|In the Person of Womankind: Female Persona Poems by Campion, Donne, Jonson|
Pamela Coren. Studies in Philology. Chapel Hill: Spring 2001. Vol. 98, Iss. 2; pg. 225, 26 pgs
|Abstract (Article Summary)|
The use by a male poet of constructs of female voice positions his texts in a long literary tradition, bringing his reader into confrontation with popular and medieval constructions of women's voice, while at the same time maneuvering within the shifting discourse of contemporary gender politics. Coren considers three Jacobean poems, each emerging from a different mode of literary transmission--Thomas Campion's "A secret love or two, I must confesse," John Donne's "Confined Love," and Ben Jonson's "In Defence of Their Inconstancy. A Song."
|Full Text (10209 words)|
Copyright University of North Carolina Press Spring 2001
WHILE there has been much exploration of the ways in which Renaissance playtexts negotiate within stage tradition and their own gender culture to tender a dramatically effective "woman" to a mixed audience (an audience itself made up of participants in such social and literary constructions), Renaissance lyric poems written in the female voice have not been accorded this attention. There are obvious alignments, however. "Women" on stage and female persona poems share not only the idea of the disguised voice but the potential ability to simultaneously unsettle and resettle orthodoxy, a potential realized by performance. Both boys playing women and men singing "women's" voices perform texts, though the singer does so in a more visibly detached way, the voice alone carrying the representation of the woman's body. Similarly readers of texts which present a characterized voice read in a performative way, whether reading aloud or subvocalizing -playing on the interior stage of their own heads. Thus male writers writing female persona lyrics are creating scripts for musical or reading performance: poem, reader, author, singer are all performers on the same stage of gender constructions.
Despite this, little interest is registered in the small number of female persona poems by canonical poets. Closely related matters (the search for women-authored "anonymous" poems, the entry of women into literary publication) have absorbed our attention, but the lack of interest may also register discomfort. Cross-dressed writing is an embarrassment to that most privileged form of criticism of Renaissance poetry, the celebration of wit (itself built upon a tradition of masculinist "persuasive force"), but perhaps also to feminist criticism, in that discussion of these poems suggests an earlier stage of work, the feminist critique which worked within the traditional canon to point out what now seems obvious -that such writing offered manipulative caaricatures and eroticized women. Yet we need to be able to recognize the styles and registers of female personae used, not least to aid the identification of actual women's writing in manuscript verse, and it is worth moving beyond the obvious and spending time not only working out what is going on in these poems, but "why" and "When," especially in the light of recent work on the transmission and reception of Renaissance poetry.
The use by a male poet of constructs of female voice positions his texts in a long literary tradition, bringing his reader into confrontation with popular and medieval constructions of women's voice, while at the same time maneuvering within the shifting discourse of contemporary gender politics. One of the interesting features of female-voiced poems is their transmission within a male to male reading culture, but it is worth looking at the possible occasions, and the likely nature, of women's reception of such poems. I offer for consideration three Jacobean poems, each emerging from a different mode of literary transmission. Thomas Campion's "A secret love or two, I must confesse" is from his 1613 songbook; John Donne's "Confined Love" is from manuscript culture; Ben Jonson's "In Defence of Their Inconstancy. A Song" is from Underwoods in the 1640 folio, very much a product of the emergent print culture.
The list of features in common is lengthy: the three poems were written at about the same time by writers who all have Inns of Court, city, and court connections, and all are wits, scholars, and classicists proposing pragmatic critiques of the idealism of Petrarchism and Neoplatonism.1 In all three poems "nature" (as figured by Ovidian amorality) and the worlds of commerce and art are utilized by a witty defense of transgressive female sexuality. Each poem taps the dramatic life of the confessional self-defense, and each contains a list, one of the strategies of commodification, the commonplace of Renaissance writing about women. Finally all three poems are, in different senses, "songs,' and thus invite either actual singing or dramatized reading, sharpening the focus on the interrelation of performance and ideas of gender. The title "Song" is used as cover for many lyrics with bawdy inclinations in this period because it carries some license: what is sung is less "meant" than what is said, and the ubiquitous poem/song trope still carries such a residual amnesty for lyrics with no immediate musical connection; in Campion's case, however, his poem really was primarily for singing, and as in all his songbooks, is offered among politer examples of his art:
Campion's "A Secret Love" displays the entertainment value of the medieval discourse of confessional literature, though this speaker is more than a personification of Adultery, as is the forbear she suggests, the Wife of Bath. Both Chaucer and Campion's wives resist such moral reduction by their manipulative rhetorical dealings, and both embrace in their discourse the male framework which judges them. The wife of "A Secret Love" with her bold and casual confession, "or two," and punning on "kind," titillates her audience with her euphemisms of "keeping touch" and "close playing," much in the manner of the Wife, and Campion's line "No Lampe less light retaines by lighting others" directly echoes Chaucer's "He is to greet a nygard that wolde werne / A man to lighte a candle at his lanterne; / He shal have never the Jesse light, pardee."3
"Playing," a common euphemism for illicit sexual liaison through to our own century, has its origin in medieval usage as a general term for recreation. It is the term Marlowe chose to launch his version of Ovid's "None ego, ne pecces, cum sis formosa, recuso":4 "Seeing thou art fair, I bar not thy false playing," an exhortation from a wincing but complicit male lover. Campion's Wife then plays with the familiar topos of the marriage debt, but does so from a male perspective, acknowledging her duty of "redress." Her own desires constitute the explicit subject of the poem, but she does implicit service to his. Thus she begins by drawing attention to herself as an owned body, and a satisfied one, possessed of inexhaustible sexual resources for male pleasure. She proceeds through her list of proverbial examples, placing her husband and his exclusive demands in the position of miser or churl; he thus suggests another medieval grotesque, Jealousy, or perhaps Avarice. Her sexual capacity increases throughout the poem: in the first stanza she can satisfy her husband "whole or half, quickly"; by the second he gets "enough, and more" (his powers are waning as hers increase); by the third she can give him all he deserves and still reclaim her body for her own uses.
