womanly potential being indeed her characteristic quality.16 But what no readers have remarked is that the horrifyingly large and gaping wound that closes up to a normal “hole,” from which formerly protruded a large and detached bloody object, very accurately mimes the gory actualities of childbirth. In childbirth, an internal body part does seem to be torturously extruded from the female vagina, which, rather startlingly, then returns to its former state and without a death-dealing amount of pain. (In this context it is perhaps important that the stanza does not describe the heart's reinsertion into the body but simply the closure of the opening, as if the point is not to reinsert the pulsing organ but simply to close the “wide wound.”) If such a suggestion is not wildly off the mark, it more fully fleshes out, as it were, the bare theoretical frame of Teskey's argument. Amoret's materiality not only resists being turned into an abstraction, that materiality also reenacts the original function of materia, parturition itself. Amoret's experience of a horrific fantasm of childbearing radically contrasts with her own painless birthing by her mother Chrysogone in the Garden of Adonis, which as a landscape in and of itself represents the cosmological purpose of corporeal generation. The narrative of Book III continues to circle back onto this essential issue of female chastity.17

(p.175) To suggest this new understanding of one aspect of Amoret's “torture” is not fundamentally to revise our traditional interpretation of what Busyrane is attempting to do to her or why. It may serve instead as one more way of seeing his attempt to textualize Amoret's experience; that is, to turn Amoret's physical, material experience into a poetic text by borrowing her fecund, bodily based creativity to make poetry of his own. To see the healing that Britomart helps to achieve as one that images what happens to the female body at the moment of giving birth is, however, to see in a new and useful way what it is that Britomart learns from attending on Amoret. This moment of magically self-healing physical protrusion (this bloody creativity) is precisely where Britomart's own heroically erotic energies are leading her. (We are given another brief glimpse of this moment of parturition in Book V when Britomart dreams of giving birth to a lion in Isis Church.)18

When Wroth rewrites Spenser's scene, she is clearly more interested in switching the genders of the protagonists than in commenting on the underlying issue of childbirth. In Spenser's scene, the enchanter Busyrane is a sadistic sonneteer, who writes strange characters with Amoret's heart's blood. In Wroth's variation on this episode, the poet Pamphilia is the rescuer, not the torturer, and the torture victim is Amphilanthus, a character based on her own beloved first cousin, William Herbert, the third Earl of Pembroke, and therefore male. The torturers are icons of female sexual predatoriness, rivals to the heroine. While the fact that the victim is male means that Wroth is unable to consider the issue of childbirth embedded in the heart of Spenser's episode, the names of the characters Wroth has chosen to give the torturers are very suggestive. Musalina, although she is a fully developed character in the text and one of the heroine's main rivals for the beloved Amphilanthus, has a name that allies her with the muses. She may thus name the problem of Petrarchan discourse overtly addressed in Spenser's scene, where the process of torture is also the process of writing. The other torturer is Lucenia, who, like Musalina, is a fully developed character in the fiction and who, therefore, is more than merely her name. But like Musalina, her name has a quite specific resonance; Lucenia recalls Saint Lucena, who was the Roman saint of childbirth. If such an allusion were intended by Wroth (and one wishes that it were clearer that it was: Wroth's character Lucenia has nothing immediately discernable to do with children or childbirth elsewhere in the text), then it would be possible to claim that Wroth, as a female reader of Spenser's text, had, in fact, intuited the physiological events implicit in the scene of Amoret torture. Wroth did in (p.176) fact herself give birth to two illegitimate children fathered by William Herbert, the man on whom Amphilanthus is modeled. Musalina and Lucenia might well then refer obliquely to the two most compelling reasons Amphilanthus/Herbert might have for remaining loyal to Pamphilia/Wroth: Wroth's expertise in poetry and her also having given birth to Herbert's children.19 The location of the scene of torture is a ring of stones reminiscent of Stonehenge, which was an easy ride from the Earl of Pembroke's seat at Wilton. The details of the scene are thus tied quite closely to Wroth's own relationship with her first cousin.

