An Apology for Knowledge: Gender and the Hermeneutics of Incarnation in the Works of Aemilia Lanyer and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
B. R. Siegfried
Brigham Young University

Siegfried, B. R.. "An Apology for Knowledge: Gender and the Hermeneutics of Incarnation in the Works of Aemilia Lanyer and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.3 (January, 2001): 5.1-47 <URL:

It is not permitted to a woman, though she be very wise and prudent, to pleade a cause before a Juge, furthermore they be repelled in jurisdiction, in arbiterment, in adoption, in intercession, in procuration, or to be gardeyns or tutours in causes testamentary and criminall.

Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, 1542 [1]

  1. In The Parable of the Wicked Mammon William Tyndale opines that "in Christ we are all of one degree, without respect of persons," and he illustrates his point by invoking an example in which gender roles provide the backdrop for a particular division of labour. There is "difference between washing of dishes and preaching the word of God," he writes, "but as touching to please God, none at all." [2] In early modern works that take up the defence of women, writers would sometimes literalise such statements, insisting on the interchangeability of the tasks women might do to please God. The washing of dishes and the preaching of the word could both be construed as material expressions of devotion. Tyndale's pairing of mundane labour and prophetic endeavour suggests a lingering faith in the notion that the carnal realm of human endeavour could, in spite of its many failings, be a conduit for the expression of the divine mystery. [3] Also discernable is an awareness of a relationship between the concrete embodiment of the believer, and the more abstract and therefore ineffable character of the Word. The mystery of Christ's Incarnation is the hinge upon which the concrete and the abstract both swing, opening up interpretative possibilities of which religious writers were quick to take advantage.

  2. At least two women writers take up a rhetorical stance beneath the lintel of this theological portal: Aemilia Lanyer, an Elizabethan subject whose only remaining work, Salve Deus Rex Judeorum (1610), stands as an exemplar of early modern feminist apologia, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a cloistered scholar in the Americas whose La Respuesta (1691) [4] is even more famous for its defence of female scholarship. Admittedly, a chasm of difference separates the two writers: one is Protestant and English, the other is Catholic and Spanish; the English woman resides in the Old World, the Spanish nun inhabits the New; the former publishes her defence of women at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the latter sends her writing into circulation at the terminus of the same. [5]

  3. The differences between the two women are worth a moment of consideration, for it is in spite of such distinctions that they develop their twin theological propositions. Aemilia Bassano Lanyer was the daughter of Baptist Bassano, a court musician. By the age of eighteen she had become the mistress of Henry Cary, Lord Hundson, who was Elizabeth Tudor's Lord Chamberlain. Due to pregnancy, by the age of twenty three she was married to Alfonso Lanyer. The diary of Simon Forman, one of the few documentary sources which gives us some sense of Lanyer's private concerns, suggests that she went into the marriage with some wealth, but that her new husband quickly went through what she had, leaving her in debt. [6] Lanyer spent considerable energy attempting to regain some semblance of her former social status, and scholars tend to read the dedications to various aristocratic women as a bid for patronage. Moreover, the Salve Deus was completed seven years after Queen Elizabeth's death, during the reign of James I; it was published at the peak of court enthusiasm over issues of biblical translation and exegesis, a court presided over by a king who characterised himself as the standard bearer of the protestant reformation. Indeed, within a year, the King James Bible would follow Lanyer's little book into print. Thus, although we know little of the reception of her work, we do know that the poem was published in a context of lively theological discussion, advanced at least partly as a bid for patronage, and urged as an argument for taking women seriously as thinkers, interpreters, and poets. [7]

  4. In contrast to Lanyer's course, which would include widowhood, time spent teaching, parenting her son, legal woes, and the death of a baby daughter, Juana's path was strewn with patronage and appreciation in an early career at court, benefits that would help secure for her the opportunity to spend her days in artistic and intellectual endeavours. In spite of being an illegitimate child, Juana Remírez y Asbaje became the lady-in-waiting to Doña Leonor Carreto, Vicereine of New Spain, and Marquise de Mancera. The documentary evidence of Juana's popularity is plentiful, her success apparently the result of both physical beauty and a brilliant mind. In spite of gender norms which discouraged women from engaging in the "masculine" pursuit of writing, Juana generated a wealth of poetry and found that her work was as popular at court as she. Her intellectual ambitions grew as swiftly as her reputation for brilliance, and she surprised many when, as Octavio Paz puts it, "at that moment, just when her learning and her wit had captured the admiration of the learned and of court society, adulated for her beauty and cleverness, at nineteen years of age, she entered the convent." [8] Although her first encounter with convent life in 1666 was not to her taste (she went back to court after three months with the Carmelites), she entered a less rigorous order before she was twenty-one. Her fame grew, her influence grew, and by the time she wrote La Respuesta twenty-two years later, Sor Juana had considerable literary and social stature. [9]

  5. In spite of having achieved the literary success and court patronage which seems to have eluded Lanyer, regardless of a generation's span of historical change, and notwithstanding the vast differences between their respective languages and cultures, Sor Juana would come up against the same gender bias which Lanyer addressed in the Salve Deus: the still-shared exegetical tradition of seeing Eve as temptress, a tradition in which women's desire for knowledge was seen as the genesis of carnality. Women's intellection was thus associated with fleshly appetite, an interpretation which licensed social restrictions regarding women's bodies and minds. [10] Not surprisingly, Lanyer and Juana choose to turn the theological debate back on itself by emphasising the need for "the cultivation of bodily experience as a place for encounter with meaning, a locus of redemption," a particularly adept manoeuvre given that Christianity's "central tenet was that the divine had chosen to offer redemption by becoming flesh." [11]

  6. In short, while differences between women of different cultures and traditions must be carefully considered, this essay explores the possibility that placing the English and Spanish poets together provides the same opportunities for new insight that an analysis of two English women or two Spanish women might provide; or, to take Barbara Lewalski slightly out of context, "Their texts illuminate and contextualize one another, inviting the perception of common patterns." [12] Cultural materialists are right to urge restraint when working with such generalisations; yet appropriate restraint should not block the recognition and analysis of cross-cultural strands of gender ideology. Cultures and micro-historical periods are not hermetic, nor are they unrelated to one another.

  7. I am also loath to ignore the individual agency of real women in relation to communal structures of epistemological decorum. Indeed, as Tina Krontiris has aptly argued, "to speak about [an] author's personal skill (e.g., ingenuity and critical discernment) is not to underestimate the effect of discursive formations on her writing. On the contrary, it is precisely because these formations were very strong that great personal skill was required to counter them." [13] A discursive formation which crosses international boundaries and a generation of social change would thus be a particularly powerful frame within which to view the ingenuity of two separate writers. In short, this discussion situates both women within their respective matrixes of seventeenth century culture and society, and in relation to theological and literary traditions which they employ and alter--a method meant to respect difference while allowing us to appreciate the "common patterns" developed in the works of both English and Spanish women writers.

