Lady Mary Wroth, The Countess of
Montgomery's Urania (including "Pamphilia to Amphialanthus") (1621)
Genre: a pastoral romance containing significant allusions to
contemporary court scandals; a sonnet sequence of 103 sonnets and songs.
Form: prose with inset songs, including sonnets of the
"English" form, and a song in trochaic tetrameter (trochees are reversed iambs
[Da-dum, rather than da-Dum], and tetrameter; "PtoA" contains sonnets and songs
with wildly varying rhyme schemes.
Characters and Summary: The foundling shepherdess, Urania, laments her
ignorance of her parents (she's the daughter of the King of Naples, natch!), and in
typical pastoral fashion, she and the shepherds sing and dance their way to a resolution
of that problem; "All-loving" Pam-philia protests the perfidy of her
lover with dual affections, Am-phialanthus, and the accused one responds, both
speaking in sonnets.
Issues and Research Sources:
Other sites which offer scholarly editions of previously unpublished works by women who
wrote during the Renaissance, Restoration, and 18th century include the 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strength is its unedited (as in previously unpublished) texts.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.
- Though Wroth is the young niece of Mary Herbert, she writes in genres that are already
becoming passť in the Jacobean court--sonnet sequences, the pastoral romance, etc.
How might you explain her sense of poetic kinship with Sir Philip Sidney or
Edmund Spenser, two poets who lived before her and also wrote in those two
- How does her treatment of the matter in these forms set up some challenges to the older
sonnet sequences and pastorals we have seen?
- For instance, how would you compare the sonnets' dual voices with the voice of Stella or
Elizabeth Boyle in Sidney's or Spenser's sonnets?
- What other genre might also be applied to explain the references to contemporary
Jacobean court scandals in the "Urania"?
- Wroth lived a life that suggests some of the radical changes which were
court after the death of Elizabeth. By her cousin and lover, the earl of Pembroke,
she had two illegitimate children after the death of her husband, and she published
her dangerously allusive pastoral romance under her own name despite its shocking effect.
- How do you think the Jacobean (and later Caroline) court must have altered from the
strictness of Elizabeth's day, and what changes would you expect to see in the poetry as a
Keep in mind that the Puritans are extremely active. Wroth's last years were
lived during the Civil War, and the king's prosecution and execution occurred only two
years before her death.
- How did the world seem to Lady Mary Wroth, from her youth to her adult life, and into
her old age (she lived to be the Beatles' canonical 64)?
- Wroth's sonnets' speakers position themselves often as the
victims of desire, and as secret lovers whose passions are spied upon by
others. Most notably in Sonnet 39 ("Take heed mine eyes"), the speaker
fears her eyes will "betray" her "heart's most secret thought" to watching
"them," presumably other courtiers. How does this game of erotic
espionage work? How does one "win" and "lose"? For a modern
evocation of this state of mind among secret lovers, see
the Go-Gos' "Our Lips
- Our ability to read Wroth depends upon the work of Twentieth-Century
scholars who brought Wroth into the canon of English literature (and the
Norton) by writing articles and books arguing for the literary importance of
Wroth's work. They also had to edit scholarly editions of Wroth to make
her available to those unable to get access to the small number of surviving
C17 editions of her work, and the few manuscripts in her own hand that
survived. For Samuel Hughes' "Strange Labyrinth," a (University of)
Pennsylvania Gazette feature on Josephine Roberts, one of Wroth's
scholarly editors who championed her work and brought it into the canon of
English literature (and the Norton), including an image of a printed copy of the "Urania"
with annotations in Wroth's own hand, click
- For the Luminarium page containing four more sonnets from "Urania" and the complete
text of "Pamphilia to Amphilanthus," click here.
To see a good, 1990s-era bibliography of primary
source editions and scholarly research on Wroth, see Ron Cooley's University of
Saskatchewan web page:
http://www.usask.ca/english/phoenix/wrothbib.htm. (Note that Josephine
Roberts' edition of Wroth's poetry, listed as "Forthcoming?" in the
bibliography, was published in 1992 [826.3
W958Hp]). Further information on Wroth, and on
Lanyer, Cavendish, and Philips, is
available at Ron Cooley's
As One Phoenix
Back to English 211,
Back to English 222, Syllabus View.