Quilligan 2005

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Quilligan, Maureen. Incest and Agency in Elizabeth's England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

Halting the Traffic in Women: Theoretical Foundations

"We have been taught by feminist scholarship that women are constrained by family structures; we have taken this as a foundatinoal principles of arguments for the liberation of women, at least in part because we have so poorly understood the activities women havea ctually undertaken within kinship structures in traditional societies. If, however, we understand that traditional family and kinship structures may be radically dfiferent from our own, we may see how family rank could work to empower highly placed women rather than to limit them. In the sixteenth century the family dynasty became far more pivotal in political arrangements in absolutist Europe than it had been throughout the cloistered Middle Ages, a development that would make the Renaissance aristocratic family a potential site of real agency for women." (1)

Lear's Cordelia refuses to express incestuous love; her "predicament offers us with admirable clarity the cultural paradigm in Renaissance society within which any attempt to claim female agency had to work": silence (3)

"association of appropriate female silence with a woman's perfect and passive willingness to be exchanged (4-5)

Milton's Sin (5-6)

"the fundamental source of authority denied the obedient woman is language that leads to action" (6)

Levi-Strauss: exchange of women between men to cement social bonds; woman becomes a sign (even as she manipulates signs) (10-11)

Gayle Rubin's critique: what's at stake in the exchange of women is female agency, active female desire

three ways to halt the traffic in women

  • incest
  • voluntary celibacy (e.g. becoming a nun)
  • lesbian desire

feminist thinkers try to get outside the bind of language by positing a feminine writing (Irigaray, Kristeva)

  • yet, "if such poststructuralist female writing is destined to happen only in the future, how does scholarship evaluate the writing that women have already done centuries earlier?" (16)
"What does it mean to dquate female subjectivity with incest? Is there anything we can learn from leaving open this radical theoretical possibility?" (22)

Annette Weiner, revisiting Malinowski, Mauss, Levi-Strauss

"Weiner's critique helps us see that placing some real value on the objects which women circulate among themselves within a family over generations allows us to calibrate an increase in that family's prestige: when the inalienable possessions do not have to be traded out but may circulate among women in the family, the family stnds to gain over time an ever-incresing degree of prestige, and expansion of property." (25) -- cloth especially important
"female agency empowers and is empowered by an endogamous assertion of family prestige" (27)
"neither early mdoern men nor early modern women trascend their moments; both are very different from us and it is easier to recognize these differences, and so to see what we may have imposed on male texts when we juxtapose them with texts by women" (27)

Christine de Pizan, Livre de la cite des dames -- unlike Boccaccio or Dante, Christine is not concerned with the incest of Semiramis with her son Ninus; "Semiramis lived prior to the 'written' law -- 'la loi escripte' -- and she appropriately inaugurates a text that resolutely refuses to confine women to a non-public, non-self-owning silence. Christine does not see women as relegated to the status of signs; theya re for her -- in a multitude of ways -- the makers of signs." (31)

Elizabeth I (with a Note on Marguerite de Navarre)

Elizabeth I and Mary I both products of incest in some way

"at the place of 'halt'[, the female who is not traded out by a male family member may then turn inward to a nonexogamous arena in which she can exercise some, if not total, control. She may thereby claim an active agency for herself." (36)

Marguerite de Navarre's Mirror

  • theme of "holy incest"
  • first published 1531, again in 1533
  • 1533 edition included translation of psalm by Marot; was burned at the Sorbonne
  • man who printed the 1533 edition was later executed for his reformist views
"The familial metaphor of incest thus provides, from the outset, a response to a desire for an unmediated relationship to God, one that bypasses church-authorized intercessors." (39)

incest story in Heptameron (41-3)

Church's early prohibitions against intermarriage and incest, rooted in accumulation of property (44-5)

Elizabeth's translation of Mirour, dedicated to her stepmother Katherine Parr

  • Boleyn had brought Mirour home from the court of Marguerite of Navarre, where she was a lady-in-waiting
  • volume presented to Parr is covered in Elizabeth's embroidery
    • "it is very suggestive that the text of this translated poem, sent from one female family member to another, covered in persoanlly worked textile, resultes in a gesture that oddly ressembles the symbolic nature of the trade in woven heirloom items that anthropologist annette Weiner has found to be foundational for female communities in remote modern Oceania" (48)

pen and needle usually opposed in protofeminist discourse of the Renaissance; "but here, in Elizabeth's first literary production, pen and needle go together to reinforce a gesture of intrafamilial authorship" (48)

textiles of Hardwick Hall (48-9)