  8. Indeed, Lanyer's Salve Deus and Sor Juana's La Respuesta share strikingly similar features. [14] Both writers display a serious preoccupation for the ways in which material experience might become a mode for expressing poetically a sense of inspired possibility, and both link that possibility to a vigorous defence of women's desire for knowledge. As part of this strategy, both writers develop a thematics of genealogy which, because genealogies link divine will and knowledge with the flesh of humankind, recognises female authority and potential. This is further developed in the work of both writers by extended puns on the act of conception (which is to be pregnant with life and/or intelligence), a state of holiness or blessedness unique to woman and to Christ. Moreover, they conflate the ravishing force of Christ's beauty with the desire that drives female intellection, a strategy that exposes negative attitudes toward women's scholarly inquiry as an improper response to an expression of grace. Finally, each spins a thematic epiphany out of studied gender reversals, as Lanyer dons the rhetorical cloth of a sermonising prelate, and Sor Juana defrocks a discursively cross-dressed male critic.


  9. Aemilia Lanyer pointedly divides the Salve Deus into four parts--"The Passion of Christ," "Eves Apologie in defence of Women," "The Teares of the Daughters of Jerusalem," and "The Salutation and Sorrow of the Virgine Marie"--and each of these segments contributes dramatic detail for the delineation and amplification of a genealogy of women. [15] While more generally this pattern of spiritual inheritance and lineage challenges negative caricatures of women found in many of the popular and religious writings of Lanyer's day, more specifically, it links bodily experience to modes of spiritual power, and fuses female intellection with the Incarnation of the Word. In this manner, Lanyer's retelling of women's exercise of sanctified authority is not merely a rehashing of favorite rhetorical flourishes warmed over from previous writings in the Querelle des Femmes; rather, it fashions a compelling narrative framework through which knowledge, as women's special inheritance from Eve, can be viewed as sharing the same spectrum of redemptive potential as Christ's beauty.

  10. My intention here is not to detail all of the ways in which this genealogy is developed in the poem. Rather, before going directly to the passages that seem most concerned with the relationship between the Incarnation and the redemptive value of knowledge, I turn to the prose brackets that embrace the four poetic segments outlined by Lanyer, a turn meant to demonstrate the rhetorical finesse with which the poet manipulates genre expectations to good thematic and theological effect. As I will shortly demonstrate, "To the Vertuous Reader" overtly echoes and to some extent parodies the predominantly male discourse of sixteenth and seventeenth century sermon and homily. Furthermore, that Lanyer unabashedly parades her gender as she delivers the sermon suggests a self-conscious display of her female intellect finely apparelled in what the culture considered to be masculine discourse. This would not have been much of a stretch for Lanyer, especially given the degree to which male writers often went much further, metaphorizing their own poetic endeavours in terms of strictly female experience. [16]

  11. Indeed, the analogy between words and attire was a commonplace in sixteenth and seventeenth century rhetorics. [17] Erasmus, for instance, not only uses the analogy, but refers to the implications regarding gender roles as well. "The practice of giving variety to expression is exactly like changing clothes," he writes, and then goes on to opine that "it would be ludicrous to have a man go out in public dressed like a woman, and objectionable to see a person wearing his clothes back to front or upsidedown." Those who cannot equip themselves with appropriate rhetorical style

    will be no less ridiculous (in my opinion, at any rate) than a beggar who has not got even one garment that he can decently put on, but keeps changing his clothes and coming out in public draped with different sets of rags, ostentatiously displaying not riches but penury. [18]

    Similarly, Hoby's translation of Castiglione's work, The Courtier (1561), underscores the extent to which one's choice of words, like one's pick of apparel, indicates taste, status, intellectual ingenuity, and personal style. Likewise, Spenser's Faerie Queene (1590) makes thematic use of the same analogy when a cross dressed Britomart engages with and transforms Busyrane's "straunge writ" in order to free Amoret. In short, Lanyer could count on an audience familiar with the notion that one's discursive accouterments could be seen as authoritatively establishing one's place, be it high or low. With this particular cut of cultural cloth in mind, Lanyer measures for herself a prose piece with which she will authoritatively suit herself before moving to the more musical segment of her poetic endeavour.

  12. The discursive robes of ecclesiastical privilege are more than simply a rhetorical gesture towards exegetical authority; Lanyer's rhetorical "habit" marks a distinctive stance, a stance that dramatises the intimate relation between cerebral reflection and material experience. To put it another way, the garb of sermoniser makes possible a rich sensory-aesthetic texture and pattern, a pattern partly made up of amplification and argumentation (which are, to some extent, modes of interpretation), and constitute the means by which Lanyer's exegetical ingenuity will be employed on behalf of poetry's spiritual potential. As Vernon K. Robbins suggests,

    An interpreter's identification of different "types" of literature (overall texts) and different "forms" in literature (shorter forms like proverb, riddle, or parable) is an initial insight into different sensory-aesthetic textures. Thus, a letter has a different sensory-aesthetic texture than a historical account, and a philosophical essay has a different sensory-aesthetic texture than a letter. [19]

    Indeed, a sermon has a different sensory-aesthetic texture from a simple expostulation against woman-bashing, and we do well to attend to that difference if we are to appreciate the rhetorical finesse with which Lanyer handles her poetic project. [20]

  13. The preface begins with a condemnation tightly stitched to praise--a common characteristic of many pulpit exhortations where a condemnation of human sin is linked to praise of God's goodness. Lanyer has heard "that it is the property of some women, not only to emulate the virtues and perfections of the rest, but also by all their powers of ill speaking, to eclipse the brightness of their deserved fame." [21] In the manner of courtesans who ape the latest mode while criticising others who attempt the same, such women end up mocking themselves. Lanyer hastily adds that perhaps this is not so much the action of ill-willed women as an unjust charge dumped at women's feet by ill-mannered men. By singling out a particular strand of social practice, Lanyer demonstrates that the effects of such discourse have been to invent a female subjectivity that acts as a bad conscience or "soul," as a "prison house" on the minds of women.

