Female and Male Voices in Early Modern England: An Anthology of Renaissance Writing

By Betty S. Travitsky; Anne Lake Prescott | Go to book overview

8
Rachel Speght [Procter] (c. 1597–after 1621)
Richard Hyrde (d. 1528)

Rachel Speght [Procter] on Learning

Rachel Speght (c. 1597–after 1621), the daughter of James Speght, rector of two London churches, was the author of A Muzzle for Melastomus (1617), the earliest of three responses in a female voice to Joseph Swetnam's Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women (1615). Speght's strong but fairly good-mannered response shows her grounding in the Bible and secular learning and her self-respect as a woman. Hers is the first unquestionably female answer in English to male attacks in the pamphlet wars (though Christine de Pisan's City of Ladies had been translated in 1521). Speght shows her sense of this fledgling tradition in her later Dream when she refers to the pseudonymous Ester Sowernam and Constantia Munda, who had also responded to Swetnam. Mortalities Memorandum, to which Speght's Dream was appended, appeared several months before her marriage in 1621 to William Procter (the births of children are recorded in 1627 and 1630; Procter died in 1653) and was occasioned by the death of Speght's mother. Dream, which merges dream vision with the autobiographical form so congenial to early modern women, relates Speght's quest for knowledge, bolstered by such personified allies as Industry, Truth, and Desire against the efforts of Dissuasion. Speght's struggle is ended by Death (i.e., news of her mother's demise) and followed by tributes to her mother's piety and influence. It is ironic—but typical of our loss of information about women of the period— that nothing else is known of this parent. Indeed Speght's own voice is heard no more after this publication, in which her interrupted dream-vision is followed by the title

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