Wroth's rewrite of Spenser poses another immense contrast: Britomart succeeds in her rescue of Amoret from torture, while Pamphilia fails:

Pamphilia adventured, and pulling hard at a ring of iron which appeared, opned the great stone, when a doore shewed entrance, but within she might see a place like a Hell of flames, and fire, and as if many walking and throwing pieces of men and women up and downe the flames, partly burnt, and they still stirring the fire … the longer she looked, the more she discernd, yet all as in the hell of deceit, at last she saw Musalina sitting in a Chaire of Gold, a Crowne on her head, and Lucenia holding a sword, which Musalina took in her hand, and before them Amphilanthus was standing, with his heart ript open, and Pamphilia written in it, Musalina ready with the point of the sword to conclude all, by razing that name out, and so his heart as the wound to perish. (p. 494)20

Wroth's rescripts Spenser's already literalized set of conceits in Amoret's torture by having the written name “Pamphilia” visible on Amphilanthus's fleshly heart. The detail is authorized by Spenser's own practice in the first poem of the Amoretti, where his beloved reader is asked to read what has been written by tears in “heart's close bleeding book.”21 The bits and pieces of burnt male and female lover's flesh derive from the dismembering tradition of the Petrarchan blazon, which is clearly one influence on this baroque scene of torture.22 But what is most striking about Wroth's revision of Spenser's scene is that the moral values are completely reversed. Pamphilia tries vainly to come to Amphilanthus's rescue, but she is unable to do so, not because she may, like Scudamour, be implicated in some way in causing the torture, nor because she has no powers of aggression (nothing comparable to Britomart's magic—and some have thought phallic—lance), but because only false lovers are able to enter such an arena. All-loving Pamphilia is too true and constant (read “chaste”) to pass through the flames:

(p.177) so with as firm, and as hot flames as those she saw, and more bravely and truly burning, she ran into the fire, but presently she was throwne out again in a swound, and the doore shut; when she came to her selfe, cursing her destinie, meaning to attempt again, shee saw the stone whole, and where the way into it was, there were these words written:

Faithfull lovers keep from hence

None but false ones here can enter:

This conclusion hath from whence

Falsehood flowes, and such may venter. (p. 494)

Britomart had ignored the script over the doors in Busyrane's palace and had gone in a “bold Britonesse.” Pamphlia has all the courage necessary to do the same. The problem is that the enchanted site rejects her because of her very virtue. This site is the polar opposite of another enchanted place, the palace of Venus on Cyprus, where Pamphilia has already shown her heroism. There, by the power of her virtue constancy, Pamphilia is able to open the doors to the castle and to free the lovers. She is, however, unable even to remain for long within this “hell of deceit.” It is as if Poverty, or Chastity itself, were trying to enter Deduit's Garden of Love in the Roman de la Rose. Such virtues must remain arranged as statues on the outside of the garden wall, decorating it, but incapable of entering it. As Wroth's contrasting sites attest, her use of landscape allegory insists on the defining character of the moral virtue of constancy (the titular virtue for the incomplete seventh book of Spenser's epic). Pamphilia is the heroine of the Urania because she is the truest, most constant lover, the most all-loving. Wroth's huge romance, then, rewrites Spenser's satirical Squire of Dames dilemma as well as the constancy test of the Argalus and Parthenia episode in the Arcadia.23 One might also say that Wroth rewrites the “Mutabilitie Cantos” as well, insisting by doing so that the female is the principle not of Mutabilitie, but of Constancy. As we see in the repeat of the Amoret-torture scene, when it is Pamphilia's (and not Amphilanthus's) chest that is torn open, Pamphilia's experience in the earlier scene in Venus's palace remains central to the Wroth's manipulation of Spenser's allegorical techniques.