  14. However, women are to take appropriate responsibility for representing one another to the world, and her own book, meant to be "in commendation of some particular persons" of her own sex, will set the fashion. This commendation, she insists, is intended to be more than simple compliment:

    And this have I done, to make knowne to the world, that all women deserve not to be blamed though some [are] . . . in danger to be condemned by the words of their owne mouthes, fall[ing] into so great an errour, as to speake unadvisedly against the rest of their sex.(48)

    In other words, her work is meant to compliment representative women as a means of facing down both negative female representations and the feminine false consciousness that participates in their transmission. The transmission of knowledge about women is the key here, for genealogies are made up of what cultures choose to note and pass on, thus remembering. As she will argue later in her poem, memory and poetic imagination are often the spur to prophetic utterance, just as false tradition and corrupt desire impede inspiration. A true memory is one that includes the history of women, and an understanding of that history is urged as the prelude to further knowledge from heaven.

  15. In this sermon, if women are to be condemned justly for anything, it ought to be for "nothing more" than speaking "unadvisedly against the rest of their [own] sexe." In other words, the only specifically gendered sin for which women ought to suffer is the sin of speaking disrespectfully of one another--women are most to be condemned, if at all, for intentional lapses in female solidarity in the face of defamation. In a swift reversal of focus, Lanyer again suggests the underlying culpability of men; these lapses in sisterhood can be traced to the influence of "evill disposed men" who "doe like Vipers deface the wombes wherein they were bred, onely to give way and utterance to their want of discretion and goodnesse." Such men are too forgetful of the fact that if it were not "by the means of women, they would be quite extinguished out of the world, and a finall ende of them all." In singling out and lingering on this behaviour, Lanyer invokes the typical first stage of a sermon: the recognition and condemnation of sin and a call to repentance.

  16. The rhetorical shift from the call to female solidarity to a feminine alliance with the King of Heaven signals Lanyer's development of a second stage of condemnation. We learn that men who are disrespectful of women are of the same ilk as "were they that dishonoured Christ his Apostles and Prophets, putting them to shameful deaths." In this manner, Lanyer loudly echoes a key passage in the Anglican Homilie against Disobedience and Wilful Rebellion (1570), which asserts that "pryde, envie, wrath, covetousness, sloth, gluttonie and lecherie" are the same which stirred "luciferian pryde" in those "who would to have murthered Christ Jesus, our Lord." [22] This most common of pulpit conventions, the metaphorical binding of those who practise particular vices or sins to the New Testament culprits involved in attempted deicide, verges on parody--verges, I suggest, because rather than let the moment become simply humorous, Lanyer sets it teetering between sarcasm and earnest expostulation.

  17. This is not a subtle gesture. The doubtful reader is put in the awkward position of having either to submit to Lanyer's revision of gender in relation to obedience, or to be implicated in luciferian rebellion. She reminds her reader that Christ's suffering, and the blatant cruelty which provoked that suffering, must be traced to powerful men who abused God, ignored God's authority, and had no real authority of their own. Lanyer notes that those who would dishonour Christ also always dishonour Christ's chosen messengers--especially the prophets.

  18. The long tradition of female subordination is thus aligned with the equally long tradition of martyrdom and suffering as recounted in both old and new testaments of the bible. Patriarchal tradition itself is implicated in ungodliness and is neatly undercut as a reliable source of moral authority, a careful tailoring of religious commonplaces represented in works such as A Fruiteful Exhortacion to the Readying of Holye Scripture which declares,

    Let us diligently searche for the welle of life in the bokes of the New and Old Testament, and not ronne to the stinking podelles of mennes tradicions, devised by mannes imaginacion for our justificacion and salvacion. (Certain Sermons, 61)

    By emphasizing and particularizing the use of gender in authorised patterns of religious exhortation ("mennes tradicions" and "mannes imaginacion"), Lanyer demonstrates that the seemingly moral claims which support female subordination cannot be founded on the long history of that oppression any more than the persecution of the saints can be considered cause for assuming their suffering to have been deservedly proper. Deftly, and not without humour, Lanyer strategically amplifies the same texts used to urge female subordination, thus undoing the "tradicions" that have been the foundation of male privilege.

  19. Adjusting her rhetorical robes to fit more convincingly, Lanyer moves to an explication of Holy Writ, an interpretative act which will oppose and correct the "stinking podelles of men's tradicion" by invoking the genealogy of female prophet-leaders. Having implicated the tradition of patriarchal governance as a facilitating mechanism in the attempt to assassinate God, she asserts that the only thing which prevents evil from running rampant is the power "given to wise and vertuous women" by "God himselfe" to "bring downe [men's] pride and arrogancie." The female lineage is aligned with God's will and set in opposition to the abusive practices of patriarchy. Indeed, the examples of female power she marshals from the ranks of Old Testament figures advance a very specific notion of how the arrogance of evil men is to be levelled, and how female prophets will participate in that action.

  20. We are told that "noble Deborah, Judge and Prophetesse of Israel" brought down Sisera through her "discreet counsell." The next line dramatises the power of the female solidarity which Lanyer has so energetically extolled as she replays the routing of Sisera's armies by Deborah in conjunction with the success of another woman, Jael, who managed to hammer a tent peg through Sisera's head. The combined efforts of Deborah and Jael resulted in the destruction of the enemy and the material redemption of Israel. And the list of women's triumphs does not end there. Haman, Lanyer reminds us, was hanged after being exposed by Hester's resourceful word-trap; and "the invincible courage, rare wisdome, and confident carriage of Judith" results in the demise of another dangerous man, Holofernes. Finally, not to waste even the traditional figurations of female authority, the sheer strength of Susanna's reputation for virtue becomes the touchstone which reveals the corruption of civil authorities who are then executed.

  21. I linger on what might otherwise seem an obvious strategy on Lanyer's part in order to emphasise the nature of the challenge she mounts. Genealogies are less about origins than about method; a genealogy is, in its broadest sense, a method--a narrative recounting of micro-struggle and gaps, of individuals in relation to cultural value--a method for embedding knowledge in the flesh of humankind. In other words, its common concerns are knowledge, power and the body, and to invoke a lineage is to call up all three categories at once. In this sense, the narrative development of a female lineage will necessarily introduce and gender the concept of Incarnation, for a genealogy is the conflation of the written word with remembered bodies and their actions. In addition, we might say that genealogy is a question of two processes: descent and emergence. Indeed, the descent and emergence typified in Lanyer's genealogy of women is meant to be the forebear (the antecedent and, as we will see, the begetter) of God's incarnation and resurrection, the divine expression of descent and emergence. [23]

  22. We see this theological perspective on genealogies developed further as Lanyer argues that the power God gives to wise and virtuous women is not derivative and passive; it is the executive power of prophetic command and judicial execution. Such women defend justice and the lives of those who obey God, and terminate the oppressive rule of those whose corrupt ambition for dominion puts others at risk. By parading these death-dealing women before us, women whose actions are approved by God, Lanyer roundly takes to task those who would deny the judicial and legislative nature of these women's involvement in history. In contrast to John Knox, for instance, who had insisted that these biblical heroines did not exercise civil authority--their job was to "rebuke . . . idolatry," "exhort [Israel] to repentance" and to "bring . . . comfort" [24]--Lanyer insists that these women directed, judged, ruled, and executed not by sweet persuasion but by firm decree of God's will and authority. Women's political authority is thus firmly fastened to their previously explicated prerogative to grant or refuse the continuance of all humankind, to make "a finall ende of them all." Reading women aright is linked to divine truth, which in turn is figured as women's power of conception both procreative and intellectual.