In this lyric we hear a comic fantasy of woman's desire, as constituted for male pleasure, ventriloquized as her own. The insatiable female, heroine of fabliaux, has reemerged in the writing of a classical Jacobean poet and songwriter. The ambivalence of this voice, as in all its literary manifestations, stems from the fantasy that creates it. In dramatizing this as a female voice, the poet releases the power of the wish fulfillment (for a pliant, capacious, permanently available sexual partner), but simultaneously releases the ghost of an idea of a woman owning her own sexuality in order to embody and perform such a fantasy. The poem's catalogue, with its wide sweep of activities-biblical spring and lamp, riches, the inevitable Rose, warfare, trade, horticulture, cookery -is breathless, cavalierly resisting all discriminations. (The song is a rapid triple-time piece, comically difficult to enunciate.) All of male life is plundered as a justification for female desire. The final example, "one dish cloyes" makes the woman the consumer, the men "dishes," but does so in order to maintain her sexual appetite ("many fresh appetite yield") so that she is able to service more men. The lyric seems to enact a mutual consumption, an Ovidian equality of exploitation, but it is a male-authored text, sold to a predominantly male audience and most likely performed by a male singer. As such it has less potential as a dialogue between fantasies of sexuality than the Wife of Bath's Prologue, which inverts the theory of the marriage debt in her favor. Campion's wife, as she trades her body, acknowledges it as owed to her husband. She "gives" and "uses" but does not take. What she finally claims as her own ("Mine owne Ile use, and his he shall have duely") is less her own sexuality than a trading surplus. The miser topos in line ii of "A Secret Love" is echoed in Campion's male-voice song "Your fair looks urge my desire" (1618b XXIII): "Wealth to none can profit bring, / Which the miser keeps." That the same argument is employed in a male-voiced seduction poem and a defense of transgressive female sexuality should alert us to the transference taking place. Gail Reitenbach, writing on Campion's thirteen female persona lyrics reads "A Secret Love" very seriously, using as her starting point the observation that it is "staged as a trial." She wonders if "Campion... did not intend this monologist to stand as a subtle commentator on the injustice of restrictions on women's involvement in the legal process" and reads the catalogue of analogies as "designed to reconcile the dualism of the law and the complexity of justice as she conceives of it applying to her case." 5 This seems rather too narrow a dealing with the poem's address, which is more readily contained by the convention of confessional literature than by any literally forensic reference.
Campion's choice of female personae may be part of a complex strategy in his songbooks, an exploration of male and female erotic experience, with the female voices providing a "realistic" education of the male lover, though only if we read the songbooks in sequence. The suggestion is made by David Lindlay, who provides an illuminating reading of the songbooks as whole units 16 but Campion's directions in his prefaces, to pick and choose (and the usual habits of singers) relegate the idea of meaningful sequence to a compositional principle and an option for readers rather than singers. A dual use of the songbooks, as reading texts as well as song, is a real possibility with all the lutesong volumes, but particularly with Campion's. The verse epistles and dedications which frame his volumes point to the use of the songbooks as poetry anthologies, particularly the double volume of 1613, which prints the whole poem metrically under the set verse of each song. Campion's dedicatory words to the earl of Cumberland in the religious section of this songbook make the possibility explicit! The comparisons he makes between his songs and poetic forms are further evidence of the literary conception of his songbooks. The parallel between short ayres in music and the epigram is well known," but his reference to The Canterbury Tales as a model to license his inclusion of bawdy material less so:
But if any squeamish stomackes shall checke at two or three vaine Ditties in the end of this Booke, let them powre off the clearest, and leave these as dregs in the bottome. Howsoever if they be but conferred with the Canterbury Tales of that venerable Poet Chaucer, they will then appeare toothsome enough.9
The Chaucer reference is particularly interesting, not just in view of my claim that the Wife of Bath is the ancestor of the speaker of "A Secret Love," but as a pointer to a literary sensibility that combines Chaucerian scope and solidity with Augustan elegance. Campion's chief Latin influences are often named in terms of his actual translations and imitations: Catullus, Propertius, Martial, and Horace. Although W.R. Davies speaks of Ovid as a direct influence, he describes the Latin Poemata of 1595 as Ovidian myth transmitted through Spenser and Tasso.10 Most of the female personae of Renaissance lyric, however, carry Ovidian suggestion: the models Ovid offered (the weeping complainants of Heroides, the desirous females of Metamorphoses, and the manipulative sexuality of Corinna, the female counterpart of Ovid's "desultor amoris") appear as Renaissance rediscoveries, while interacting with their medieval embodiments. Campion heads this study because his combination of announced influences, Chaucer and the Latin poets, opens most clearly the connection between the renewed interest in Ovid as a counterdiscourse to Petrarch (and perhaps specifically the influence of Amores dating from Marlowe's translation) and the reinvocation of the transgressive female personae in the i6oos. The more sentimental Elizabethan strain of Ovid might have produced Campion's "Oft have I sighed" (1618a I), but "A Secret Love" and "If thou longst so much to learn (sweet boy)" (1618a XVI)) suggest the newer influence of Amores.