The scene of the enchanted castle on Cyprus is the climax of Book I of the Urania. It is also the scene selected to be portrayed on the title page of the printed volume (Figure 7.1). It is clearly an important moment in the text, and thus its links to the episode that rewrites Amoret's torture are key to what Worth aims to accomplish in her use of personification. When (p.178)

Allegory and Female Agency

Figure 7.1. Title page of Mary Wroth's 1621 The Countess of Mountgomeries … Urania. Reproduced by permission of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

(p.179) Pamphilia releases the prisoners in the Castle of Love on Cyprus by giving to Amphilanthus the key that the statue of Constancy has just given to her, the personification of Constancy as represented in the statue on the bridge disappears into Pamphilia's breast:

Both then at once extremely loving, and love in extremity in them, made the Gate flie open to them, who passed to the last Tower where Constancy stood holding the keyes, which Pamphilia tooke; at which instant Constancy vanished, as metamorphosing her self into her breast; then did the excellent Queene deliver them to Amphilanthus, who joyfully receiving them, opened the Gate. (p. 169)

Here, it is almost as if, to use Teskey's formulation, the allegorical abstraction Constancy has effected a “capture” of Pamphilia, transforming her irremediably. It seems to be on the basis of this moment that Pamphilia later says that she must become of a different “constitution” for other thoughts to fall into her breast so that she would become able to love someone other than Amphilanthus. Like Amoret's, Pamphilia's breast later becomes the site of her own baroquely imagined torture; Constancy's transformation into that breast allows us to see how carefully Wroth prepares her rewrite of Spenser. Her series of scenes seem almost explicitly to address Teskey's understanding of what is at stake in the negotiations of female authority with allegorical personifications. The mediating text in the first disenchantment episode is Ovid's Metamorphosis; it is again recalled in Constancy's “metamorphosing her self” into Pamphilia's breast. It appears first in the description of the statue of Venus, which is compared to Pygmalion's masterpiece. (Wroth rewrites Ovid constantly in the Urania, regendering, as Roberts points out, Ovid's tale of Arethusa and Byblis.24)

To recall the myth of the transformation of Pygmalion's statue into a real woman is to move in reverse along the path Teskey calls the “half way process” of capture, that is, the movement is away from abstraction toward materiality. This is also true of the relationship between Constancy and Pamphilia: Constancy vanishes, transformed into the breast of a real woman, almost as if Wroth herself might be meditating on Shakespeare's rewrite of the Pygmalion myth in The Winter's Tale—where the statue can move because it has always been a real, aging, female body. In each of these rehearsals what gets insisted on is that the woman is real, the artwork is not.25 Pamphilia is half-captured, not by constancy, but by love. This very half capture has made her into a poet. She is not the dead and lifeless work (p.180) of art but the artist who creates poetry out of her sufferings as a constant woman. When we hear Pamphilia and Urania debate the problems surrounding “this word constancy” as Urania derisively terms it, she gives Pamphilia the opportunity to articulate her own ontological status in relation to the term.

Urania criticizes Pamphilia for loving her brother Amphilanthus, but not because theirs is an unsuitable match between first cousins (although Urania has just been cured of a parallel attachment to Pamphilia's brother by Amphilanthus's ministrations in Saint Maura); Urania's point is rather that Pamphilia deserves someone better than her inconstant brother. (Although apparently acceptable, an official union between the two is never contemplated by anyone, even though both principals are unmarried and later—in the manuscript continuation—freely marry others.) Because Amphilanthus has been constantly inconstant to her, so Urania reasons, Pamphilia too should be allowed a change in her affections. Urania argues against Pamphilia's obstinate refusal to do so:

'Tis pitie said Urania, that ever that fruitlesse thing Constancy was taught you as a vertue, since for vertues sake you will loue it, as having true possession of your soule, but understand, this vertue hath limits to hold it in, being a vertue, but thus that it is a vice in them that breake it, but those with whom it is broken, are by the breach free to leave or choose againe where more staidnes may be found. (p. 470)

Urania does not, of course, specifically single out herself as a happy instance of those who find greater contentment in change, although Amphilanthus did save her a period of sorrow by pitching her over the cliff, thereby drowning out memories of her unsuitable love. For her part, Pamphilia insists on the willful activity of her desire, irrespective of anything Amphilanthus might or might not do to deserve her devotion. Pamphilia's position seems at first glance to be quite masochistic; however, on closer scrutiny of its specific terms, it demonstrates rather that she has a will of her own and that she exercises full command over it to institute her own active desire as her possession of herself. Urania charges her with something like having been captured by the abstraction “constancy,” which has taken “possession” of her. Pamphilia insists that her virtue is her own:

