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Beyond the Cloister: Catholic Englishwomen and Early Modern Literary Culture

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... In this poem, the marriage ceremony takes place in the church, but its joy resonates in the birdsong of the surrounding woods. Lay (2016) explained that Spenser dedicated a major part of his marriage poem, namely twelve stanzas, "to the anticipation, preparation and procession" of the wedding but only one stanza for the ceremony itself" thereby revealing a certain "hesitation surrounding the marriage service". Due to the fact that marriage was no longer considered a sacrament in the Anglican Church, "chastity within the marriage had…surpassed the virtues of perpetual virginity". ...
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This paper analyses Edmund Spenser's sonnet sequence Amoretti and its concluding sequel Epithalamion within the context of Puritanism. By highlighting the Puritanical concepts in Spenser's two poetic works, the two researchers demonstrate the aspects in which Spenser parts ways with the Petrarchan sonnet tradition. Spenser offers a pure, Christian love that ends in holy matrimony as an alternative to the unsanctified, unrequited love in Petrarchan sonnets. Moreover, this research identifies the segments of Spenser's poems wherein Platonism is exceedingly manifested. Through the textual examination of the two aforementioned works, it becomes evident that nuances of the Puritan faith come to light in Spenser's depiction of a holy, Christian courtship and marriage, in his portrayal of the lady as an embodiment of heavenly light in contrast to the inferiority of earthly existence and in his parallel presentation of the lover's suffering for his angelic lady as an allegorical reflection of the agony endured by the Puritan to gain Heavenly Grace.
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This article argues that the manuscript writings and compilations of the Catholic gentlewoman, Constance Aston Fowler (died 1664), offer a rich and hitherto overlooked corpus for broadening our understanding of the tradition of early modern English poetic “making” and poesis. During the 1630s, Fowler wrote a series of letters to her brother, the poet, Herbert Aston, and also compiled a manuscript miscellany at her home in Staffordshire. By analyzing the woman-inclusive and pro-Catholic ways in which Fowler and her coterie reworked the theories of poesis foregrounded by hegemonic male writers such as Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser and John Donne, this essay proposes that the culture of early modern Anglophone poetic “making” was not simply male, humanist and Protestant, but female, provincial and Catholic.
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