Campion's female personae differ in either voicing desire (in which case the desire is usually the kind of wish fulfillment of "A Secret Love" or her younger sister, the pubescent girl discovering a need for a man) or rejecting male desire in its social guise of courtship. Reitenbach observes:
These women challenge the assumptions of Renaissance love poetry. Their diverse characters-from innocent and canny young maids to remorseful, vindictive, amorous, and ironic women-belie the "simple" way men (and poetic commonplaces) portray them. Through witty yet subversive control (and sometimes inversion) of poetic convention, they expose the sexual double standard that grants dissembling male lovers immunity from social stigma while denouncing the female victim or female philanderer.11
Reitenbach's analyses of Campion's female personae are most convincing when she works with the latter group, as she illuminates the strategy of their speakers' challenges to male love poetry, but she is not concerned to set the poems in the context of either social musical performance (the predominant mediation of the songbooks) or the classical and medieval inheritance of female personae available to the poet. She writes of the speakers almost as women, referring to their "complexity, variety and realism" and going on to say that "these speakers strike us as thoroughly self-aware of both their strengths and their frailties."12 I think it likely that the "realism" Reitenbach refers to is that of the Ovidian tradition rather than originating in Campion's biography (his medical training and early bereavement) as Lowbury, Salter, and Young suggest 13 Of Campion's poems "So quick, so hot, so mad" (1618a XXVIII) and "Thinkst thou to seduce me then" (1618b XVIII) more readily fulfill Reitenbach's description of witty subversion of the patriarchal codes assigned to their speakers.
Even so the ambivalence inherent in cross-dressing in the theater remains with all these songs. The voice of "A Secret Love" is reminiscent of Rosalind/Ganymede's prophecies of a wife's behavior:
more giddy in my desire than a monkey.... Make the doors upon a woman's wit, and it will out at the casement. Shut that, and `twill out at the keyhole. Stop that, 'twill fly out at the chimney... you might keep that check for it till you met your wife's wit going to your neighbour's bed ... to say she came to seek you there. You shall never take her without her answer unless you take her without her tongue.14
These constructions enact the fantasy of a vocal, lively, sexually experienced wife whose sexual transgression is legitimized by its status as performance: she may be "wife" to the fantasizing self as, say, Antony's two wives, Octavia and Cleopatra, represent jointly "what it is that men desire" when shaped into paradox by the ideology of primogeniture and its concomitant control of female sexuality.
The subtle challenge to patriarchy in some of Campion's songs is a potential presence, awaiting the revising reader of feminist critique. But suppose in Campion's society the songs were "squeaked out" by the sons and male servants of the family. Campion's songs are "for women" only as Rosalind "is" a woman: Rosalind played by a modern actress or a Campion song sung by a female soprano may suggest challenge to the culture that contained them, but the same role played by a painted boy, however skillful an actor, and these songs as sung by a boy treble would have significantly qualified effect. In performance these songs balance uneasily between insights into sexual double standards thrown up by the process of dramatization, and the manipulation, by parody and comedy, of women into alignment with them. The verbal wit of the songs, which contains challenge, is arguing not only with the fantasy that structures them but with their mode of transmission. As Kerrigan points out, "reflection suggests that the very idea of falsetto production, of a male author deigning to flute 'the female voice,' is misogynistically risible." 15 If a male voice also delivers the words, the effect is doubled.16 Modern ideas of song sometimes claim a bodily detachment from the song's fiction by means of the professional approach which denies the voice any gender or social identity. This approach usually involves denial of the significance of song texts: syllables to sing carry no suggestion of bodily imitation or cultural meaning. It is an approach that has no support from Renaissance culture, literary or musical, where the importance of song as a direct route to erotic response (words operating on the body through the body, as the singing voice insists on its physical dimension) is a matter of some anxiety.
Campion was writing for a commercial market; and those with some economic privilege, translated into leisure and education, could own Campion's songs, facing only those barriers to deeper kinds of "ownership" raised by gender and ideology. To move the same material, the voice of transgressive female sexuality speaking from within male fantasy, into the more restrictive domain of poetry in manuscript circulation might alter but does not alleviate the ambivalence originating in the open nature of sung performance. In fact one of Donne's desirous female speakers, in "Break of Day," reached Campion's audience through the commercial publication of a songbook, as the fourth song in William Corkine's Second Book of Ayres of 1612. There is more than a suggestion of song about "Confined Love" too:
This irregularly but strongly stressed poem has the exact syllabic equivalence from stanza to stanza songwriters found convenient, and its four long and three short lines, the last of each stanza with a definite cadence, invites a solo ayre setting, though Helen Gardner's remark that "this ... though no setting has been found, is a song. It can only be scanned with a strongly marked tune in mind" puts rather a narrow construction on "scanning." In the same note Gardner offers Ovid's Myrrha (Metamorphoses, 10.320-55), not as the source of Donne's poem but as "the literary origin of this line of argument."a A defense of incest as the source of a comic justification of adultery needs some such nuancing: Myrrha's arguments are very specific:
If it is a crime. Yet surely duty's bond
They say does not condemn such love as this.
Why, other creatures couple as they choose
Regardless. If a heifer's mounted by
Her father, that's no shame; a horse becomes
His daughter's husband; goats will mate with kids
They've sired themselves; why even birds conceive
From seed that fathered them. How blest are they
That have such licence! Human nicety
Makes spiteful laws. What nature will allow
Their jealous code forbids.19
Gardner's term "frank naturalism" is relevant enough: this rapid list of naturalist arguments for lawless behavior is characteristic of the confessional display of passion, but if Donne's poem does recall this passage from Ovid the invocation serves to load the reader's response against the speaker. With father-daughter incest uneasily subtracted from the poem (and the cut would be very visible to the educated reader), Donne's speaker would be defending free love against a reading that linked it with aspects of sexuality most threatening to patriarchy-the power of the most "innocent" to destroy the authority figure by means of desire.
