Ameilia Lanyer, Salve Deus Rex JudŠorum (1610/11)

Dedicatory Poems

Genre:   The dedicatory poem might be considered a variety of the invocation of the Muse, since the patron often is said to be the cause for the poem's existence, either because of financial assistance offered the poet, or because the patron actually requested composition of the poem.  "To Cooke-ham" is an example of both.  The modern book often contains similar sentiments in prose located in the introductions, but the nearest most modern authors get to a spiritually moving acknowledgment of their "Muse" often is in the "dedication" page, usually immediately after the title page and containing only a brief "To..." (spouse, children, parents, teachers, etc.). 

Characters:   Lanyer, herself, as well as her sequence of patrons, the most important of which are Lady Susan, Countess Dowager of Kent, Mary (Sidney) Countess Dowager of Pembroke, Anne Clifford and her mother, Lady Margaret, Dowager Countess of Montgomery. 

Plot Summary: We might say the dedicatory poems enact a series of negotiations between Lanyer and the patrons in which she tries to weld them, one by one, into a supportive interpretive audience for her work.  She directly addresses her fear of the male reading public at several points, as well as her dread of and scorn for the envious attacks by other women (see Marie?).  Mainly she attempts to establish each patron as someone whose intellect demands the poem's creation and whose aesthetic and social distinction will assure its success.


Issues and general research sources:

        First, think about your own papers' introductions and the first endnote you include as an opportunity to negotiate your work's reception and to acknowledge those essential collaborators who enabled its creation.  Why can't a publishing poet just "shoot an arrow in the air" and not care about where it comes to earth?  How might that affect your own creative purposes as a writer? 

        So who are these ladies anyway? (The following notes are heavily dependent upon Susanne Woods’ annotations in the Oxford paperback edition [1993] except for those instances in which I've followed my own Muse (esp. see Suffolk and Dorset).

1)  "To the Queenes most Excellent Majestie": Anne of Denmark (1574-1619) would have been five years younger than Lanyer but her rank made her a major social force in artists’ lives. James I had relatively little interest in supporting the arts, but she was specifically a patron of Ben Jonson, dramatic successor to Shakespeare, and Henry Lawes, a composer. Note that Lanyer specifically draws the Queen’s attention to "faire Eves Apologie / Which I have writ in honour of your sexe" (ll. 73-4). She also specifically alludes to the loss of support she has suffered since the death of Elizabeth I ("clos’d up in Sorrowes Cell") and the difficulty of the task she attempts. She even (compare Julian?) denies she’s formally learned "Or that I would compare with any man" (l. 148). Can you imagine a man in such a situation denying he is learned and disclaiming comparison "with any woman"? What does it do to Lanyer’s authority and to her relationship with Anne, her "Super-Reader."

2)  "To the Lady Elizabeths Grace": Anne’s and James’ eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth (1596-1662) bears a name which clearly indicates her parents’ ambitions in the years before Elizabeth I’s death without a dynastic heir in 1603. Elizabeth would have been 15 when the poem was printed, and perhaps only 14 when it might have been presented to her in manuscript form. How might her age affect the reception of a poem on the topic of women’s defense against men’s charges? How does Lanyer’s poem use that relationship to set up the Princess’s reading of "the first fruits of a woman’s wit" (l. 13)?

3)  "To all vertuous Ladies in generall": First, read Lanyer’s biography. Then remember that her days as Hunsden’s mistress in her early twenties are now almost twenty years behind her. What does she advise the "vertuous Ladies" to do and how does this poem’s advice relate to her experience? When she expresses reluctance to name the ladies publicly, what stops her, and on what grounds will she name some of them in the poems which follow? This is her test of "vertuous" fame.

4)  "To the Ladie Arabella": James I’s first cousin and Anne’s near age-mate (1575-1615), Arabella Stuart was in prison for marrying William Seymour without James’ permission (she was of royal blood and the Seymours had ambitions). She made a daring escape, dressed as a man, and was captured at sea off Calais. She spent the last four years of her life in the Tower of London, where she starved herself to death at forty. How daring is this dedication?

5)  "To the Ladie Susan, Countesse Dowager of Kent, and Daughter to the Duchesse of Suffolke": Susan Bertie had married the earl of Kent, and after his death (1573) married Sir John Wingfield in 1581. She was one of the three great, older women whose protection and encouragement had shaped Lanyer’s earliest days and to whom she turned in her own adulthood as an audience for the poem. (Mary Sidney, Countess Dowager of Pembroke, and Margaret, Countess Dowager of Cumberland, are the other two.) How does the poem draw upon her youthful relationship with Lady Susan to relate her to the poem to come?

6)  "The Authors Dreame to the Ladie Marie, the Countesse Dowager of Pembrooke": Mary Sidney was perhaps the greatest woman to influence and help create the style and substance of Elizabethan poetry. By birth and by marriage she was closely connected to Elizabeth’s court’s highest ministers, and she wrote poetic entertainments for the Queen, herself. She also was the first audience for and editor of her brother, Philip’s, great verse romance, "The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia." Both she and her brother wrote English free translations of the Psalms (Philip wrote 43 before his early death in battle at Zutphen and Mary wrote the remaining 107).

        The genre of the "dream vision" was well-established in medieval English poetry (Chaucer wrote three of them) because its conventions allowed authors to introduce discussions of political, social, and philosophical content that took more risks than works issued formally as the products of their waking minds. In effect, it displaced "authority" for the work’s content onto the dream itself and the process which produced it. Nobody took the premise of the "dream" entirely seriously, but it produced some creative "play space" in which dangerous topics could be discussed.