  23. If the first two illustrations of women's peculiar authority were insufficient for a clear picture of the divine heritage Lanyer intends to illustrate, she has yet another brush stroke with which to enhance and clarify the sketch. Still in the garb of exegete, Lanyer urges contemplation of women's special relationship to God, and the next segment of her sermon purposefully spins to new effect works such as An Exhortacion to Obedience. Written to be read regularly over the pulpit, the Exhortacion serves up a homiletic commonplace, the depiction of a woman who, in spite of terrible pain and unfortunate circumstance, demonstrates an absolute dedication to God through her perfect obedience:

    And here let us not forget the blessed virgin Maries obedience, for although she was highly in Gods favor and Christes naturall mother, and was also great with chylde that same time, and so nigh her travaile that she was delivered in her journey, yet she gladly, without any excuse or grudgying, for conscience sake did take that could and foule winter journey. (Certain Sermons, 168-9).

    The homily goes on to explain that such patterns of obedience "please God," provide order, "reste, and quietnesse here in this worlde" (170). In stark contrast to the homily's suggestion that Mary is a somewhat passive vessel for the divine will, Lanyer's portrait puts Mary and female authority squarely at the centre of the divine mystery of the Incarnation, where sacred word and sanctified flesh are one:

    it pleased our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, without the assistance of man, beeing free from originall and all other sinnes, from the time of his conception, till the houre of his death, to be begotten of a woman, borne of a woman, nourished of a woman, obedient to a woman; and that he healed woman, pardoned women, comforted women: yea, even when he was in his greatest agonie and bloodie sweat, going to be crucified, and also in the last houre of his death, tooke care to dispose of a woman: after his resurection, appeared first to a woman, sent a woman to declare his most glorious resurrection to the rest of his Disciples. (49-50)

    What in the homilies is characterised as the submissive commitment of Mary to Christ, in Lanyer's preface is reconfigured as the redemptive ordering brought about through Christ's respectful mindfulness of--and commitment to--women. [25] Indeed, Lanyer insists that God and womankind share a sacramental reciprocity, a graphic delineation of spiritual emergence in which females contribute to the Incarnation of Deity even as God breathes Divine authority into women.

  24. By this point, we should not be surprised to find that a typical rhetorical convention of sermonic closure emerges at the end of Lanyer's preface. Any listener who feels uncomfortable with the condemnation and correction proffered by the sermon must know, as the Fruitefull Exhortacion urges, that

    surely none bee enemies . . . to Gods Worde, but such as either be so ignoraunt that thei knowe not how wholsome a thyng it is, or els be so sicke that thei hate the most comfortable medicine that should heale them, or so ungodly that thei would wishe the people still to continue in blindness and ignoraunce. (66)

    Lanyer puts a slightly more positive spin on the same point. What virtue or "excellent dispositions" her audience possesses will aid them in giving her work "their favourable and best interpretations." Because it is God's truth, they must not "quench it by wrong constructions." This conflation of right interpretation and spiritual receptivity grants scripture and poetry redemptive roles while dismissing as "blindness" and "ignoraunce" any arbitrary adherence to a set of instituted dogmas and doctrines used to oppress women.

  25. By donning the robes of pulpit rhetoric, a theatrical masculine stance meant to accentuate her female authority, Lanyer collapses the familiar figure of the religious orator into the dramatic convention of the prognosticating chorus. This gesture allows her to bring into relief the dramatic parameters of the poem that follows, emphasising her own prophetic stance while preparing her readers to attend to the sights and sounds--the sensory-aesthetic texture--that the subsequent language is meant to invoke. To put it another way, her cross-discoursed stance not only authorises Lanyer to take her place in the biblical genealogy of heroines, it also cues readers to the demeanour requisite for their own mental revolution of memory and imagination in the poetic experience which follows.

  26. In short, the preface parades the character of women's authority in the discursive costume of a divine; conflates repentance with acceptance of a revised religious history in which women play heroic roles; foregrounds the body of the poetic speaker, the lineage of prophetic women, and the figure of Mary as signs of the sacramental reciprocity between Christ and womankind; and advances interpretation in the act of reading as a means of accessing divine knowledge. In short, the prose which brackets the body of the poem sets up a sophisticated hermeneutics of gendered reading; it frames the Incarnation in terms of a genealogy meant to hold the reader's imagination in the theological vice of paradox--in "Wondrer," as George Puttenham puts it. [26] Furthermore, this sense of wonder is requisite for the coming poetic elaboration of the biblical passage where Christ is judged, condemned, and crucified. [27]

  27. The segment Lanyer refers to as "Eve's Apology in defense of Women" dramatises Christ's trial before Pilate as a frame through which to view Eve's desire for knowledge. In this passage, Pilate and Adam form a duo meant to figure all men, while women are represented by the trio of Pilate's prophetic wife, who dreams of Christ's innocence and prophetically warns her husband against proceeding wrongfully; Eve, who prefigures the female desire to gain and share knowledge; and Jesus, who stands before Pilate as the great touchstone of social equity. As in the preface, here, too, a woman "incarnates" and "delivers the logos: the wife of Pilate 'labours' to save Christ more than any of his disciples, becoming the single person at Christ's trial committed to correctly representing him" (Richey 66). She is the only one present who reads Christ aright, as the Word made flesh. By this authorised reading she can then proffer an interpretation of Eve as a woman who desires knowledge in order to be like God; she can also contrast that innocent act with Adam's desire to feed a carnal appetite.