Donne's arguments from use are more subtly and socially engineered than Campion's: merchant voyaging is covered again, but also Jacobean expansion (characteristically "seeking" and "dealing" with "new lands/bodies") and the practice of social display. Donne's second and third stanzas utilize his familiar perversity of argument, moving from absurdity to manipulation. Birds, of course, are not divorced, beasts can choose new mates, but at what point would a reader/hearer begin to protest that not all the examples are so unequivocal? The rapid list of questions of these poems often thus answers itself only when the receptive applause/amusement has died away, just as social orthodoxy is reasserted by the approved marriage of the heroines in the last moments of Shakespeare's comedies. Yet here the final question of line 18 can immediately register its framing discourse of orthodoxy: in defiance of men's intentions, of will (the poem's "onely to" provokes its hidden "yes, but"), houses were built and abandoned as funds ran out: private pleasure gardens were laid out and locked up. All these three poems rely on erotesis in some way: it is the rhetorical backbone of much literature of ironic confession where the speaker boasts and defends while the audience hears the explication of sin. Donne, however, here gradually intensifies the fundamental ambivalence of the figure, opening an increasing distance between speaker and reader.
The swing in the poem as its suppressed moral judgment reasserts itself enables the ambiguity of "good" to further split our response: "good" is a fraught term in a Puritan/capitalist society. Goods are possessed, otherwise not goods: a woman's "goodness" becomes a male possession in patriarchy, but is not "good" if possession is transferred. Hence "wasting with greediness" is one of Donne's exact and polysemous abstractions: her sexuality, as she claims, is wasted if not "used," but the lascivious speaker does thus waste with her own (sexual) greediness and its grotesque "a thousand," and so do her partners in the seminal waste involved in using her. That the poem turns so strongly at the close suggests that it is, in fact, building on the moral outrage invoked by the echo of Myrrha's self-justification. That the outrage was temporarily silenced by the ingenuity of the speaker (with her challenge to male self-concern in imposing monandry and the attractive absurdity of planets "smiling" as they "lend away their light") puts the two impulses in the poem into conflictual awareness. The fantasy of unlimited female sexual bounty, wearing the "daughter" face of naturalist innocence, confronts the containing orthodoxy of the "father" who fears his vulnerability to desire. Reading without the echo of Myrrha (and we are not bound to privilege the readings of privileged readers) "Confined Love" still employs a complex strategy. It is doubly evasive as a female persona poem in that it is almost slyly so, and indeed not all readers hear it as so voiced. David Blair has explored Donne's deliberate withholding of the declaration of gender in this and other poems.'O The "we" of line 14 surprises and shifts the reader, revising what has been read: thus familiar gender positions are shaken, and something approaching mutual or gender-open response becomes possible; we read with the woman (women) so sentenced by the envious male of the opening stanza, but we also see that we are on both sides of this false argument, using and used, keeping and wasting. The cloaked moral of "good" and "greediness" thus challenges female speaker, male writer, and the reader's implication in this Ovidian world.
The woman's voice in "Confined Love" parallels the male voices of Donne's "Woman's Constancy" and "The Indifferent": all these argumentative amoralists afraid of fixture suggest an Ovidian derivation. As both these male-voiced poems turn the conventional misogynist material against the speaker at the end, so "Confined Love" unsettles by its strategy of delayed gender recognition. The naturalism of these voices dissolves conventional gender constructions by a perverse mutuality: as Ovid's poet-lover and his mistress Corinna and the male/female speakers of the Donne lyrics are equally manipulative, pleasure-loving, witty, and self-seeking, fundamental misogyny cannot deal with them by asserting male virtue against female transgression. Donne's Ovidian attacks on "women" are neither a display of patriarchy nor the intimate verbal sparring of a loving couple; current thinking on the nature of Donne's readership denies us that sociable construction. The ambiguities of these poems which play with stock gender constructions and attitudes take on a stronger male focus if they are considered as competitive amusements among a predominantly male reading circle. In that context the voice of "Confined Love" seeks to please by the same desirous fantasy as "A Secret Love," but also by the display of ingenuity and reference, the defense of the indefensible that delighted that circle. Yet to confine the voice to the terms of its reception by Donne's immediate audience would be to reinvent authorial intention to a limiting degree. As manuscript reading circles widened and overlapped, and poems were copied into commonplace books and sent on through patronage circles and families, any poem of Donne's, once launched, may have reached a female readership. While we may dismiss the picture of Donne offering this poem to Lucy Harrington, other hypotheses (did any woman reader copy such poems as "Confined Love" and "Communitie" into her collection?) show where work is needed in this area -not by reconstructing moral responses, guessing degrees of tolerance or ladylike outrage, but by researching women as both readers and writers and thus assessing women's involvement in and receptivity to the same web of literary reference and tradition that produced these poems. There are useful broad observations to make. Mary Wroth and AEmilia Lanyer put as much distance as possible between Ovidian female sexuality and their writing selves, Mary Wroth constructing a strongly ethical, idealized, and abstract love as much in response to male slander as to the restrictions of her inherited Petrarchism, Lanyer praising her good ladies as if to deny the realities of the voices and constructions of all male love poetry. If we take them as sources of rare evidence of the readerly responses of educated women, we can say that they would be unlikely to recite "Confined Love" or sing "A Secret Love" to a select party. If the search widens to all reading women the uncertainties widen too: there is not much evidence of women in Jacobean England speaking or singing any love poetry in public.
