Date of Award

5-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

College/School

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Department/Program

English

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Jeffrey Miller

Committee Member

Adam Rzepka

Committee Member

Patricia Matthew

Subject(s)

Aemilia Lanyer--Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, John Milton (1608-1674)--Comus, John Milton (1608-1674)--Paradise lost, John Milton (1608-1674)--Samson Agonistes, Speech acts (Linguistics) in literature, Speech in literature, Women in literature

Abstract

Using the works of Aemilia Lanyer, John Milton, and Lucy Hutchinson, I will be exploring the idea of speech as action in 17th Century England and its connection to agency and community amongst women. These authors chose to show a distinct strength and sense of power in Eve and her descendants; each female subject not only has a voice, but uses it to her benefit. This is an enormous gift from an author, to whom words and language are the fruit of awareness, knowledge and power. Each representation uses their language as both a shield and sword to defend themselves from the rhetorical attacks coming from within the text and by the preconceptions long held by many of the readers. Language was key as women “took a conscious stand in opposition to male defamation and mistreatment of women” (Joan Kelly 7); they directed their ideas against the notions of a defective sex and against the societal shaping of women to fit those ideas. Both women and men could be writers of the querelle des femmes, each contributing to the discourse in a way that could oppose the prejudiced and narrowness that misogynistic thought and speech fostered; Aemilia Lanyer and John Milton were two such writers of the querelle. Using Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (and the dedication pieces that accompany the poem), A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle and Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes, I am attempting to show how speech can be action, and often the only action afforded to the women Lanyer and Milton write about, to, and for. Both use a combination of well-known figures and archetypal characters to create their stories; this is done in order to invert the language and situations of these stories which were often used as “proof’ of women being corrupt by nature.

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