  28. The speaker goes on to point out that whereas men have used Eve's innocent ambition as an excuse for female subordination, women will have far more cause to blame all men for an act of malice aimed against God: "Then let us have our Libertie againe / And challenge to your selves no Sov'raigntie / . . . . Your fault beeing greater, why should you disdaine / Our beeing your equals, free from tyranny?" She concludes with a powerful equational inversion: "If one weake woman simply did offend / This sinne of yours, hath no excuse, nor end"(ll. 825-832). As Brenda Powell points out, this signals an important reversal, for it "figures male dominance over females into a formula whose other term is God-murder" and affiliates female subservience "with the worst kind of blasphemy." [28]

  29. Bear in mind that Pilate's wife is not present, but--as Christ stands before Pilate in silence--voices her argument and prophetic warning through a letter. Christ stands in proxy for Eve; Eve's daughter is mouthpiece for God; the written word represents both. Once again, right reading--and more particularly, the reception of women's writing and the knowledge it brings--is asserted as integral to the mystery of the Incarnation. Given that Lanyer has taken care to linger on Christ's beauty in passages that overtly instruct readers to look for divine knowledge, women's learning can be seen as an expression of godly demeanour. Indeed, if Lanyer's upbringing among musicians is anywhere apparent, it is here: the stereophonic character of this moment skilfully aligns the body of Christ with the intellection of womankind, a sacramental bracket that makes life possible--for none, argues the nameless wife, can come into "the world without our paine."

  30. With this passage Lanyer not only illustrates the extent to which what we hear transforms and mediates what we see and visa versa (a favourite theme of conversion in Paul's letters to the Corinthians), she also emphasises the extent to which our "vision" can be transformed. The preface gave us a distinct picture of women's heritage as prophetic authorities; the first segment of the poem proffered a clear sketch of Christ's redemptive mission and suffering in Gethsemane. This later passage takes those two distinct images and sets them together in the manner of lenses, so that their juxtaposition provides the viewer/reader with the effect of solidity or depth--a stereoscopic strategy of amplification meant to render a poetic sense of revelatory experience. To put it another way, this is a moment where the senses (sight, sound) become the conduits for sacred insight.

  31. Indeed, this masterful handling of imagery also furnishes a narrative version of a stereopticon. The simultaneous pairing of figures--the narrator Lanyer and the narrator wife, Eve and Christ, Adam and Pilate, Eve and Pilate's Wife, Pilate's Wife and the "poore soules" of all womankind--are set up so as to produce dissolving views of each, thus establishing their intimate proximity in ethical and moral terms while yet maintaining their respective and distinctive roles. Rendering such insights through the musicality of poetic rhythms--the primary instrument for the modulation of these various sensory-aesthetic textures--Lanyer helps her audience to discern various modes of Incarnation. The distinction between imagined sensations and cerebral reflection quickly collapses in the dramatic moment, even as Eve's desire for knowledge merges with the image of Christ as the Word. [29]

  32. When placed in the larger narrative context--including the poem's frequent allusions to the canticles, where the love songs of a wise king come to figure the desire for knowledge in terms of divine intimacy; and the several explicit and implicit invocations of the Queen of Sheba, renowned for her intellectual and spiritual magnificence, and referred to by Christ as one who would return to judge Israel (Matt.12:41)--this passage ultimately displays a serious preoccupation with the ways in which material experience might become a mode for expressing poetically a sense of inspired possibility. More importantly, it aligns the redemptive force of Christ's beauty with the desire that drives female intellection (ll. 1305-1320), a strategy that exposes misogynist treatments of women as heretical.

  33. Knowledge, construed as women's inheritance from Eve, emerges as a mantle of sanctified authority--and Lanyer ends her poetical endeavour by reminding us that she wears that mantle. The poem ends with the mate to the prose bracket of the preface: the prose note, "To the doubtfull Reader", which is a reminder that the narrator is a particular women wearing a particular cut of cloth. She tells us that "long before" she actually wrote the poem, she dreamed the title of it, and "thinking it a significant token, that I was appointed to performe this Worke, I gave the very same words I received in sleepe as the fittest Title I could devise for this Booke" (139). Her prophetic conclusion matches the genealogical preface: one delineates the contours of women's past, the other reminds us of women's power to envision the future. Both advance a hermeneutics of inheritance that aligns women's writing with the Word made flesh, a melding of past and future meant to invoke a sense of the Infinite.


  34. Over forty years after Aemilia Lanyer was buried, New Spain's most prodigious literary figure to wear the habit would pen her famous defence of women and their right to engage in scholarly (and especially theological) debate. Sor Juana's writing is famous for clever turns of phrase, parody, and ingenious conceits, and she would wield this facility with language to good effect in her prose defence of the female intellect as a legitimate platform from which to develop spiritual insight. Like Lanyer, the Spanish poet would invoke the biblical lineage of powerful women to authorise her own written work, but Sor Juana goes on to overtly set those figures off against the Pauline admonition that women should keep silent. Moreover, she insists that the beauty for which Christ was reviled is the light of intelligence, hence the similar experiences of knowledgeable women at the hands of ill disposed men. By invoking the act of interpretation as the touchstone by which the presence or lack of moral judgement is revealed, and by allowing that the act of conception (a pun on intellection and procreation) is uniquely divine and feminine, Sor Juana advances a gendered hermeneutics of Incarnation by which the Word is made flesh. Finally, while Lanyer rhetorically affected the masculine robes of ecclesiastical office, Sor Juana would defrock a discursively cross-dressed priest in order to dramatise her final insight.

  35. The context in which Sor Juana penned the Defence is worth noting. Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz, Bishop of Puebla in New Spain, published her critique of a Portuguese exegetical scholar and Jesuit, Antonio de Vieyra. In the published version of the critique, the bishop attached a prefatory letter from "Sor Filotea" to Sor Juana's document. In this letter the bishop takes on the guise of a sister nun of superior rank to castigate Sor Juana for presuming to engage in the unfeminine pastime of scriptural exposition and, what was worse, for brazenly producing a literary critique of male intellect (and its implied authority). La Respuesta is the long letter in which Sor Juana answers the bishop's complaints. Although initially playing the rhetorical game of pretending that the bishop is a woman, Sor Juana concludes the letter by unveiling the "she" as "he." In doing so she reveals the hypocrisy of limiting female discourse to cultural expectations of the traditionally feminine and suggests that such perverse and illogical limitations conflict with Christ's redemptive effort.

  36. Throughout this work Sor Juana demonstrates a profound concern for the function of language in relation to notions of transcendental truth. She recognizes the ideological nature of language, and its potential for coercion and liberation--in fact, she often toys with the functions of language, especially as a system of signifiers. Reminiscent of Lanyer's elaboration of the biblical conflation of Christ's redemptive beauty with the revelatory rapture of the Word, Sor Juana engages in a rhetorical pout that serves to divest her of culpability while demonstrating her understanding of the complexity of theological thought in relation to language:

    . . . as for this aptitude at composing verses . . . even should they be sacred verses -- what unpleasantness have they not caused me . . . .[A]t times I ponder how it is that a person who achieves high significance -- or rather, who is granted significance by God . . . is received as the common enemy . . . .and so they persecute that person . . . .What else but this could cause that furious hatred of the Pharisees against Christ? . . . O, unhappy eminence, exposed to so many risks! O sign and symbol, set on high as a target of envy and an object to be spoken against! [30]

    In the same way that Lanyer takes her place among the significant heroines in the female lineage set forth in the preface, Sor Juana openly acknowledges her own preeminence as scholar and poet, characterizing her intellectual skills as having been granted their "significance by God."