Ovidian myth features as reading matter on stage; Innogen's fateful bedtime reading is a case in point?' Innogen reads the tale of Tereus and Philomel, unconsciously figuring her own danger, because she is a lover and imaginative. Her reading is as innocent as her sleep, even though "hell is near." The situation of beauty and goodness vulnerable to rape is the reverse erotic fantasy to that of these female persona songs. Ben Jonson has Celia in Volpone subjected to a comic parody of the rape situation, but he stages in the same play the grotesque Lady Would-Be who reads such writers as Aretine, and he makes her reading a marker of the obtuse sexual license of the Englishwoman with scholarly pretensions.22 Dramatic constructions of women do not give us evidence of actual women's reading, reciting, or singing practice, any more than female persona poems represent women's voices.
Jonson's female constructions in both drama and lyric illuminate not what women desired, or read, but the strategies of male writers in making literary capital of fantasies shared with their male audience. Clumsier than Shakespeare in his handling of audiences (notoriously so in his failure to create effective female parts other than whores), Jonson has subtler play with female voices in his poems. His speaker in our third poem is firmly placed by editorial practice in a way Campion's and Donne's were not: this lyric is from Underwoods, from the 1640 Folio; "Another" refers to "V In The Person of Womankind," and the "Their" of the title unconsciously directs all the poems to male readership:
Jonson's poem opens with a double-voiced attack on misogynist discourse, the "men who talk," which accepts the grounds of such talk, the "womens change," itself already established by the authoritative title phrase "of Their Inconstancy." This poem can be read as a comically inverted epithalamion, a celebration of women who remain so by not becoming wives at all or by adultery. The epithalamion speaks of virgins becoming women by lawful sexual intercourse, girls completed by defloration: its parodic inversion speaks of wives as less than women because controlled, and so childlike, lifeless, "sitting on stools." The argument occurs in Renaissance disputes of the "Maiden, Wife, Widow" type, but heroines of comedy also mock wives' passivity: Beatrice in Much Ado gestures in this direction.24 Jonson's speaker reveals the process whereby the patriarchal culture's repressed desire for unregulated sexual experiment becomes the "woman's nature" which male wit exposes by parody. She defines women's sphere as the art of love, needing practice for perfection. Like Donne's "good," Jonson's "aright" in line so pulls moral orthodoxy into the frame. Her arguments from discrimination and improvement go on to make this love a parody of learning. The third stanza uses the loaded terms "goods" and "use," central to Jacobean erotic writing, to turn the attack on the whole Ovidian tradition; "our pleasure" becomes an insurance policy more effective than virtue. The invocation of the "worthiest" in the closing couplet allows a safe, judgmental space between speaker and reader: man's infidelity is the greater, because he would betray even worthy women, let alone one such as the speaker. So the poem satirizes both the fantasized hedonism of sexually voracious women and the aversion to virtuous women of the hedonist male: the Ovidian world of mutual "use" is the target. In addition the poem, by its use of a female persona, implicates not only the male partners but wit itself, here feminized and made suspect by the transgressive sexuality which uses it. This is a complicated picture: in all three poems discussed, the vigorous self-definition of the speakers allies them to one another; these constructions are a legitimization of transgressive sexuality, but the complications set up by invoking this voice are explored with differing degrees of awareness. Campion scarcely tries: his Wife belts it out in full medieval pose. Donne carefully plays his classical source and his game of voicing (he or she?) and builds a distance between speaker and reader, allowing ethical valuation to enter the poem via his favorite Ovidian register of consumption. Jonson's poem intensifies the ethical process with a less flamboyant analysis of "the art of love" itself. Whereas Donne's body of love poetry intermittently constructs a "desultor amoris" who registers complicity in the world of these female speakers, Jonson's poetic world frames them by a distanced and judgmental stance.
Jonson's female persona poems are in Underwoods in Digby's 1640 Folio: the organization of these poems is likely to be the editor's, though perhaps incorporating preparatory work done by Jonson in the early 1630s. "In Defence of Their Inconstancy" appears in a section containing A Celebration of Charis in X Lyric Pieces, written between 1616 and 1623 and here printed as a sequence for the first time. The Charis sequence contains two female-voiced poems: "IX Her Man Described by Her Own Dictamen," spoken by Charis, and "X Another Lady's Exception, Present at the Hearing." Following the Charis sequence Digby (or Jonson) places "The Musical Strife; in a Pastoral Dialogue," the speakers designated "He" and "She": this is followed by the male-voiced song "Oh Do not wanton with those eyes." The next three poems all have female speakers: "In the Person of Womankind (A Song Apologetic)"; "Another. In Defence of Their Inconstancy," discussed above; and 'A Nymph's Passion." These poems, apart from the two in the Charis sequence, have rarely interested critics, and the relationship between the various female voices has not received consideration.,
Charis's "Her Man, Described" touches on familiar ethical ground. It is in some ways Jonson's ideal man too; after the physical tease of youth, seductive charms and passion Charis begins to sound more like her author: "Yet no tailor help to make him; / Dressed, you still for man should take him," and she rises to his construction of the central Stoic virtues:
And as honest as his birth.
All his actions to be such,
As to do no thing too much.
Nor o'er praise, nor yet condemn;
Nor out-value, nor contemn:
Nor do wrongs, nor wrongs receive;
Nor tie knots, nor knots unweave;
And from baseness to be free,
As he durst love truth and me.
"Another Lady's Exception" is the "one good part" which is all she claims to need. Another Lady deflates the idea of a woman's voice defining virtue; in her world such descriptions can only be hypocrisy. The Charis sequence thus concludes with a contrast of female speakers, as if to separate the combined female principle which the ironic Jonsonian lover has been pursuing. The virtuous Charis (who, as Peterson demonstrates, combines the virtues of Charity, or Grace, with the pleasure principle of Aphrodite) is heard but her idealism is immediately undercut by the voice of Another Lady's This juxtaposition of the two female personae, the sentimental or idealist immediately followed by the reductive and sensual, is a common feature within Renaissance lyric and drama. For a close parallel to Jonson's two voices see Beaumont and Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy, 2.1, where Aspatia's complaint song "Lay a garland on my hearse," with its protagonist whose life consists of faithful love and death, is immediately contradicted by Dula's song "I could never have the power / To love one above an hour." 27 While the writers may be simply seen to display variety, there was clearly a compulsion to hear the two voices together, as though one invoked the other: Charis must share the-aural stage with Another Lady, Aspatia with Dula.