To leave him for being false would shew my love was not for his sake, but mine owne, that because he loved me, I therefore loved him, but when hee leaves I can do so to. O no deere Cousen I loved him for himselfe, and (p.181) would have loved him had hee not loued mee, and will love though he dispise me…. Pamphilia must be of a new composition before she can let such thoughts fall into her constant breast, which is a Sanctuary of zealous affection, and so well hath love instructed me, as I can never leave my master nor his precepts, but still maintaine a vertuous constancy. (p. 470)

As paradoxical as it may sound, Pamphilia's point is really that if she loved Amphilanthus only as a return for his loving her, her desire would have its origin in the male's desire; then female desire would remain a mere reflective repetition of male desire. To locate an active desire in her female self, she needs her own will to be autonomous. While she appears to depend on him, taking her identity from loving him constantly, she in fact insists on an identity impervious to any action he might take. Her constancy is, finally, an act of willful self-definition. She “will love though he despise” her. The “master” whose instructions she follows is love itself, the Amor of an older tradition of love poetry, not the boy Cupid but a mature Lord of Love such as the one who instructed Amant in the Roman de la Rose. Pamphilia defines herself by the constant breast she maintains—and the anatomical location of the “sanctuary” she celebrates here is the same place where Amoret's torture takes place, and, consequently, Wroth's rewritings of that scene of torture.

Pamphilia's tenacity derives not merely from a biographical choice clearly made by Wroth herself in her illegitimate alliance with her inconstant cousin William Herbert. Rather this pivotal conversation between the two lead female characters in her narrative has deeply embedded connections to Wroth's rewrite of Spenser's allegory in The Faerie Queene. When Pamphilia remarks that she cannot let thoughts of a new lover “fall into her constant breast” until she is of a new composition, she borrows for herself the authority of a personification without, I would like to suggest, sacrificing her own female agency.

The ultimate revision of the moment of torture—which again insists on the unreality of the artwork in contrast to the living woman—is the vision Amphilanthus has of Pamphilia in the Hell of deceit. Already replicating the scene in which Pamphilia sees Amphilanthus being tortured by women (with his heart ripped out of his chest cavity and Musilina trying to erase Pamphilia's name from its surface), Amphilanthus's vision is a return to the original gender arrangements of Spenser's scene in which Amoret is tortured by Busyrane:

(p.182) A Ring of iron hee then saw, which pulling hard, opened the stone; there did he perceive perfectly within it Pamphilia dead, lying within an arch, her breast open, and in it his name made, in little flames burning like pretty lamps which made the letters as if set round with diamonds, and so cleare it was, as hee distinctly saw the letters ingraven at the bottom in characters of bloud; he ran to take her up, and try how to uncharme her, but he was instantly throwne out of the Cave in a trance, and being come again to himself, resolving to dye, or to release her since he found her loyalty, he saw these words onely written in place of the entrance.

This no wonder's of much waight,

'Tis the hell of deepe deceite. (pp. 655–656)

Pamphilia here seems to have been turned into a dead icon of “loyalty,” as if the “capture,” in Teskey's sense, had been total. Here too we get fully literalized, the “characters of blood” in Busyrane's kind of writing. The narrative itself, however, undercuts this vision; it is not, finally, “of much weight,” for the vision is a false one, of “deep deceit.” It is not that Pamphilia is not false but that she is not dead. She is, in fact, alive, whole, and still loving of Amphilanthus. If only inconstant lovers can be “in” the hell of deceit, the place is capable of offering only deceitful visions. What Amphilanthus sees is a false vision, rather like the false vision created by Archimago that leads the Redcrosse Knight astray in Book I of The Faerie Queene. Through its falsity, however, Amphilanthus understands the truth, that Pamphilia is constant. Her constancy, however, is not a dead thing but fully agented. A few paragraphs after this vision, Pamphilia appears in the narrative, unharmed in any way. Amphilanthus may imagine Pamphilia constant and dead; but she is, in fact, quite alive.