  37. Moreover, by invoking the sermon convention of seeing in one's own difficulties the suffering of Christ, Sor Juana is able to equate her own discursive projects with the work of God. Indeed, the biblical allusion to the first chapter of John allows her a manoeuvrability as poetically productive as Lanyer's: "the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . .And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." Sor Juana suggests that, as sign and symbol, Christ is vulnerable precisely insofar as his incarnation was taken as a limitation, a closed reading which shut down the life that was light. As her puns suggest, the possibility of infinity is found in a multitude of readings, a plurality of voices, all of which are contingent yet provide a perpetual source of new possibility. She writes, "In formal and speculative arts . . . far from interfering, [the broad variety of] subjects help one another, shedding light and opening a path from one to the next, by way of divergences and hidden links"(57). Study, then, is a habit as desirable as her religious vestments, the garb of potential spiritual insight.

  38. With a great deal of humour, and never losing sight of her purpose, she proclaims loudly her own relative ignorance even as she parades the revelatory nature of the speculative arts she so loves: "Well, and what then shall I tell you, my Lady, of the secrets of nature that I have learned while cooking? I observe that an egg becomes solid and cooks in butter or oil, and on the contrary that it dissolves in sugar syrup." In a parody of contemporary discourses on natural philosophy, she details the wide variety of observations to be made about the ways in which an egg can be cooked, and concludes by saying, with more than a hint of sarcasm,

    I shall not weary you with such inanities, which I relate simply to give you a full account of my nature, and I believe this will make you laugh. But in truth, my Lady, what can we women know, save philosophies of the kitchen? It was well put by Lupercio Leonardo that one can philosophize quite well while preparing supper. I often say, when I make these little observations, "Had Aristotle cooked, he would have written a great deal more." (75)

    Carefully padding her intellectual thesis with this humorous depiction of Aristotle fussing in the kitchen, Sor Juana alleviates the culturally perceived perils of a woman engaging in the speculative arts of philosophy and theology. [31]

  39. Indeed, Sor Juana makes both arts an extension of traditional women's roles. By collapsing the icon of male intellection (Aristotle) into common concerns with "preparing supper", she deflates somewhat the traditional reverence for masculine privilege and invites her audience to smile as she does so. [32] Suggesting authorial humility while providing a parry-riposte of cultural critique, her rhetorical use of gender reversals lengthens the spectrum of possibility within which the biblical lineage of powerful women may be seen. The bible is a key text, trumping Aristotle's writings, and portraying

    Deborah issuing laws, military as well as political, and governing the people among whom there were so many learned men. I see the exceedingly knowledgeable Queen of Sheba, so learned she dares to test the wisdom of the wisest of all men with riddles, without being rebuked for it; indeed, on this very account she is to become judge of the unbelievers.

    The reminder of two female biblical judges is meant to enhance the propriety of her own position as a theological judge of Vierya's sermon. She continues with a description of "so many and such significant women" that her readers will be hard pressed to deny the historical record, both biblical and gentile (77-79). Introducing these prophetic women by way of a humorous depiction of Aristotle strengthens the argument for female learning, and weakens--without denying--the tradition of male privilege.

  40. References to Aristotle and other historical thinkers also allow Sor Juana to link intellect to writing, books to inspired thought. Referring frequently to God as the "Great Author," Sor Juana elaborates on the ways in which poetic discourse incarnates Christ's ravishing force:

    If we consider Christ's bodily form, what quality could be more worthy of love than His divine beauty? What could bear off our hearts more powerfully? . . . . What could it do and move us to do, what could it not do or fail to move us to do, that unfathomable beauty through whose fair face, as through a polished glass, there shone unclouded the brilliant beams of Divinity? (64-65)

    Just as Lanyer had argued for the conceptual link between Christ's beauty and female intellection, so Juana asserts that the aesthetic pleasure of poetry is to be understood as inhabiting the same horizon of redemptive potential as the divine rapture, though necessarily of a lesser degree. Moreover, Sor Juana's defence of her gender is pointed: St. Teresa, Sor Juana goes on to argue, saw Christ's beauty and was compelled to attempt to recapture the experience of ecstasy within the poor parameters of language. That Teresa's work continued to have a beneficial effect on Christian readers in the late seventeenth century speaks to the value of even limited expression by women, and calls into questions the traditional reading of Paul's command that women "keep silence in the churches."

  41. Next, Sor Juana points out that Christ's divine beauty did not have this effect on men. Rather, his very loveliness compels them to seek his death. Within a few lines we learn that God's beauty is, in fact, intelligence, and it was for this that Christ was crucified. "Indeed," she writes, "the greater it is, the more modest and long-suffering intelligence becomes and defends itself less." Neatly recontextualising her own frequent expressions of modesty as the sign of high intellect and godly demeanour, Sor Juana asserts that it is "high intelligence" that suffers the most persecution, and for that reason was Christ given a crown of thorns:

    Why should the crown alone be painful? Was it not enough that, like the other insignia, it should be an emblem of scorn and mockery, since that was their aim? No, because the sacred head of Christ and His divine mind were the storehouse of wisdom. And in this world it is not enough that the wise mind be scorned; it must needs be wounded and beaten. (64-65)

    Thus, of the many things Christ suffered, the mockery of the "divine mind" is understood to be one of the worst, and signals, with Christ's other pains, the depravity of the wicked.

  42. Sor Juana then develops an extensive analogy between the suffering women have experienced as they sought learning, and Christ's suffering for his beauty of intellect. Noting that good men are inspired by the knowledge of wise women for the same reasons that they accept Christ's beauty, she catalogues a variety of famous female figures whose intellectual prowess made them the object of male devotion. Quoting from Jerome, she invokes a startling image of a man whose attempts at signification delimit his own finitude even while gesturing toward the infinite potential for godliness available through learned discourse with a woman: "If all the parts of my body were tongues, they would not suffice to proclaim the learning and virtues of Paula," he says (79). Ultimately, she situates the figure of the wise woman in the same position that the Divine inhabits in discourse, in the space between the signifier and the signified, the place of interpretation and endless potential.