Writing on the Charis sequence, T.P. Roche hears these voices, of Charis and Another Lady (whom he characterizes as "the voice of Mae West," another construction of collective fantasy), as signaling the demise of the sonnet sequence and of the Petrarchist tradition: "In this poem (9) Charis is thrown into the role of Stella replying to Astrophil, of Greville's Caelica sounding off... Johnson's Charis and her vulgar Lady companion did kill off the sonnet sequence by bringing in the voice and light of common day."28 I do not think this will do. Stella's voice has already been heard, and it is not like this, nor, obviously, are these voices "the light of common day."29 Voices like these to which Roche attributes such power have intermittently "sounded off" in counterpoint with the various discourses of Elizabethan and Jacobean Petrarchism. The next few poems in Underwoods deny the Charis sequence the closure offered by its printed (numbered) presentation.
"In Defense of Their Inconstancy" shares much with the voice of Another Lady. The voice inscribed in "In the Person of Womankind (A Song Apologetic)" echoes Charis herself: her offer to "of parcels make / One good enough for a song's sake" (lines 11-12) is fulfilled by "Her Man Described."
The Nymph who speaks "Her Passion" is the sole voice of naivete in this cluster of poems, and perhaps awakens echoes of the complaint tradition with her artfully "simple" diction; she is reminiscent too of Campion's maidens, though less knowing, a figure held up for fun with her comic dithering between gloating and telling.' We might observe the unreliability of the Nymph's compliment to her "round-eyed" lover, who "looks as lilies do, / That are this morning blown" which follows so closely in Underwoods the familiar "Have you seen but a bright lily grow, / Before rude hands have touched it?" ("Her Triumph, Charis IV"). From male to female the image is lyrically successful: from female to male it is made ridiculous. Jonson's female voices may be arch, but may not be eloquent in the matter of successful love. Nevertheless, Jonson's poems refine the traditional female lyric voices into a wittier and subtler dialogic texture than any earlier participation of insatiable wife or repentant mistress. The close proximity of the lyrics in Underwoods creates much of this refinement, making voices challenge and answer one another; a dimension added to the individual poems by editorial procedure. The experience of one of the poems singly, in manuscript circulation or social reading, would open another range of responses.
I have referred to the voices inscribed in Renaissance female persona poems as in some way traditional and used the common distinction between the defiant frankness of the desirous wife or mistress and the sentimental tones of the unrequited female lover or the abandoned maiden (seduced or not) of the complaint tradition. Beyond this crude outline, which ignores the rarer voice of witty rejection or exposure of male hypocrisy, the map of constructed female lyric voices has scarcely been drawn. Whatever terms we use as reference points on such a map need to recognize a multiplicity of voices, a tradition of reinvention and reinscription rather than a restrictive convention of types. The classical and medieval antecedents of these voices offered this sort of variety.
The two dominant Ovidian strains, the desirous from Metamorphoses and the complaining from Heroides, were transmitted, perhaps through Chaucer, into the lyric of the fifteenth century onwards; the transgressive and manipulative awaited the Renaissance awareness of Amores, not a source of female personae in itself, but the source of the partner necessary to complement the male Ovidian lover as developed by Shakespeare in the Sonnets and Donne in Songs and Sonnets. But the medieval secular female personae perform the whole repertoire anyway, and it is difficult to say whether they have native traditional roots or classical, literary antecedents. The popular songs, both carol and pastourelle, in which the complaint of a pregnant girl is used to praise the potency of clerics (or satirize the dissolution of clerics) or the seduction dialogue in which an initially denying female voice becomes suddenly desirous or the more polite strain of a suffering female lover all operate to enact the needs and fantasies of their male authors and readers much as the speakers of the three poems discussed here.31Even the serious complaint poem, such as the medieval "Grevus ys my sorowe" (Robbins, no. 206), which, like Campion's "Oft have I sighed" (i6i8a I), simply takes over the courtly role of the suffering lover, can be seen to fulfill the needs of its erotic convention and the power relationships so inscribed. The small number of medieval poems in which women wittily reject courtship and expose the hypocrisy of male love conventions, like those by Campion, are as much about wit rejecting literary cliche as about insight into sexual double standards 32 Only to the extent that women constructed themselves within those love conventions can they be "heard," even in the politer poems of complaint or rejection. The Jacobean poems discussed here with their generously desirous speakers, being the most obviously satisfactory to male constructions of female sexuality, provide at least one clear point of reference in this difficult field.
The difference of stylistic register between the medieval voices of the clerics' victims (who are celebrating sexuality itself in their plaintive boasting as well as lauding their seducers' verbal and physical abilities) and the voices of these three Jacobean poems is a marker of the late Renaissance sensibility. Campion's, Donne's, and Jonson's speakers affect rational argument and challenge, and only in overall impact and covert detail betray their service. The medieval seduced maidens, constructed out of complicit victimhood and boisterous naivete, are overtly serviceable. Having read the classics, Alison has become Corinna, the wench a courtesan, and the misogyny of the Jacobean writers has become both more aggressive and more sly. But these speakers serve other agendas too. In the Elizabethan period female lyric voices had been almost exclusively found within pastoral complaint in the miscellanies, most often in dialogue: these Phillises, Phyllidas, and Phoebes are rejected as possible constructions by Campion, Donne, and Jonson along with their whole poetic tradition 33 The speakers of our three poems counter the dominant Petrarchist discourse of the sonnets, and at the same time rescue the female persona poem from the vapid sweetness of the Elizabethan pastoral dialogue. Their defiant monologue allows more dramatic and ironic force than the pastoral dialogue or narrated encounter with its framing and interrupting discourse, and their rhetoric directs the poems to a more literary readership.
