Society for Renaissance Studies Meeting Program

3 Oct 2017

Society for Renaissance Studies Meeting

University of Sheffield, 3 - 5 July, 2018

 

Two Sessions and one Paper

Sponsored by the International Margaret Cavendish Society

 

Organizers: James Fitzmaurice, Northern Arizona University

and the University of Sheffield, and Lisa Walters, Liverpool Hope University

 

 

Cavendish I: Identity and the Representation of Self  

Session Chair Lisa Walters, Liverpool Hope University

Judith Haber, Tufts University, USA.  “Adoptive Strategies: Cavendish, Jonson, and the Problem of Patrilineal Inheritance.”

 

My interest in the idea of the adoptive son began with an examination of Margaret Cavendish’s two-part play, Love’s Adventures.  The heroine of this play spends some time disguised as a page in the service of a nobleman whom she loves, Lord Singularity; she has therefore often been compared to Viola in Twelfth Night, and the play has often been seen as a rather typical exploration of gender roles.  But the Lord’s persistent fear of fathering a child not his own and his subsequent adoption of the page (a procedure that many of his friends wish to imitate), as well as Cavendish’s clear knowledge of ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore (most obviously evidenced in The Unnatural Tragedy), seem to point in another direction.  In ‘Tis Pity, I have argued elsewhere, incest is seen as a means of answering male anxieties about paternity by keeping procreation “all in the family".  Here, Cavendish appears to be deliberately (and critically) taking this idea one step further: the father's line is kept pure not by the son's marrying his own sister, but by the father's first choosing his own son and then (eventually) marrying him.  In the Lord’s fantasy relationship, at least, a closed circuit of male reproduction is created, effectively excising the woman and the problem of uncertainly she represents. Simultaneously (and paradoxically), Cavendish seems to present the disguised page’s dilemma (the page is, at one point, betrothed unto herself), as an emblem of Cavendish’s own “singularity,” her individual independence from conventional structures, both familial and literary.  I intend to develop these ideas further here, using recent work by Lara Dodds and others; I will also explore Cavendish’s not unconnected (but equally paradoxical) relation to Ben Jonson (that celebrated adopter of literary “Sons”), whom Cavendish sees simultaneously as her masculine antitype, her forefather, and the rival poet whom she wishes to surpass.

 

Violetta Trofimova, St Petersburg, Russia.  “Presentation of Self and Two Seventeenth-Century Women Writers: Margaret Cavendish and Anna-Maria van Shurman.”

 

The aim of this paper is to reveal the most important elements of self in Margaret Cavendish’s and Anna-Maria van Shurman’s autobiographical writings. I will consider Cavendish’s autobiography A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding and Life and her works that include autobiographical material.  On the one hand are the similarities between the two women writers. Cavendish’s autobiography conveys the sense of apologia, a justification of her life as a writer and her social position vis-à-vis that of her aristocratic husband.  The Dutch polymath Anna-Maria van Schuman’s Eucleria serves as apologia of writer’s entire life and as defence of her choice to leave mainstream Protestantism and join the Labadists.  Cavendish and van Schurman also both flouted society, cultivating originality in dress and in manners.  On the other hand, are the differences.  Despite important common features in the representation of the “self” in their works, Cavendish and van Schurman differ a great deal in their sense of self derived from childhood experience. While Schurman was a child prodigy and one of the main “wonders” of Utrecht.  Cavendish’s early life was much more modest. Schurman enjoyed fame.  In her autobiography she disliked the idolatry that had grown around her personality, while Cavendish wanted fame above all other earthly things.  Schurman’s writings had an impact on the intellectual life of her time; her writings were translated into several European languages and reached the most distant corners of Europe. Cavendish dreamt of influence and power, but understood, that the only sphere where she could gain power was the sphere of imagination.

 

 

Stella Achilleos, University of Cyprus. “Margaret Cavendish’s Authorial Identity and ‘The Animall Parliament’.”

