Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

"I Am Ripe for Man": Gendered Time in Thomas Heywood's an Emblematicall Dialogue (1637)

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

"I Am Ripe for Man": Gendered Time in Thomas Heywood's an Emblematicall Dialogue (1637)

Article excerpt

As Amy Boesky in her article, "Giving Time to Women: the Eternizing Project in Early Modern England," comments, "Women in early modern Europe were understood to occupy, to record and to experience time differently than men."1 One moment of time which is particularly central to a woman's experience is the period during which she makes her transition from maiden to wife. This time is the focus of Thomas Heywood's "An Emblematicall Dialogue interpreted from the Excellent and most learned D. Iac. Catsius" which is found in his Pleasant Dialogues and Drammas (1637), a collection made up mostly of translations from a variety of authors.2 Although Heywood, a prolific author and successful playwright, has received much critical attention, especially for his dramatic works, very little has been written about this dialogue (and the other works in the collection) and what there is has been either disparaging or very brief.3 Arthur Clark, for example, calls it "a tedious rendering of Jacob Cats' moralized Ars Amatoria for the instruction of young women," and notes further that Heywood translates it "without reprinting the fine engravings that made the text intelligible."4 The dialogue, however, is far from tedious and through its examination of how a young woman of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries should approach the matter of love and marriage provides us with an illuminating example of the gendering of time. As Stuart Sherman remarks, "by virtue of its impalpability, time is peculiarly susceptible of cultural construction. Every report - every means of making time present - will also entail an interpretation."5 Although the cultural construction of time will, of necessity, influence and be influenced by gender and class, it is, as Boesky comments, "noteworthy how little work has been done on the use of temporality in the construction of categories such as class and gender."6 In Heywood's An Emblematicall Dialogue, we can see clearly how social and biological imperatives construct time for the unmarried virgin and how time becomes the ground of the debate and of the maid's life.

Not only is the subject of the An Emblematicall Dialogue focused on time, but its form which combines the dialogue and the emblem is significant in temporal terms. The dialogue is usually defined as

a specialized literary composition in which two or more characters debate or reason about an idea or proposition ... it is usually consistent with the characters of the speakers ... [and] sets forth a conversational give and take.7

It is an argument that unfolds over time and which occurs in "real time," taking the same amount of time to read as the debate takes to develop. The immediacy of this form adds to its intensity and our engagement with the speakers. As the conversation progresses and we switch from one speaker, Anna, to the other, Phillis, and from one point to the next in the argument, we are not only aware of time passing but also of how each moment's choice determines the outcome of the debate. Added to these temporal effects of the dialogue are those of the emblem.

The emblem form is one which also builds over time as the reader must move back and forth between its elements of picture, motto, and epigram, constantly connecting, interpreting, and revising the meanings of the emblem through the process of reading it. Although Heywood's work lacks the pictures expected in a traditional emblem work, the dialogue, contrary to Clark's view, is completely intelligible. In a traditional three-part emblem, the picture has a motto either directly above or below it, followed by the epigram. But as Daly and Valerie-Tomaszuk explain,

it was far from unusual for an emblem book to have no pictures. Heckscher and Wirth estimate that as many as a tenth of all emblem books were unillustrated... . [which] reflects the conditions of book production in England at the time.8

For many authors expense was a problem and "even when illustrated, many emblem books are incomplete as far as plates or woodcuts are concerned. …

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