To speak erotic material and present it as song "in the person of womankind" inevitably draws the texts into the world of actual women as silent, "overhearing" or oblique audience. We need to extend the current interest in the social transmission of texts into the area of women's perception and reception of these poems and to recognize the gap between literary iconography and construction and social reality. What happened to texts which aped women? How were they performed and read? Were female persona poems ever given actual female voicing? In speculating about women singing or reading verse aloud in social situations we find ourselves on very uncertain ground. While it is to the nature of the poems themselves that we need to turn to make sense of the possibility, some of this ground needs clearance.
Campion's song comes from the world of amateur music-making, and his large number of female persona poems have created a casual sense that he wrote songs "for women." The assumption that women sang these songs was made easier by "Merry England" versions of social history in the work of musicologists and music historians, whose study of lutesong consistently elided class and gender. This is not the place to review the evidence, but to request that the reader hold at a distance the picture of wives and daughters of good family singing love songs before mixed company on social occasions. I think such practice unlikely in the period of the commercial songbooks, from about 1597 to 1620, and that we need to reconsider the question within the context of work on women's social voices. The evidence, like so much of women's history, has been available but not read, or read but not registered. It points to a distinctly gendered activity: music, including singing, as women's solitary solace or recreation among themselves, with some slight public instrumental performance on approved instruments (the point of their being taught to play and sing), and as men's rather competitive and learned social music-making from which women are excluded or which they facilitate as hosts and audience. The published songbooks are directed exclusively to the latter market, but a wide variation of use is possible. In fact we do not know quite where we are with Campion's songbooks in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. He provides moral and religious songs as well as both serious and comic erotic songs. Even if women did sing for male friends and family, which songs would it be proper to perform? A godly song might be permitted, but "A Secret Love"? If, as I think the available evidence suggests, women did not sing lutesong except possibly to one another, then the social performance of these songs would be by (boy) treble, countertenor, or tenor voice. The effect of this on lyrics of the spirited wife/mistress type and on the more sentimental complaints might be different, but both would be vulnerable to "guying" in performance. Kerrigan, envisaging female performance and dealing largely with the complaint tradition, offers a needed reminder when dealing too exclusively with the verbal strategies of song-lyric: "A single female singer, the focus of admiration in a room full of gentlemen, will come closer to dramatizing the typical love plainant than a raucous band clinking their pots," while failing to observe that such a woman singer, if we are to consider the moralists' strictures as socially effective in Jacobean England, would most likely be a prostitute singing to clients.35
The practice of reading poetry aloud is often assumed to be widespread, at court and elsewhere, and again there is familiar lyric iconography of women as "sweet speakers" as well as "sweet singers," but, as the terms suggest, one wholly dependent on the Petrarchist tradition. Did women read men's verse aloud to them? The prospect tantalizes, but evidence is uncertain. Often descriptions of Tudor practices in both the social singing and speaking of verse are inappropriately influential in our conception of later periods. Sonnets and lyric make use of the mistress reading aloud the lover's verses, and drama stages such readings, but only among female friends. One of Jonson's female voices, "In the Person of Womankind (A Song Apologetic)," complains of being made to sing their own praises -presumably reading aloud love poems writtten by men "to" women-as if it were a common thing:
Men, if you love us, play no more
The fools, or tyrants with your friends
To make us still sing o'er and o'er,
Our own false praises for your ends:
But the taunt of this is aimed at the purveyors of conventional love poetry and its manipulative nature, the lyric of praise being largely confined by the more truthful Jonson to performance situations, to masque or play. Astrophil may thrill to Stella reading his verse back to him, but Jonson employs no such fiction. To return to the uncertainties of social reality: the defenses offered by Donne and Jonson must be the least likely to receive female voicing, even if such readings were common practice. When we read the voice of the "Wife," we are hearing the male voice in drag, not songs which women could publicly voice.
In the case of Donne the shifting play with gender suggested by my analysis of "Confined Love" may again imply an actual female readership, but this would surely be a false lead, and not just in view of the widespread acceptance of the thesis that Donne's original readership, and the implied readers in the lyrics, belonged to a predominantly male coterie. There is nothing in self-consciousness about gender construction to imply female reception of the lyrics that use it; in fact the more wit and challenge within a song which plays with the "goods" and "use" of female sexuality the likelier its triumph among a male coterie audience. Donne's few women speakers are equally involved in this male focus. This is poetry which women readers most likely overheard rather than received: these lyrics cannot be read as "love poetry for lovers," and certainly not "poetry for women." If we want to be optimistic about Donne's consciousness of his sexual codes, we can hear the poems and their readership as involved in semiserious, semiplayful homosocial exploration, the poems' challenge to their own constructions of masculinity (a sweat lodge with wit).36 This does not mean that women did not sometimes encounter these poems, but within this socio-literary context the poets have ensured that while women may be abashed by or admire the wit of the persona, to lend it their own voice would be a remarkably pointed act. Caution would suggest that we read all these female persona poems as male to male transactions, with women as secondary, silent audience being affronted or embarrassed into more silence (or into more demonstrative, because printed, piety). Like the dramatic heroine's soliloquies and asides, the erotic female persona monologue draws the reader/hearer more closely into the ironies of their own culture's perceptions of gender.
