Title: Renaissance Women Poets
Genre: Classics / Poetry
Date: 2001 (1500s)
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Started: 26th March 2018
Completed: 26th March 2018
Summary: Social convention may have prevented Renaissance women writers from openly taking part in the political and religious debates of their day, but they found varied and innovative ways to intervene. Collecting the work of three great poets – Isabella Whitney, Mary Sidney, and Aemilia Lanyer – this volume repositions women writers of the Renaissance by presenting their poems in the context of their history and culture.
This collection by Penguin focuses on three female writers from the English Renaissance: Isabella Whitney (c.1545-c.1577), Mary Sidney (1561-1621), and Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645). The collection features a very short biography and selected works of each poet. It also includes a very useful timeline.
This review focuses more on the composition of the collection rather than the poetry in it because I’d just spend 1,000 words babbling about how much a love all of the poetry. So, I guess my rating would be 5/5 for the poetry but 4/5 for the collection.
The section on Isabella Whitney contains most of her poetical works including A Sweet Nosegay (1573) and The Copy of a letter (1567). There’s a substantial amount of poetry featured here but I was confused as to why Penguin decided to put A Sweet Nosegay before The Copy of a letter since that’s not in chronological order. A Sweet Nosegay shows a change in Whitney’s writing and personality from The Copy of a letter and it would have been nice to see that progression highlighted in the collection. The collection also includes Whitney’s mock will Her Will and Testament which has two sections and ensured Whitney’s status as a trendsetter.
I wrote a post about Mary Sidney a couple of weeks ago and I featured some of her poetry in that post. This collection focuses mostly on her work in the Sidney Psalms (aka, the Sidney Psalter) which she created with her brother, Sir Philip Sidney. It also includes the first two chapters of Sidney’s translation of Petrarch’s Trionfo della Morte/The Triumph of Death which I think is a really interesting poem. I do wish that they’d included less of the Psalms and more of her other poetry though.
The last section of the book features the poetry of Aemilia Lanyer and there’s not a lot of it compared to Sidney, unfortunately. The collection concentrates on Lanyer’s only published poetry collection from 1611, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews), and it’s an excellent collection of poetry. It’s the only work that can definitely be identified as Lanyer’s since she published it under her own name so I can understand why the collection only uses this work.
I love this collection but I do wish that Mary Sidney’s section was more varied and that Isabella Whitney’s section was in chronological order. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in female poets from this era or just poetry from the English Renaissance. It was unusual for women to be published poets during this era and they’re all incredibly fascinating and talented women.
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