The conclusion of the first enchantment in Book I had hinted at Pamphilia's freely chosen agency, for there the force named by another term takes the place of Constancy in effecting the happy outcome. The narrator explains how the prisoners in the Tower of Love are finally released:

[Pamphilia and Amphilanthus] then passed into the Gardens, where round about a curious Fountaine were fine seates of white Marble, which after, or rather with the sound of rare and heavenly musick, were filled with those poore lovers who were there inmprisoned, all chain'd one unto another with linkes of gold, enameled with Roses and other flowers dedicated to Love: then was a voice heard, which delivered these wordes:

“Loyallest, and therefore most incomparable Pamphilia, release the Ladies, who must to your worth, with all other of your sexe, yeeld right (p.183) preheminence: and thou Amphilanthus, the valliantest and worthiest of thy sex, give freedome to the Knights, who with all other must confessee thee matchlesse: and thus is Love by love and worth released.” (p. 170)

Wroth may well be punning on her own name in insisting on the “worth” that pairs with love to release the prisoners. Because “worth” is predicated of her preeminence among women, we are invited to see Wroth's authorial character present in Pamphilia's achievement. Paradoxically, Pamphilia's “worthiness,” like Stella's “richness” in Sidney's sonnet cycle, is declared by the husband's name. (Like Bess of Hardwick's initials “ES,” Wroth's name further signifies her identity as a widow, on which rests at least some of her free agency.)

Within the fiction of the romance, Pamphilia is as famous for her poetry as is Amphilanthus. When she complains of his infidelity and insists in poem after poem on her own constancy, she borrows the authority of the personification of the virtue, but she bases her own agency on her refusal to respond to the fluctuating demands of male desire. Hers is an active volition that is to be distinguished from the personified abstraction she not so much refuses to become (like Dante's Francesca), in Teskey's formulation, but that she contains within herself to make it a defining characteristic of her own will.

What Wroth has done then is to reformulate a transgressively active female desire, dressing it up in a traditional female virtue, patient constancy. Out of this maneuver, she creates Pamphilia's authority, institutionalized in the poems of the sonnet cycle appended to the Urania. In the process she adjusts the terms of romantic fiction in the direction of the ironic realism Cervantes opened up as a possible avenue in Don Quixote. In her edition of the Urania, Josephine Roberts outlined Wroth's debts to Cervantes as one of the most important influences on her work.26 A signal moment Roberts mentions is Wroth's revision of Spenser's use of Una's emblematic lamb in Book I of The Faerie Queene; Wroth gives Urania a lamb; but, rather than see it as a symbol of innocence and purity, Urania cooks it for supper. As Roberts puts it: “Wroth's sudden shift from Lamb of God to lamb chops reveals a rupture between the world of high idealism and that of hard, pragmatic circumstance” similar to the juxaposition of the two in Cervantes' book (p. xxiii).

The very frontispiece to the romance indicates the importance of Cervantes, for in the upper-right-hand corner of the landscape there is an odd windmill; the climactic scene of disenchantment when the statue of (p.184) Constancy metamorphoses into the living breathing Pamphilia, then, includes a visual signal of its Cervantean context.27 The picture is of the moment just before the female artist may be said to master the personification, when Amphilanthus and Pamphilia walk toward the statues on the bridge. This artist can even have a conversation with another woman about the virtue at hand, rejecting the possibility that she has been possessed by it. Wroth thus avails herself of the full panoply of allegorical techniques to display the sumptuous and violent elegance of the personified virtue she masters and makes the fuel of her art. In the process she reinvests the violence of the allegorical process of personification, reversing (just as Britomart forces Busyrane to undo) the masculinist falsity of vision to reveal an ironic perspective on the possibilities of romance narrative.