In many of her writings, Margaret Cavendish constructs her identity as an author by employing various self-effacing gestures, often calling attention to what she describes as her ignorance or lack of ability and education. A number of examples may be found in her collection Poems, and Fancies, the volume with which she introduced herself to the public in 1653. However, as a number of scholars in recent years have pointed out, Cavendish’s writings in fact show her engagement with a vast array of literary and philosophical traditions that remain unacknowledged by the author. In this paper, I would like to contribute to this discussion by concentrating especially on one of her least-studied texts from Poems, and Fancies, her prose piece titled “The Animall Parliament”. As has already been argued, this text demonstrates Cavendish’s engagement with a long literary tradition – one that may be traced back to Livy and was taken up by many of the author’s contemporaries, such as William Harvey and Thomas Hobbes – that employed the human body as a metaphor for political structures and the body politic. However, as I would like to emphasize here, Cavendish’s text is further complicated by the fact that the political body she describes in this text consists of animals – an element that points to her employment of another important tradition, that of the animal parliament (with a well-known example found in Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules). As I would like to argue, Cavendish’s fusion of these two traditions in “The Animall Parliament” suggests her engagement with a much broader philosophical debate than heretofore acknowledged, one that was central in discussions about the boundaries between humanity and animality, and the closely interrelated question of human identity and sovereignty. Dating back to classical times (and Aristotle’s discussion of man as a political animal), this debate was brought to the fore in the early modern period with the publication of such texts as Hobbes’s Leviathan. Though far from being a full philosophical account of the subject, Cavendish’s often humorous treatment in “The Animall Parliament” significantly interrogates the terms of this debate, especially as the text concentrates on the element of reason and the extent to which it defines the process of decision-making in the body it describes.    

 

Cavendish II:  Atoms and Atomism

Session Chair James Fitzmaurice, Northern Arizona University and the University Sheffield

 

Inhye Ha, Ewha Women’s University, South Korea. “Margaret Cavendish’s Poetics of Matter: Atoms, Sympathy, and the Natural World.”

Over the last three decades, Margaret Cavendish has received critical attention for wide-ranging modes of writing, including romances, scientific treatises, poems, plays, and letters. In conversation with early modern literary scholars and historians of science who have attempted to recover, reread, and reassess Cavendish’s multi-layered engagement with a variety of fields of knowledge making, this essay sheds new light upon what I call “atom poems” collected in her 1653 Poems and Fancies in conjunction with her remarks on atoms in Sociable Letters (1664).  My argument is that Cavendish’s publication of poems that describe the property and movement of atoms in different scales is indicative of meaningful intersections between her poetics and natural philosophy.  Poems like “A World Made by Atomes” and “All things are goveren’d by Atomes” reveal that the poet is invested in taking the full measure of the material world that surrounds her by construing atoms as the fundamental unit of the world. And yet, it should be noted that her version of materialism is not always consistent with the theorisation of atomism as done by her male contemporaries. In tracing and examining Cavendish’s atom poems alongside her speculations of atoms in other prose works, I aim to demonstrate that the poet toys with shifting notions of atoms and eventually creates a distinctively hybrid material world. By putting together seventeenth-century corpuscular theory, atomism, and elemental vision, Cavendish envisions her own poetics of “matter”. Notable is the fact that this particular elemental vision is compounded by the poet’s account of affective dimensions of the material realm: Cavendish resorts to a concept like “sympathy,” as found in “Of the Sympathy of Atomes”, in order to understand the governing principles of the physical world.

 

Hero Chalmers, Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge. “’Self-moving Atoms Historical Dilapidation of Royalist Estates’: Jane and Margaret Cavendish.”

 

This paper will compare the manuscript poetry written by Jane Cavendish with the printed verse comprised in her step-mother Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies (1653). While Sarah Ross frames Poems and Fancies as having little to do with Jane Cavendish’s verse, the present study will contend that, in order fully to appreciate the signifying power of Margaret’s printed volume, we need to recognise that it was written – and, in many cases read – by those familiar with the conventions of the royalist manuscript coterie writing associated with the Cavendish family. Kate Chedgzoy alerts us to the ways in which the royalist sympathies of Jane’s manuscript draw on a powerful sense of the place of its production in the besieged Cavendish home at Welbeck Abbey in 1644-45.  Yet, Margaret’s poems – written whilst in London to petition Parliament for her husband’s now sequestered estates – begin with a preface to the reader, announcing her alienation from the family’s houses and lands. The volume goes on to present an attenuated version of the coterie sociality identified by Ross as a key component of Jane’s political self-identification.  Images of the destruction and rebuilding of the stately house (as an abstract, rather than geographically-located entity) consistently resurface. Yet, the embedding of such images within a natural philosophy which foregrounds self-moving atoms as the basic components of matter gains a purchase on the specific historical dilapidation of royalist estates by portraying it as part of an endless process of creation and destruction in which even cataclysmic change can lead to renewal.

