Just Anger: Representing Women's Anger in Early Modern England

Synopsis

Gwynne Kennedy is the first scholar to investigate thoroughly the subject of women's anger in early modern England. She analyzes portrayals of and attitudes toward women's anger in printed texts written by or purporting to be written by women during the period.

Recognizing that ideas about emotions vary historically as well as culturally, Kennedy draws from recent critical work on emotions by historians, literary scholars, philosophers, and psychologists, as well as comparative studies of the emotions by cultural anthropologists. She contends that ideas about women's anger in early modern England are both like and unlike those in twentieth-century America. Although women's anger is often dismissed as irrational in both eras, for instance, in the early modern era women were thought to become angry more often and more easily than men due to their inherent physiological, intellectual, and moral inferiority.

To establish early modern attitudes toward women's anger, Kennedy also examines a number of male-authored works, including sermons, conduct literature, philosophy, rhetoric, and medicine. The focus of her work, however, is on representations of women's anger in printed works signed with women's names in late-sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century England. She addresses the ways these writings conform to, conflict with, or appear to reconfigure prevailing beliefs about women's anger.

In exploring her subject, Kennedy deals with many popular genres of the period. She looks at such literary texts as Mary Wroth's romance, The Countess of Montgomery's Urania, the first fiction by an English woman; Elizabeth Cary's play, The Tragedy of Mariam, the earliest extant play in English by awoman; and Aemilia Lanyer's verse collection, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. She also discusses religious writings by Protestant martyr Anne Askew and Elizabeth Cary's history of Edward II. Kennedy considers as well defenses of w