This irony is far more subtle than Sancho's being tossed in a blanket for nonpayment of inn bills because Don Quixote thought they were staying as guests of a great lord in a chivalric castle of his reading-maddened imagination. Typical of Wroth's irony is a scene in which Musalina, Lucenia, and Amphilanthus again figure centrally: The scene plays out the issue of woman's constancy with the irony characteristic of Wroth's wry narrator. A nameless country girl complains to the three courtiers about losing her love to a grand Lady, which proves the natural inconstancy of men. Wroth allows the country girl to comment on the great change in social attitudes toward the relative values placed on male and female virtue; it is a change that Wroth's narrative, in effect, is helping to bring about:

For believe it, the kindest, lovingst, passionatest, worthiest, loveliest, valientest, sweetest, and best man, will, and must change, not that he, it may be, doth it purposely, but tis their naturall infirmite, and cannot be helped. It was laid to our charge in times passed to bee false, and changing, but they who excelle us in all perfections, would not for their honours sake, let us surpasse them in any one thing, though that, and now are much more perfet, and excellent in that then wee, so there is nothing left us, that they excel us not in, although in our greatest fault. (p. 440)

Roberts cites a similar sentiment on the part of the narrator, who comments in passing about some nameless gentleman: “But being a man, it was necessary for him to exceede a woman in all things, so much as inconstancie was found fit for him to excelle her in, hee left her for a new” (p. lviii). Engaged in the philosophical debates about women that were popular in the opening decades of Jacobean rule, Wroth (like Christine before her) shapes allegorical (p.185) technique to her own ends in the defense of women. In the process she participates in the inception of a radically different kind of narrative, hospitable to enchantments but also able to scrutinize with wry irony the romantic assumptions of chivalric myth.

Clearly empowered by the gendered forces contending within the allegorical figure of personification, Christine and Wroth both revisit its violent workings to provide forceful narratives about the agency of women. Christine writes at one moment when allegorical narrative was at its most powerful; her move is thus to intervene in its canonical lists of texts, aiming quite specifically to insert her own female authority and within that canon. Writing at a far different moment, just before allegorical narrative turns into the “ruin” Walter Benjamin held it to be in the baroque period,28 Wroth stages the relationship between a female protagonist and the virtue she embodies so that the woman takes on the authority of the personification, not, as Teskey has it, the reverse. In the process, Wroth allows a wonderfully parodic irony to pervade the wit of her text, commenting on the earlier allegorical tradition and showing how personification allegory works before it disappears within the narrator's specific authorial agency.

Notes

Notes:

(1.) Barbara Newman, God and the Goddesses: Vision, Poetry, and Belief in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), p. 39.

(2.) Gordon Teskey, Allegory and Violence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996). pp. 18–19.

(3.) The Allegory of Female Authority: Christine de Pizan's “Livre de la Cité des Dames” (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983), pp. 23–27.

(4.) Susan Frye, Elizabeth I: The Competition over Representation (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 124–135, argues for Spenser's complicity in Busyrane's rape of Amoret.

(5.) Harry, Berger, Revisionary Play: Studies in Spenserian Dynamics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), p. 179.

(6.) Claude Levi-Strauss, Elementary Structures of Kinship (London: Eyre and Spottiswode, 1969), p. 496.

(7.) Spenser displays the kind of power such a female ruler has in the episode of Malfont, the bad poet, whom Mercilla punishes by having his tongue nailed to a post in Book V.

(8.) Louis Montrose, The Subject of Elizabeth: Authority, Gender, and Representation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), pp. 3–5; and Louis Montrose, “Spenser and the Elizabethan Political Imaginary,” ELH 96 (2002): 907–946.

(p.186) (9.) See my Incest and Agency in Elizabeth's England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), pp. 152–163.

(10.) Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex,” in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna Reiter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), 157–210.

(11.) See La Querelle de la ‘Rose’”: Letters and Documents, North Carolina Studies in Languages and Literatures (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, 1978), p. 138; Le débat sur le “Roman de la rose,” ed. Eric Hicks (Paris: Honoré Chanmpion, 1977), pp. 141–142.