 

Lisa Walters, Liverpool Hope University. “Epicureanism and Intellectual Authority in The Convent of Pleasure.”

Cavendish believed that her particular understanding of science played an integral part in her various sorts of imaginative writing.  While much scholarship has examined the link between Cavendish’s prose fiction and science, this essay will use The Convent of Pleasure as a case study to examine the ways that Cavendish’s drama gained authority from her evocation and manipulation of Epicurean atomism.  Specifically, this essay will explore how her scientific view of nature and matter emerges to strengthen the intellectual credentials of the play and how dramatic performance enhances the philosophical standing of the piece.  The play on one hand engages with and manipulates Epicurean understandings of Pierre Gassendi who was a regular dinner guest of the Cavendish household while she and her husband William lived in Paris.  On the other, it provides a gendered critique of Epicurean notions of nature and pleasure.

 

Gweno Williams to join a SRS session on 17th century readers

Gweno Williams, Norwegian Study Centre, University of York. “Shakespeare’s Beatrice Reimagined with Agency by Margaret Cavendish in Her Published Plays Bell in Campo and Lady Contemplation.” 

This paper offers perspectives on the female agency of Shakespeare’s Beatrice from Much Ado about Nothing as reimagined by Margaret Cavendish.  Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-73) was the first woman to publish criticism of Shakespeare in her 1664 prose collection Sociable Letters, where she specifically refers to Beatrice. Cavendish’s various writings in different genres suggest that she read Shakespeare extensively and discussed this reading with her husband, William Cavendish Duke of Newcastle (1592-1676).

 

Cavendish’s first volume of drama Playes (1662) includes Bell in Campo, her partly comic retrospective reimagining of the English Civil War -- where women become militant, raise an all-female army and triumph on both military and domestic fronts. A ‘draft version’ of this plot-line is also explored in Lady Contemplation.  A brief, illustrative extract from this play in performance will be screened.

 

In this paper I argue that Cavendish’s Lady Victoria is Shakespeare’s Beatrice transformed into a victorious ‘Generalless’.  Through Lady Contemplation and, in greater detail Lady Victoria in Bell in Campo, Cavendish explores women’s choices and actions beyond the point at which Shakespeare reins in Beatrice.  Unlike Beatrice's experience, Cavendish’s heroic women’s mouths are not ‘stopped’ at the end of the play; rather they have made significant domestic gains, winning the right for women ‘to be mistresses in their own houses’.

Society for Renaissance Studies Meeting

University of Sheffield, 2018

 

Two Sessions and one Paper

Sponsored by the International Margaret Cavendish Society

 

Organizers: James Fitzmaurice, Northern Arizona University

and the University of Sheffield, and Lisa Walters, Liverpool Hope University

 

 

Cavendish I: Identity and the Representation of Self  

Session Chair Lisa Walters, Liverpool Hope University

Judith Haber, Tufts University, USA.  “Adoptive Strategies: Cavendish, Jonson, and the Problem of Patrilineal Inheritance.”

 

My interest in the idea of the adoptive son began with an examination of Margaret Cavendish’s two-part play, Love’s Adventures.  The heroine of this play spends some time disguised as a page in the service of a nobleman whom she loves, Lord Singularity; she has therefore often been compared to Viola in Twelfth Night, and the play has often been seen as a rather typical exploration of gender roles.  But the Lord’s persistent fear of fathering a child not his own and his subsequent adoption of the page (a procedure that many of his friends wish to imitate), as well as Cavendish’s clear knowledge of ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore (most obviously evidenced in The Unnatural Tragedy), seem to point in another direction.  In ‘Tis Pity, I have argued elsewhere, incest is seen as a means of answering male anxieties about paternity by keeping procreation “all in the family".  Here, Cavendish appears to be deliberately (and critically) taking this idea one step further: the father's line is kept pure not by the son's marrying his own sister, but by the father's first choosing his own son and then (eventually) marrying him.  In the Lord’s fantasy relationship, at least, a closed circuit of male reproduction is created, effectively excising the woman and the problem of uncertainly she represents. Simultaneously (and paradoxically), Cavendish seems to present the disguised page’s dilemma (the page is, at one point, betrothed unto herself), as an emblem of Cavendish’s own “singularity,” her individual independence from conventional structures, both familial and literary.  I intend to develop these ideas further here, using recent work by Lara Dodds and others; I will also explore Cavendish’s not unconnected (but equally paradoxical) relation to Ben Jonson (that celebrated adopter of literary “Sons”), whom Cavendish sees simultaneously as her masculine antitype, her forefather, and the rival poet whom she wishes to surpass.

