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Anna-Rose Shack MA

PhD candidate


Area(s) of interest: Early Modern History, Gender, Languages & Literature, British History

Languages of Vulnerability in Early Modern Women’s Poetry


University of Amsterdam
Promotor(es): Dr Kristine Johanson and Prof. dr. Carrol Clarkson.
Project start date: September 2020


The project entitled Languages of Vulnerability in Early Modern Women’s Poetry examines how female poets in early modern England represent and articulate vulnerable selfhood in lyric poetry. In the poetry of this period there is pervasive concern with different forms of emotional and material vulnerability, and the role of agency in mitigating precarity in an increasingly individualistic society. Nevertheless, early modern writers were often ambivalent about the feasibility, and indeed desirability, of attaining the ideal of invulnerable selfhood. Considering forms of material, emotional and spiritual vulnerability in the poetry of Anne Vaughan Locke (c.1530-c.1590), Isabella Whitney (c.1546-c.1624), Mary Sidney (1561-1621), Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645), Mary Wroth (c.1587-c.1653) and Katherine Phillips (1632-1664), this thesis argues that early modern female poets collapse the distinction between vulnerability and individualism, offering vulnerability itself as a mode of self-sufficiency in the face of precariousness.
This thesis situates itself in critical discussions on selfhood and gender in early modernity, in order to reflect on patriarchal discourses of control that governed women and the female body. Recognising that female bodies were sites onto which early modern cultural anxieties were mapped, this thesis also examines how these poets represent female vulnerability viscerally, as an embodied emotional experience. By contemplating the nature of female agency, this thesis pays particular attention to instances of self-regulation in order to consider whether these poets attach ethical value to the expression of emotion and the experience of vulnerability.