"the metaphorical fluidity of the shifting family positions in the miroir nto only rested upon marguerite's reading of scripture, but also cohered with the metaphorical flex made necessary by reformist doctrine about the decreasing materiality of the act of communion." (50)

Bale's 1548 print edition

  • visual connection with his publication of Askew's examinations
  • "insists upon her [E's] humanist and reforming credential" (55)
  • shows Bale's "sense of the loss of the aura of Elizabeth's original manuscript" (55)

Cancellar's 1568-9/1580 editions

  • printer Henry Denham
  • "In Cancellar's edition, Bale's Protestant polemic gives way to a volume in which Elizabeth's book on holy incest is made to serve the purposes of a resurgent Catholic Church." (56)
  • "meditations" set to the order of the alphabet of Elizabeth's name, c.f. with Cancellar/Denham's "alphabet" for Robert Dudley
  • "Clearly identifying himself with Dudley in 1564, Cancellar appropriates Elizabeth's early translation in 1568, publishes it, and puts it at the service of Dudley's program of dynastic ambition." (63)
  • after Elizabeth's excommunication and England becomes officially prtestant, Cancellar reprints the volume with different front matter giving it "a properly Protestant tone" (63)
  • "The main metaphor of the poem itself and the autonomous power that Elizabeth has attained by 1580 force even so reluctant a recusant as Cancellar to drop any dynastic plans for a married queen, dutifully subservient to the Church, and to acknowledge her remarkable status as Christ's spouse and England's virgin mother." (65)

Monument of Matrons (1582)

  • list of female writers with asterisks beside those represented in the anthology
  • "the presence of each voice collectively empowers female voices in the aggeregate which thus becomes, as it were, a hug five-volume collection of homosocial female discourse" (67)
  • "While the frontispiece to The Monument of Matrons places Elizabeth in the company of three other queens -- Katherine Parr, the biblical Hester, and Marguerite de Navarre -- the prose context of the volume submerges her unique status among women in a massive demonstration of widespread articulate female piety and learning that reaches across classes and speaks from the multiple standpoints of the many different social roles women play, as mothers, daughters, queens, and housewives." (67)
  • not just transforming the Marian cult into the Elizabethan cult of virginity, but drawing on the incest tropes in Elizabeth's translation

Ward, 1590 reprint of Bale

Sir Philip Sidney's Queen

Sidney opposes Queen's marriage in a letter

"By counseling the queen not to enter the traffic herself, Sidney asserts the one authority left to men in her court for use against her sovereign agency: the cultural mandate whereby males, not females, choose the men women could marry." (76)
"in Astrophil and Stella Sidney gains mastery by a strategy of self-abasement, taking control not merely of his text, but of his inferior social situation, and laying the groundwork for his sister's subsequent increase in the Sidney family's 'cultural capital'." (77)
"Elizabeth's more precarious position as a female prince, unendowed with the gender natural to patriarchal authority, required her to insist on the privileges of birth above all else, for it was only by this instrument (literally by her father's will) that she held her throne." (81)

feudal positioning put family obligations above all else; Henry VIII and Elizabeth "worked hard to replace [it] with allegiance to the crown" (81)

"One does not, Sidney counsels, marry into a family whose marriage practices defy the rules for the creation of proper bonds between men." (83) -- Sidney "reduces marriage to that bare business of biological reproduction, thereby implicitly reducing Elizabeth to that role" (84)
"Humility and a profound sense of social inferiority allow Sidney not merely to triumph over, but to obliterate, Elizabeth's challenge to his authority; such a move becomes a virtual Sidney signature." (84)
"It seems she could exercise her right only to withhold herself from the traffic, not to trade herself out. Just as she herself did not belong on a jousting field. That a mere commoner Sidney (at age twenty-two) had a right to advise a queen on whom she should or should not marry suggests how masculine privilege in this matter could trump both the authority of age and the power of rank. ... In both the matter of the challenge to honor and the marriage negotiations, when Elizabeth's real sex clashed with her figuratively male gender as patriarch, her royal authority was limited." (85)

under what conditions could a female monarch marry w/o compromising the Crown's inherent power?