It is possible that the choice of the bawdy rather than the sentimental range of female personae reveals negotiations of gender and poetry at particular moments of cultural change. In Jacobean England the invocation of the voice of the desirous and experienced "Wife" may be a response to other cultural and literary impulses besides counterPetrarchism -the instability of gender, perhaps also the entry of actual women into literary publication. It may be significant that these three poets are writing their ventriloquized songs at a time when women are beginning to publish their own "replies" (Mary Sidney's effectively chosen translations in 1592 and 1595, Amilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum in 1611, Mary Wroth's Pamphilia to Amphilanthus in 1621). If it looked as if women were about to speak in the public literary domain, however faintly they might be heard, the urge to write in the bawdier tradition (which eroticizes women more aggressively than the complaint) may have become stronger.
Jonson's praise of Mary Wroth is relevant here. He professed admiration for her, and his poem "To Sir Robert Wroth" suggests understanding of the unpalatability of her marriage; he also dedicated The Alchemist to her and wrote two epigrams in her praise, one on her social and ethical stature, one on her poems. The latter, 'A Sonnet. To the Noble Lady, the Lady Mary Wroth" (Underwoods, 28), in slack lines and jokey rhymes claims that Wroth's love poetry has educated him as both lover and poet. The closing lines describe Wroth as having captured Cupid and embodied the qualities of Venus in her verse, very much in the manner of Petrarchist verse embodying Cupid in the beloved's face:
But then his mother's sweets you so apply,
Her joyes, her smiles, her loves, as readers take
For Venus ceston, every line you make.37
Jonson here is doing something quite predictable: this is not the usual discourse of praise for a fellow writer; there is no possibility yet that a lady, even a published one, would be seen by Jonson as a colleague or rival. He is condescending, politely, even with some genuine admiration for an unusual achievement, and he is containing Wroth within the erotic discourse of Petrarchism, where Wroth in fact interpellated herself in her writing as in her choice of portrait token, the archlute of the Penshurst painting. Thus to Jonson, Wroth's poems are an eccentric projection of her female body, and there is no language left outside this embodiment to hold within critical dialogue, as he would with male poets. But this "compliment" further eroticizes Wroth in that it ignores her discriminations in the Pamphilia to Amphilanthus sonnets, made in some instances between a pure and idealist Cupid and a court-corrupt and sensual Venus:
O Cupid! lett thy mother know her shame
'Tis time for her to leave this youthful flame
Which doth dishoner her, is ages blame,
And takes away the greatnes of thy name.
Thou God of love, she only Queene of lust,
Yett strives by weakning thee, to be unjust .38
We cannot be certain which of Mary Wroth's poems Jonson had read when he wrote his tribute: an unknown number were in circulation before their final compilation into the sequence appended to Urania in 1621. George Parfitt, in his edition of Jonson's poems, suggests that his phrase "Venus' ceston" may be a reference to Wroth's Crowne of Sonnets 39 Yet that is the site of her most explicit arguments against Venus. Perhaps Jonson did not read too closely or chose to ignore such personal modifications of tradition: what is certain is that in these lines Jonson registers Wroth as conscripted by Venus regardless of her frequent moral negotiations with Venus/Desire within the poems he claims to praise. One is irresistibly reminded of the medieval chanson d aventure situation, where the knight riding out to play and overhearing a dark and bitter female lament registers the sound as sweet and pretty, its speaker being a "mirie may" whatever she happens to have said.
I offer this formulation of the impulses implicit in female persona lyrics: as women may not speak about love and sex directly, male poets appropriate a double license, firstly to represent women speaking and singing erotic verse, thus fetishizing the female voice as encouraged by Petrarchism, and secondly to write the words they may imagine these singing women singing. This leads to the construction, in the complaint tradition, of the voice of the usual object of address, and in the bawdier Ovidian tradition, of "playmates," such as the experienced wife, the witty opponent, the manipulative virgin, or the sexually awakened child. While the plainant, spurned or seduced, authorizes the power of the seducer and the weakness of the female lover, the speakers of our three poems voice the power of the sexual fantasy of unlimited pleasure. But if Jacobean female persona poems are in some slight way a response to the idea of women writing poetry themselves, the response registers as an ambiguous and multivocal discourse. Jonson, Donne, and Campion offer developments of stereotyped voices, constructions of male fantasy inscribed from classical times onward, doing so in poems in which these voices perform a brief and shocking song of the body. This opens up the cultural gendering that produced them in the way made possible by dramatic performance, even the thin presence of performance invoked by song and the use of personae. That these songs were not in any sense "for women" does not mean they may not have been heard in surprising ways. The "Wife" poems offer, most obviously to male readers and performers, the freshness of evasion of the negativities and frustration of the Petrarchan Lady. Sung or read in the presence of women, the consciousness aroused by the mutual play of fantasy between text and reader may well have nudged the irony of these erotic apologies into its familiar role of registering social unease.
An interesting circle of response among male writers and the handful of educated, writing women in the pre-civil war years suggests itself: female personae, in drama and lyric, represent an increasing eroticization; in reaction, a few women, beginning to write, distance themselves from this convention by constructing their writing selves in a frame of serious and chaste instruction (the tone of the aggressive, rather selfrighteous piety of Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum; the moralistic idealizing of Wroth's Crowne of Sonnets); the response of the literary establishment to this entry of women into literary publication is to intensify the containment of "women" within the sentimental and erotic. Such speculation may have nothing to offer to careful criticism and observation of the literary/historical relations of the period, but as a speculation it points to where work would be valuable. We need more answers to the containing question "How did women readers receive Renaissance lyric?" Until we have them we can only outline approaches and suggestions as to what, at this most interesting literary moment, it was like to hear these artistic, musical, literary forms and voices so amusingly offered "in the person of womankind," with all their concealed strategies of threat and invitation.
University of Leicester