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

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

28
Isabella Whitney (fl. 1566–1573)
Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599),
Thomas Campion (1567–1620), and
John Donne (1572–1631)

Isabella Whitney on False Lovers

Although Isabella Whitney (fl. 1566–1573) is the first Englishwoman known to have written original secular poetry in English for publication, we know little about her. Comments in her Copy of a Letter (1567?) and Sweet Nosegay (1573) supply some facts: she was of gentle rank (Copy, title page); was strapped financially (Nosegay, sig. A5v); was able to write because she was single (Nosegay, sig. D2); and came from a large family to whom she addressed “Familiar Epistles and Friendly Letters” (Nosegay, sigs. C6r–Ev). Some think her the sister of Geoffrey Whitney (1548?–1601?), author of A Choice of Emblems (1586), but she calls herself London “bred” (Nosegay, sig. E2v) and Geoffrey was from Cheshire. Nor is she named in his will—unless by 1600 she had become, through marriage, his “Sister Eldershae” or “Sister Evans.”

Whitney is most memorable for effervescent poetry in the spirit of her London's literary world. The earlier anthology, from which we take our excerpts, has four poems written in the personae of persons jilted in love; the “Admonition” appended to the title poem is, like Copy, in a sprightly female voice. The tone suggests that these love complaints are fictional, as does the statement by the printer, Richard Jones, who specialized in popular ephemera: Copy, he says, is “both false and also true.” The same jaunty spirit characterizes the two final poems in the collection, both voiced—and conceivably written—by

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