  • "Seen in this light, the Arcadia (written for his sister at his sister's home and narrating the love of two cousins for two sisters), in effect continues Sidney's consideration of the problematic Tudor traffic in women." (87)

multivalenced Elizabethan wordplay (91) -- "must attend to the polysemy of its texts"

Astrophil and Stella

  • "The overt plot of the sequence, in which Stella denies Astrophil any final fulfillment, may repeat Sidney's public defeat in politics, but by the same token the author's total control over Stella as a (silent) character in his plot enact his masculine, social mastery. Such a redistribution of power is at issue in any sonnet sequence (as in any honor challenge). What makes Sidney's sequence different is the remarkable historical specificity with which it attempts this reversal of fortune." (92-3)
  • "nostalgic recapture of class rank" (95)
  • not addressed to the queen -- passive agressive
  • "Stella is the sign not merely of Sidney's poetic originality and authority, then, but also of his problematical historical situation. He turns his Petrarchan abasement into authority by manipulating a character, Stella, who allows him to woo her, conquer her, be rejected by her; in this way he discursively controls his own recent misfortunes in his career." (96)

Mary Sidney Herbert (with a Note on Elizabeth Cary)

"By marking the Countess of Pembroke and her female associates the privileged readers of his text, Sidney was free to play with gender codes in creating his five-act comedy." (105)
"The countess inheretied her position as patroness of Protestant poets ... from her uncle Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, via her brother Philip Sidney; such an inheritance underscores the familial nature of the agency for building cultural capital." (106)

"immense prestige displayed by the family in their exchanges with each other": "They are not purveying goods to the public; they are instead offering noble gifts to each other." (108)

"What needs to be stressed here is that the tactic undertaken by her, a textual endogamy of the most intense and intimate kind, fundamentally increases the prestige not only of brother but also of sister, as members of the same family. Hence Philip Sidney's illegitimate fathering is turned into the greatest possible gentility by his sister's memorial act." (108)

Spenser's Calendar, "Doleful Lay for Clorinda" -- public print vs. private coterie circulation

Countess of Pembroke's main metaphor for poem she sends Elizabeth is a cloth (114)

  • "not only is the text a textus, a woven thing, the English translation of the Psalms provides a different 'dress' for the Hebrew King David. In presenting the translation as woven material, or 'stuff', the countess includes her brother in the process of weaving (although she differentiates between the two), just as he had included her in the Arcadia by giving her the 'stuff', the haberdasher's glasses and feathers" (114)
  • cloth --> given to Elizabeth to make livery robes for Sidneys --> holy garments
  • "There is no praise of Elizabeth's beauty, her chastity, no compliment by way of mythological reference; instead the poem insists upon duty, upon the time-consuming and arduous task of ruling over a Protestant realm, as if this were a poem above all about work" (116)
"The power lies at the site where the traffic in women allows certain females to take full possession of the space of endogamous halt." (120)

Elizabeth Cary, Tragedy of Mariam

  • play "poses the demands on a woman to be chaste, silent, and obedient in terms of a wife's willingness to forget her loyalty to her natal family. Yet Mariam insists that this bond has its own rights." (127)
  • "Exiting the traffic in women altogether by dying, Mariam fulfills a saintly sacrifice; in this way, her story ceases to be a secular piece of history about marriage relations and becomes a sacred prophecy." (132)

Spenser's Britomart

Elizabeth's two bodies: Belphoebe, Gloriana

"when Spenser borrows language from Ariosto's Fiordespina, who laments a monstrous same sex-passion for Bradamante, he is recasting Ariosto's materials and unintentionally demonstrating the close connections between incest and same sex desire, as parallel evasions of the proper traffic in women." (135)

skeptophilia, "gaze" in Venus and Adonis tapestries

Amoret's torture

  • birthing scene (147)
  • Busyrane exhibiting writerly torture, his verses wounding the female body
  • "attempt to textualize Amoret's experiment; that is, to turn Amoret's physical, material experience into a poetic text by borrowing her fecund, bodily-based creativity in order to make poetry of his own" (147)

Britomart's later birth in dream sequence

"In III, Senser aims at understanding female agency in terms very different from the passivity required by patriarchal codes (if Florimell flees, she is, in fact, also seeking Marinell). In book IV those codes are resolutly in place." (153) -- trade in women between men

erotic attachment between women barely present in Spenser (159)

Radigund and Britomart

  • "In some fundamental sense, the political 'liberty of women' is imaginable only as an outlying alternative to the domesticity of women." (160)
"Britomart's narrative reveals the agency that women may legitimately engage in. It also depicts the violent suppression of an illegitimate political female agency when Britomart vanquishes the Amazon queen Radigund and Talus massacrews the Amazon nation. her rightful agency is not merely to be the mother of her children, but to have those children by a man whom she has seen, in some fundamental way, as her own brother. Only once does Britomart embrace Artegall, and that is the guise of an incestuous coupling in her dream." (162)
"Britomart's agency is thus being buitl upon a familial power which stabilizes social hierarchy. It is the same power that brought Elizabeth I to the throne -- that raised her up, uniquely, to single sovereignty. The structure of Canto vii strongly suggests that it is this endogamous agency by which Britomart is able to repeal the 'liberty of women' fantasized in the stories of the seemingly outlandish Amazons." (163)


