The Epic Structure and Subversive Messages of Æmilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judæorum

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Virginia Tech


Despite the well-documented patriarchal restrictions placed upon the composition of Renaissance women writers, Æmilia Lanyer wrotecboth within and against the strictures that bound women to translations of religious works and other forms of devotional writingæSalve Deus Rex Judæorum, an ideologically subversive poem of some 3000 lines extolling the virtue of women and codifying the perfidy of men.

Lanyer's poem may be the first epic published in modern English; it is certainly the first epic ever published by an Englishwoman. I base my assertion largely upon the works of Torquato Tasso, the first poet to produce an epic poem in a modern European language, whose rhetorical worksæDiscorsi dell 'Arte Poetica and Discorsi del Poema Eroica, which painstakingly examine epic structure and intentæand whose epic, Gerusalemma Liberata, were available in England by 1580.

Not only does Lanyer appropriate and adapt the historically male epic form in the writing of Salve Deus Rex Judæorum, but within the strictures of contemporary literary convention and of patriarchal society at large, she submits a formal prose argument "To the Vertuous Reader," in which she admonishes women to abandon internalized patriarchal perceptions. Like male Renaissance rhetors, she follows Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintillian as she structures this classical epideictic oration, in which she suggests the seditious notion of equality between the sexes.

[Vita removed March 2, 2012 GMc}