Desiring Voices: Women Sonneteers and Petrarchism

By Mary B. Moore | Go to book overview

5 The Labyrinth of Style Lady Mary Wroth and the Idea of Petrarchism

Lady Mary Wroth, Renaissance courtier and niece of Sir Philip Sidney and Mary, Countess of Pembroke, voices the complexities of female self-representation in her 1621 sonnet sequence, Pamphilia to Ampbilanthus, through a Renaissance symbol of complexity, the labyrinth. An image of poetic skill and of the circuitous rhetoric of self-delusion in Petrarch's Rime sparse, a monument to craftsmanship that befuddled Daedalus, its architect, in chapter 8 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, the labyrinth symbolized both conscious craft and perplexity during the Renaissance. Wroth alludes to these contexts as the corona of sonnets that crowns the sequence opens: "In this strang labourinth how shall I turne?" ( Wroth, Poems 127). The temporal and spatial vagaries of this and the punning labour of Wroth's spelling, a pun Dubrow too notes (152), evoke the poem itself as intricate space and Pamphilia's thought as labyrinthine source of mimetic writing. Like the mazes of classical literature, architecture, and art familiar to Renaissance readers of Pliny, Ovid, and Virgil, Wroth's artifact represents perplexity even as it perplexes.

Wroth achieves this effect through syntax and poetic forms that mime two physical traits of labyrinths: enclosure and complexity. The labyrinth and the sonnet are coupled fittingly to these ends. Like mazes in classical literature, the sonnet is identified through metapoetic tropes in English as enclosed space and highly crafted form--as Donne's "We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms," and his

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