Urania frontispiece and Drayton's Poly-Olbion frontispiece compared

"Thus the frontispiece not only stages the climax to the plot of Book I, but also represents the site of the female author's creativity" (181)

frontispiece also points to the tradition of "an idealized view of a family seat" (181)

  • embodies both the "ancient pile" of Penshurst, Wroth's childhood home, and the Palladian architecture of renovated Wilton, the Countess of Pembroke's home for her son, Earl of Pembroke
"If what we see between the two pillars in the allegorical Rainbow Portrait is a representation of the imperial but also erotic Elizabeth herself, what we see beyond the Palladian frame fo the Urania's frontispiece is a picture of the kinship from which Wrote draws her endogamous power." (181)

Ann Clifford, Bess of Hardwick: exogamous traffic in marriage allows them to bring their wealth back to their original family (184)

  • links to country-house poem and landscape depicted in the frontispiece

windmill -- "there to announce a subtly ironic slant on a subtler kind of romance, including the reality of ealing with gender relations (191)

"The frontispiece is, in a very real sense, a visual illustration of the place of halt in the traffic in women, where female authority can find a discursive space for itself to expatiate and display. In the process the exercise of that female agency elevates the status of the family and increases its cultural prestige." (191)

rewriting of Urania at the beginning of Sidney's Arcadia (192-3)

  • in Sidney's Old Arcadia, love for the absent Urania elevates the shepherds to a higher class

reading of Petrarchan discourse, Echo poem: "Wroth's use of Petrachan discourse to have a female speaker lament her own lack of self-presence paradoxically works to insert that female into the generically well-defined position of the Petrarchan speaker. It is a way of saying that even though she is but a late echo of an already defunct genre, Wroth is appropriating quite self-consciously its discursive possibility for expressing a self, commention as she does so (in the figure of Echo) on the very lateness of her start" (194-5)

"it seems almost as if Wroth wre inserting the reality of gender difference into each narrative turn to see what other eventuality would be the outcome" (196)

rewriting Spenser's episode of Britomart rescuing Amoret from Busyrane's castle but "moral values are completely reversed" (197)

unlike Spenser, Wroth refuses to use cross-dressing (198)

"Wroth mocks the theatricality of the woman who would, Britomart-like, pursue her lover actively. She eols in her place the domestic and withdrawn nature of Pamphilia's unexpressed desire, unexpressed in all ways except in poetic discourse with herself. This withdrawal into a private, yet quite open outdoor space indicats just how hospitable the aristocratic familial site was for female agency." (198)
"Hers [Pamphilia's] is an active volition that is to be distinguished from the personified abstraction she not so much refuses to become (liek Dante's Francesca), in Teskey's formulation, but that she contains within herself to make it a defining characteristic of her own will. What Wroth has done, then, is to reformulate a transgressive active female desire, dressing it up in a traditional female virtue, patient constancy." (212)

Shakespeare's Cordelia

unlike in Shakespeare's sources, Cordelia dies

  • Lear's incestuous fantasy; Cordelia is victim, but early modern period would have blamed her too (213-5)

incest fantasy allows her to come back conquering, at the head of an army

  • from quarto to folio version, Cordelia gains greater agency at the end of the play (226-7)
  • "The Folio's cuts, then, generally deny us a sense that Cordelia has a legitimte life elsewhere, married, with a husband with whom she shares Lear as 'our' father." (227)

Oedipal themes of blinding (228-9)

most read Cordelia's refusal as autonomous agency; "in contrast, I have argued that this moment reveals Cordelia's specific lack of protomodern autonomy, as she does not even name a specific beloved. She intends to have her desire follow all the established laws for female desire and to become a mere conduit between men." (234)

"In the final scene, Cordelia's agency is no longer sacrificed; she has come back, after all, at the head of an army. This remarkable change in Cordelia, which Adelman laments as a loss of agency, is actually the asumption of the same kind of agency her sisters exercised when they spoke the language of incest. Incest opens the space for female agency because the traffic is halted; Cordelia's presence on stage -- finally answering her father's transgressive desire for her -- after she has been banished in silence, reveals the paradigm at work." (234)
"If, however, what is released in the play is Cordelia's own desiring agency, if we can continue tos ee her as a daughter and not join with Lear in seeing her as mother, then her heroism is her fulfillment not only of Lear's fantasy but of her own distinctly gendered activity, a woman rescuing her father." (235)
"In concerted coherence with its cultural moment, the text of the play presents female autonomy as inherently transgressive against the passivity required by the proper traffic in women. the incestuous halt of this traffic allows women a space in which to act." (235)