  43. Indeed, this passage is meant to silence those who would silence women. Drawing on Dr. Arce, a biblical scholar of considerable repute, she points out that there is a problem with the traditional reading of Paul's injunction to silence, for in other letters the apostle mentions with approbation "women . . . in holy attire" who are "teaching well." She concludes that such contradictions do not suggest that all women should be allowed to teach, "but only those whom God may have seen fit to endow with special virtue and prudence, and who are very mature and erudite and possess the necessary talents and requirements for such a sacred occupation." However, rather than allowing these women to be seen as an exception to the norm of male privilege, she continues,

    And so just is this distinction that not only women, who are held to be so incompetent, but also men, who simply because they are men think themselves wise, are to be prohibited from the interpretation of the Sacred Word, save when they are most learned, virtuous, of amenable intellect and inclined to the good . . . .For wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul. (81)

    For Sor Juana, the act of interpretation sets apart the "malicious soul" from those who recognize Christ's beauty as the light of intelligence, and wise women dominate the ranks of the latter.

  44. Like Lanyer, Sor Juana will further develop this theme by echoing the Song of Solomon as theological shorthand, for the canticles are songs in which aesthetic pleasure is meant to flood and transform intellectual endeavour, bringing both into sacred intimacy with the Divine. In addition to this, Sor Juana will complicate notions of certainty by invoking the idiosyncratic nature of grammar in relation to gender reversals. Both strategies are crowned by a dramatic rhetorical flourish in which a final gender reversal is made to reveal the fundamental hypocrisy of men who would deny women access to learning.

  45. After listing a variety of paradoxes to be found in biblical studies, paradoxes which would logically prohibit any theologian from assuming a final reading of any scripture, she concludes:

    Very well, and in addition to all this, what difficulties do we not find in sacred texts, even in matters of grammar -- putting the plural in place of the singular, or moving from second to third person, like the passage in the Song of Songs: "Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth: for thy breasts are better than wine"? Or putting the adjectives in the genitive case, instead of the accusative, as in "I will take the chalice of salvation"? Or again, putting the feminine in place of the masculine; or, on the contrary, calling every sin adultery?

    All this requires more study than is supposed by certain men who, as mere grammarians or, at most, armed with four terms from the principles of logic, wish to interpret the Scriptures and cling to "Let women keep silence in the churches." (89)

    It is shortly after this scathing indictment of the male clergy and their tendency to invoke closure through false certitude that Sor Juana ends her letter by unveiling the "she" of Sor Filotea as the "he" of Manuel Fernandez:

    If the style of this letter, my venerable Lady, has been less than your due, I beg your pardon for its household familiarity or the lack of seemly respect. For in addressing you, my sister, as a nun of the veil, I have forgotten the distance between myself and your most distinguished person, which should not occur were I to see you unveiled. (103)

    At this juncture in the defence, Sor Juana has literally incarnated the conceptual paradoxes imbedded in scriptural exegesis, and she has done it, strikingly enough, with the persona of her rival in letters.

  46. This is a marvellous rhetorical moment since she has collapsed the propriety of recognizing the interchangeability of bodies and words into the literal body as well as the literal text of Fernandez: in short, to reject her argument would be to criminalise his own cross-dressed (or at least, cross-discoursed) behaviour. Her final plea that he entreat divine grace on her behalf can only be read, given the pains she took to equate divinity with intellect, as a request for intellectual freedom. Sor Juana equates such freedom with the divine nature, and it is, for her, the final sign of charity, or godly love.

  47. Ultimately, Aemilia Bassano Lanyer and Sor Juan Inés de la Cruz both advance a similarly gendered hermeneutics of reading-as-Incarnation, a genealogy-based paradigm for interpretation that calls their respective audiences to the act of remembering, wonder, and praise. By framing their defence of women in the local discourse of Christianity, especially as it is expressed in canonical and exegetical texts and practices recognised by their peers, they also call their readers to a relation to what has been forgotten (rather than merely providing a description of the lacunae of cultural memory). In making their apology for women's right to knowledge, these thinkers posit that by the deliberate and responsible exercise of freedom, readers move beyond merely self-regarding norms and make themselves moral beings. In some respects, they anticipate Hélène Cixous's notion of conception as both intellection and incarnation, where the reader becomes "the intimate recipient who makes all metaphors possible and desirable . . . no more describable than god, the soul, or Other." [33] In this sense, moral consciousness is fully compatible with the passionateness of being, and the exercise of the intellect joins each to each.


I am grateful to the Women's Research Institute of Brigham Young University for the generous support which made this paper possible.

1. Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, Of the Nobilitie and Excellencie of Womankynde, trans. Thomas Clapham (London, 1542). Originally written in 1509. Sig. Fviii. Note that Agrippa was lamenting this state of affairs.

2. William Tyndale, Doctrinal Treatises, ed. Henry Walker, Parker Society Ser. 42 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1848) 98 and 102.

3. As Caroline Bynum points out, late Medieval and early Renaissance theologians often considered the cultivation of bodily experience as a place for encounter with meaning, a locus of redemption and not a flight from the body. She continues, "Nor could it have been in a religion whose central tenet was that the divine had chosen to offer redemption by becoming flesh." See "Why All the Fuss About the Body? A Medievalist Perspective," Critical Inquiry 22.1 (1995) 15.

4. Although not published until its inclusion in the first edition of volume three of her works Fama y Obras posthumas in 1700, La Respuesta became something of a cause célèbre almost immediately upon its circulation. For a good overview of the complex political skirmishing of which it was a part, see Octavio Paz, Sor Juana (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988) 389-437.

5. To my knowledge, the only other discussion that compares Sor Juana to an English writer is Donna Raske Kretsch's "Sisters Across the Atlantic: Aphra Behn and Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz," Women's Studies 21:3 (1992).

6. See the entries for 17 May, 3 June, and 2 September, 1597, in BOD MS Ashmole 226 ff. 95, 110, and 201. Also cited in Susanne Woods' introduction to The Poems, xviii.

7. For further reading on the complexities of the context in which Lanyer was writing, see Susanne Woods, Lanyer: A Renaissance Woman Poet (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999) and Marshall Grossman, ed., Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre and the Canon (Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1998). The latter includes a particularly useful annotated bibliography.

8. Octavio Paz, Sor Juana, or, The Traps of Faith, trans. Margaret Sayers Peden (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988) 98.

9. For enlightening discussions of Sor Juana's cultural context and history, see Stephanie Merrim, ed., Feminist Perspectives on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1991); Nina Scott, "'La gran turba de las que merecieron nombres': Sor Juana's Foremothers in La Respuesta a Sor Filotea," Coded Encounters: Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Colonial Latin America, ed. Javier Cevallos-Candau (Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1994). See also the University of Dayton Review 16.2 (1983), which features the proceedings of the bilingual symposium, "Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and the Vice-royal Culture."

