Ventriloquized Voices: Feminist Theory and English Renaissance Texts

By Elizabeth D. Harvey | Go to book overview

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I have referred recurrently in this book to a genre that I have not named explicitly: the complaint. It could be argued that the complaint, particularly the complaint voiced by the seduced and abandoned woman, which descends ultimately from Ovid’s Heroides and which flourished so pervasively in Renaissance (especially Tudor) England, is the paradigmatic ventriloquized text. 1 If one considers the feminine complaints, which range from Churchyard’s “The Tragedy of Shore’s Wife, Daniel’s “The Complaint of Rosamond, some of the letters in Drayton’s England’s Heroicall Epistles and his “Matilda” to Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece, A Lover’s Complaint, Donne’s “Sappho to Philaenis, and Marvell’s “The Nymph Complaining on the Death of her Fawn, it becomes clear that there is a profound affinity between the representation of the abandoned woman and male constructions of the feminine voice. In his study of the abandoned woman as a figure in poetry, Lawrence Lipking has suggested that abandonment is a feminine condition (“When a man is abandoned, in fact, he feels like a woman”), and while both male and female authors have contributed to the tradition, “almost every great male poet has written at least one poem in the voice of an abandoned woman” (Lipking 1988:xix-xxi). While Lipking does not emphasize the ventriloquized nature of the complaint (indeed, his study sometimes replicates the historical appropriations of the feminine voice that he analyses, especially in his final chapter, “Aristotle’s Sister”), it is precisely its cross-dressed and fabricated nature that makes its depiction so revealing of gender construction. In the Renaissance complaint, in its Ovidian model, and in many subsequent variations on the genre, the complaint is deeply implicated in female sexuality and its consequences.

Feminine abandonment and the complaint that gives it articulation

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