        Typically, the dreamer finds herself in a beautiful place, often a walled garden, and often populated by allegorical figures or gods. The dreamer then encounters a "guide" figure with whom the dreamer discusses the poem’s chief topic, often unsuccessfully striving to understand the guide’s meaning.

        Notice that Lanyer names her self "author" in the title. Notice there is no puzzling guide figure whose baffling message the narrator transmits without claiming to understand it. What’s going on here?

7)  "To the Ladie Margaret Countess Dowager of Cumberland": Lanyer’s most powerful patron was daughter to the earl of Bedford and married the earl of Cumberland in 1577. Their only child, Anne, had been born in 1590 and by 1611 Margaret was involved in the defense of her daughter’s right to inherit her husband’s vast estates against the claims of his brother and other male would-be heirs. The prose dedication may at first be surprising, but a second, verse dedication occupies the first 264 lines of "SDRJ." In both the prose and verse dedications, however, Lanyer’s uses the metaphors of gold, silver, treasure, and inheritance to describe the poem she presents. How does the poem’s message about religious faith relate to Margaret’s position as an aristocrat embattled in the courts, and to Lanyer as her poor but talented poetic servant?

8)  "To the Ladie Katherine Countesse of Suffolke": the one odd figure in this series of literate women whose interpretive authority Lanyer might have sought as "super-readers," Katherine Knevet, widow of Richard Lord Rich, married Lord Admiral Thomas Howard in 1583 and led the career of the kind of "great woman at court" which Lanyer elsewhere decries. In 1611, Katherine Howard’s husband was lord chamberlain of the royal household as well as chancellor of Cambridge University, where the family was spending enormous sums on entertainment. The pressures to acquire more money to support this lifestyle were to be their downfall in 1618 when they both were tried for misappropriating funds from her husband’s position as lord high treasurer and for taking bribes from Spain. Why might Lanyer have thought both of them were "subject to that fatall starre" of their destinies? How might Lanyer’s advice regarding worldly wealth have been intended to affect her potential patron’s attitude toward the book? Note especially that Lanyer asks her to have her daughters read it—how might a poor poet in her forties be affected by the thought of Lady Katherine’s daughters growing up in such an atmosphere? Was Lanyer’s motive purely mercenary, angling for a share of the Suffolk fortune, or does she have another agenda here? (See also the dedication to Dorset, "Greatness is no sure frame to build upon, / No worldly treasure can assure that place" [ll. 17-8]).

9)  "To the Ladie Anne, Countesse of Dorcet": Margaret’s daughter, the only surviving child of the Duke of Cumberland, married the earl of Dorset in 1609 (two years before the poem’s publication) when both were 19. Neither found the other a suitable match: she was independent-minded, literate, and concerned with the arts, and he was a libertine whose expensive lifestyle diminished both of their fortunes. (After a second, terrible marriage to an illiterate, powerful courtier, she outlived him, like the Wife of Bath did her first three husbands, to finally make her independent living running her estates until she died at 86.)  Lanyer’s poem specifically describes itself as a work "which I have erected / For your faire mind I hold hte fittest place, / Where virtue should be setled & protected" (2-4). Poets have been described as verbal architects since classical times, but what does it mean that Lanyer imagines herself building something within her readers’ minds? What is the architectural function of these dedication poems in the minds of the dedicatees, and in ours? Especially note the three stanzas beginning with "What difference was there when the world began" (ll. 33-56). They specifically challenge the privileges of the aristocracy to claim virtue for their own as a right of birth (see Chaucer, "Gentilesse" and "Wife of Bath's Tale").  How risky is this in a poem to her rich patron who is even now involved in a protracted fight with her father’s family for the inheritance she claims? See also her use of the socially leveling "all the world’s a stage" commonplace that both Shakespeare and Spenser also used (As You Like It II.vii and Amoretti Sonnett #54). This poem also emphasizes Dorset’s descent from her mother, and her exemplary union of "Virtue and Beautie" (l. 99), a major theme of "To the Vertuous Reader" and returning in the main poem, itself.

10)  "To the Vertuous Reader": This prose piece directly challenges all Lanyer’s other readers, including ourselves, but specifically directs its concerns toward "some women" who enviously attack other women’s work. Lanyer addresses the book (i.e. "SDRJ," its dedication poems, and "To Cooke-ham") to "all virtuous Ladies and Gentlewomen of this kingdome," a strategy which appears to ignore entirely the much more numerous male reading public. She specifically says the book argues "that all women deserve not to be blamed" and lists famous biblical women whose strength and wisdom were attested to in the Jews’ struggle against their enemies. She also summarizes the importance of women in the life of Jesus in terms which situate his life in a social universe of women. Finally she asks for her book’s reception in terms which strongly suggest traditional female virtues. How does this set up a Jacobean woman’s entry into the text, and what does it lead us to prepare ourselves to witness in our era?

11)  To see a scholarly edition of Lanyer's entire work, and scholarly editions of previously unpublished works by women who wrote during the Renaissance, Restoration, and 18th century include the Brown University Women Writers Project, and the Emory Women Writers Resource Project at Emory University's Lewis H. Beck Center.  The Brown site has an exceptionally large text base of edited Renaissance women writers, and the Emory site's strength is its unedited (as in previously unpublished) texts.  These are being used as part of Emory's graduate program to teach editing practices.  To see Professor Sheila Cavanagh's very well-explained set of instructions for how a scholarly edition is prepared, and a well-equipped set of scholarly tools (paper and online), click here.

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