10. The enduring influence of this theological premise among protestants and catholics alike is documented and discussed in much recent scholarship. See, for instance, Elaine V. Beilin, Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the English Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987); Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Writing Women in Jacobean England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1993); Octavio Paz, foreword, A Sor Juana Anthology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988); and Marie-Cécile Bénassy-Berling, Humanismo y religión en Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, trans. (from French) by Laura López de Belair (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1983).

11. Bynum, 15.

12. Lewalski, 2.

13. Krontiris, 26.

14. Lisa Schnell has recently warned against the tendency to see "early modern women as an undifferentiated category." She goes on to suggests that "the most prominent work on early modern women writers emphasizes women's 'experience' rather than their rhetorical presence in a text" and that even the most careful of such work "assumes that an experience of patriarchal oppression unites all women." While I tend to agree with much of Schnell's complaint, it is also true that a "rhetorical presence" in one text may be disconcertingly similar to that in another, and the relationship between these historical documents deserves close scrutiny. Differences between writers' cultural contexts are not erased in such readings; rather, we learn something about what those differences mean.

15. For a detailed discussion of Lanyer's use of typology in relation to a genealogy of women, see Marie H. Loughlin, "'Fast ti'd unto them in a golden Chaine': Typology, Apocalypse, and Woman's Genealogy in Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum," Renaissance Quarterly 53 (2000) 133-79. Loughlin's article is especially useful for demonstrating the ways in which Lanyer uses typology to explore the relationship between spiritual and worldly inheritance, a reading which grants the poem full devotional sincerity while recognizing the pressures and necessities of the patronage market. In Writing Women in Jacobean England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1993), Barbara Lewalski has also noted the various ways in which the poem rewrites primogeniture and patronage, with daughters as heirs of their mother's virtues.

16. Elizabeth Harvey, Ventriloquized Voices: Feminist Theory and English Renaissance Texts (New York: Routledge, 1992) 79. Harvey outlines the "strange tranvestism" of the male poets' continued reliance on birth metaphors and other female images for male intellection.

17. Indeed, the commonplace would last as long as Latin editions of such works were still being read and enjoyed by Western Europe. As we will see, Sor Juana makes use of the same commonplace for similar rhetorical effect.

18. "De Copia" in The Collected Works of Erasmus: Literary and Educational Writings, trans. Betty I. Knott, ed. Craig R. Thompson, vol. 24 (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1978) 306.

19. Vernon K. Robbins, Exploring the Texture of Texts: A Guide to Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Trinity P International, 1996) 30.

20. Note that Sor Juana will layer her own sensory-aesthetic fabric with the textures of sermons by famous writers in both the early and later Catholic tradition. In contrast to Lanyer, Sor Juana's invocation of the sremonic will be decidedly more baroque--Sor Juana is multi-citational, explicit, and elaborately developed; Lanyer is allusive, spare, and tightly framed. Yet both writers employ the sermonic for the same rhetorical work.

21. The Poems of Aemilia Lanyer: Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, ed. Susanne Woods (New York: Oxford UP, 1993) 48. All subsequent citations refer to this edition.

22. Certain Sermons or Homilies (1547) and A Homily against Disobedience and Wilful Rebellion (1570): A Critical Edition, ed. Ronald B. Bond (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1987) 226.

23. My perspective on this is informed by, though not limited to Michel Foucault's essay, "Nietzsche, Freud, Marx," Cahiers de Royaumont 6 (1967) 183-92.

24. John Knox, Works, ed. David Laing (Edinburgh: James Thin, 1895) 67-68.

25. Esther Gilman Richey points out the similarity between Lanyer's interpretative argument and points made by the religious writer Lancelot Andrewes. As Richey summarizes Andrewes, Mary actively conceives Christ. "Far from being a passive, merely receptive 'vessel', she gives her own flesh and blood to the making of God." See The Politics of Revelation in the English Renaissance (Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1998), 61.

26. George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (1589). Facsim. rpt (Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1970) 71. Cited in Richard Duerden, "Crossings: Class, Gender, Chiasmus, and the Cross in Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum," Literature and Belief 19:1&2 (1999) 145. Duerden's discussion details the fact that the "most repeated tropes in Salve Deus are antitheses and paradoxes." He goes on to explain that Lanyer is using paradox in Puttenham's sense 'to mark the tone of admiration of marvel' rather than in the simple sense of contradiction. I follow Duerden in this assumption.

27. Genealogies are about what is remembered, and memory, as Marsilio Ficino frequently asserts, hinges on wonder: "A sense of wonder is very important, for through it the mind is made more attentive and deeply imprints the features of things on its own inner substance. Thus, as boys experience greater wonder because things are new to them, they also retain the memory of them longer." See Marsilio Ficino, Letters, vol. 1 (New York: Shepheard-Walwyn, 157-8).

28. Brenda J. Powell, "'Witnesse thy wife (O Pilate) speakes for all': Aemilia Lanyer's Strategic Self-Positioning," Christianity and Literature 46.1 (1996), 15.

29. This rhetorical-aesthetic function is mirrored in sixteenth-century emblems which do similar work. See, for instance, "Heere Learning Sits," reproduced in Geffrey Whitney's A Choice of Emblemes, and Other Devises (1586), which depicts learning as a woman holding a book in her lap, and a sceptre with the iconic representation of the Son of God in her right hand.

30. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, La Respuesta, trans. and ed. Electa Arenal and Amanda Powell (New York: The Feminist P, 1994) 63-67. All subsequent citations refer to this edition.

31. The use of humour is much like Lanyer's tongue-in-cheek preface, especially given that Sor Juana does not always cushion her social critique with humorous female images meant to balance those mocking men. For instance, her poem, "In a Lighter Vein," is a good example of Sor Juana's comfort in wielding unalleviated sarcasm

Silly, you men--so very adept
at wrongly faulting womankind 
not seeing you're alone to blame
for faults you plant in woman's mind.

Translation taken from A Sor Juana Anthology, trans. Alan S. Trueblood (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988) 111-113.

32. This point and the two which follow were originally presented as part of a presentation at the Symposium on Metaphysical Poets hosted by Brigham Young University. Further reading along these lines may be found in the conference proceedings. See "Gendering the Word, or, Conceit as incarnation in the Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Richard Crashaw, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz," Literature and Belief 19.1-2 (1999): 107-130.

33. Hélène Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa," New French Feminisms, eds Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron (Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1980).


Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2001-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS)