Feminine subjectivity in the Renaissance: The writings of Elizabeth Cary, Lady Falkland, and Lady Mary Wroth

Gwynne Aylesworth Kennedy, University of Pennsylvania


Elizabeth Cary and Mary Wroth wrote in several of the most popular genres of Renaissance England: drama, history, romance, and sonnet cycle; in doing so, they violated norms of appropriate feminine behavior. The severity of their transgression appears in their writings, which display a "discursive discontinuity" (Belsey) signalling uncertainty about their textual authority. Reworking generic conventions to accommodate feminine interests, their texts give feminine subjectivity an entry into history and expose the partiality of Renaissance and modern ideas of genres.^ This dissertation examines representations of feminine subjectivity in texts by Cary, Wroth, and certain male authors. The women uncover interconnections among the various subject positions (marital, political, sexual, discursive) open to women in the early seventeenth century; their representation of feminine subjectivity entails a representation of the operations of their homosocial sex-gender system and each woman's own history.^ Cary's closet drama, The Tragedie of Mariam, and her history of Edward II explore the nature of subjection and possibilities for feminine dissent from the perspective of a virtuous, wronged wife of an unworthy sovereign-husband. After comparing Cary's history with male-authored historiographic and literary accounts of Edward's reign, I discuss her representations of marital and political subjection in Edward II and Mariam.^ Worth fashions a constant feminine subject, unaffected by marital status or chastity, within courtly love discourse. Her romance, The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania, is an anatomy of the traffic in women, cataloguing numerous paths of feminine desire. A culturally "authorized mode of discontent" (Montrose), pastoral allows Wroth to explore interactions of gender, class, and discourse within the traffic in women and courtly love; the pastoral episode causing Wroth's notorious dispute with Edward Denny argues for approaching "discontent" in terms of gender as well as class. Addressing the ways gender informs romance, the dissertation traces Wroth's idea of feminine constancy in the printed Urania and manuscript continuation, paying special attention to its costs to the feminine subject and the politics of this form of subjection. ^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Kennedy, Gwynne Aylesworth, "Feminine subjectivity in the Renaissance: The writings of Elizabeth Cary, Lady Falkland, and Lady Mary Wroth" (1989). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9004795.