(12.) The Livre de la Cité des Dames of Christine de Pizan: A Critical Edition, ed. Maureen Curnow, 2 vols. (PhD. Diss, Vanderbilt University, 1975); Earl Jeffry Richards, trans., The Book of the City of Ladies (New York: Persea Press, 1982), p. 40.

(13.) Jacques Derrida analyzes the violence writing does to an oral society in his discussion of girls divulging to Claude Levi-Strauss the names of their tribe, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), pp. 101–140.

(14.) Allegory, especially pp. 79–81.

(15.) Allegory, p. 26.

(16.) Jonathan Goldberg, Endlesse Work: Spenser and the Structures of Discourse (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), p. 11, discusses Amoret's penetrability. For an immensely intelligent critique of Teskey from the point of view of Spenser's more positive delineations of allegorical meaning and female agency, see Katherine Eggert “Spenser's Ravishment: Rape and Rapture in The Faerie Queene,” Representations 70 (2000), 1–26.

(17.) Eggert discusses the potential pleasure in Chrysogone's impregnation and Acrasia's sexuality, as well as the possible “rapture” when Amoret's falls free of her bonds after Britomart forces Busyrane to “reverse” his verses, p. 14.

(18.) For a fuller discussion of the thematics of childbirth in Britomart's narrative, see my Incest and Agency, pp. 136–163.

(19.) Wroth was famous for both, the twin accomplishments being an important focus of a poem by Lord Herbert of Cherbury: “While other poets can produce ‘feet’ Wroth is able to add toes to them.” See Josephine Roberts, The Poems of Lady Mary Wroth (Baton Rouge: University of Louisiana Press, 1983).

(20.) Josephine Roberts, ed., The First Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania (Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1995); all citations are to this edition, subsequently cited in the text.

(21.) Compare Ferdinand's baroque keen in The Duchess of Malfi that the image of his sister's making love to another man will “stick” in his memory, “Till of her bleeding heart I make a sponge/To wipe it out.”

(22.) What Wroth has done is to literalize not only the “flames” of passion that “burn” a lover's heart but also the elaborately celebrated body parts from the tradition of the blason Spenser himself mocks, for instance, in the scene with Serena and the cannibals in Book VI of The Faerie Queene (VI, ix, 39). For a discussion (p.187) of the blason as implicit dismemberment, see Nancy Vickers, “Diana Described: Scattered Woman and Scattered Rhyme,” Critical Inquiry 8 (1981), 265–279.

(23.) The story of Argalus and Parthenia, the first new story Sidney interpolated into his revised Arcadia, tests male versus female constancy. The story of Parthenia's disfigurement may be a reference to Sidney's own mother's tragic facial scarring by smallpox; her case was so severe that Lady Sidney secluded herself from court. Parthenia's magical healing may represent the son's wish to erase his mother's pain—as well as, of course, to provide the exemplary test case of Argalus's constancy, when he refuses to accept a perfect look-alike who is not in fact Parthenia herself. For an argument assuming this familial referentiality in the Argalus episode, see Margaret Hannay, Philip's Phoenix: The Countess of Pembroke (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1990). The possibility that Sidney's episode is a familial roman à clef (a possibility that could have been assumed, if anywhere, within the Sidney family) would have provided added authority for Wroth's autobiographical account of her own experiences in the story of Lindamira in the Urania, especially as her story begins with an apparent description of her parents'—Robert Sidney and Barbara Gamage's—courtship. For a discussion of the parallels see Roberts, pp. 30–31.

(24.) Roberts, p. xxxiii.

(25.) Lori Humphrey Newcombe argues that Ovid suggests that Pygmalion may have regretted the loss of his masterpiece in “‘If that which is lost be not found’: Monumental Bodies, Spectacular Bodies in The Winter's Tale” in Ovid and the Renaissance Body, ed. Goran V. Stanivukovic (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), pp. 239–259.

(26.) Roberts, pp. xx–xxv.

(27.) Incest and Agency, pp. 185–191.

(28.) Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama (London: Verso, 1998).