 

Violetta Trofimova, St Petersburg, Russia.  “Presentation of Self and Two Seventeenth-Century Women Writers: Margaret Cavendish and Anna-Maria van Shurman.”

 

The aim of this paper is to reveal the most important elements of self in Margaret Cavendish’s and Anna-Maria van Shurman’s autobiographical writings. I will consider Cavendish’s autobiography A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding and Life and her works that include autobiographical material.  On the one hand are the similarities between the two women writers. Cavendish’s autobiography conveys the sense of apologia, a justification of her life as a writer and her social position vis-à-vis that of her aristocratic husband.  The Dutch polymath Anna-Maria van Schuman’s Eucleria serves as apologia of writer’s entire life and as defence of her choice to leave mainstream Protestantism and join the Labadists.  Cavendish and van Schurman also both flouted society, cultivating originality in dress and in manners.  On the other hand, are the differences.  Despite important common features in the representation of the “self” in their works, Cavendish and van Schurman differ a great deal in their sense of self derived from childhood experience. While Schurman was a child prodigy and one of the main “wonders” of Utrecht.  Cavendish’s early life was much more modest. Schurman enjoyed fame.  In her autobiography she disliked the idolatry that had grown around her personality, while Cavendish wanted fame above all other earthly things.  Schurman’s writings had an impact on the intellectual life of her time; her writings were translated into several European languages and reached the most distant corners of Europe. Cavendish dreamt of influence and power, but understood, that the only sphere where she could gain power was the sphere of imagination.

 

 

Stella Achilleos, University of Cyprus. “Margaret Cavendish’s Authorial Identity and ‘The Animall Parliament’.”

In many of her writings, Margaret Cavendish constructs her identity as an author by employing various self-effacing gestures, often calling attention to what she describes as her ignorance or lack of ability and education. A number of examples may be found in her collection Poems, and Fancies, the volume with which she introduced herself to the public in 1653. However, as a number of scholars in recent years have pointed out, Cavendish’s writings in fact show her engagement with a vast array of literary and philosophical traditions that remain unacknowledged by the author. In this paper, I would like to contribute to this discussion by concentrating especially on one of her least-studied texts from Poems, and Fancies, her prose piece titled “The Animall Parliament”. As has already been argued, this text demonstrates Cavendish’s engagement with a long literary tradition – one that may be traced back to Livy and was taken up by many of the author’s contemporaries, such as William Harvey and Thomas Hobbes – that employed the human body as a metaphor for political structures and the body politic. However, as I would like to emphasize here, Cavendish’s text is further complicated by the fact that the political body she describes in this text consists of animals – an element that points to her employment of another important tradition, that of the animal parliament (with a well-known example found in Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules). As I would like to argue, Cavendish’s fusion of these two traditions in “The Animall Parliament” suggests her engagement with a much broader philosophical debate than heretofore acknowledged, one that was central in discussions about the boundaries between humanity and animality, and the closely interrelated question of human identity and sovereignty. Dating back to classical times (and Aristotle’s discussion of man as a political animal), this debate was brought to the fore in the early modern period with the publication of such texts as Hobbes’s Leviathan. Though far from being a full philosophical account of the subject, Cavendish’s often humorous treatment in “The Animall Parliament” significantly interrogates the terms of this debate, especially as the text concentrates on the element of reason and the extent to which it defines the process of decision-making in the body it describes.    

 

Cavendish II:  Atoms and Atomism

Session Chair James Fitzmaurice, Northern Arizona University and the University Sheffield

 

Inhye Ha, Ewha Women’s University, South Korea. “Margaret Cavendish’s Poetics of Matter: Atoms, Sympathy, and the Natural World.”

Over the last three decades, Margaret Cavendish has received critical attention for wide-ranging modes of writing, including romances, scientific treatises, poems, plays, and letters. In conversation with early modern literary scholars and historians of science who have attempted to recover, reread, and reassess Cavendish’s multi-layered engagement with a variety of fields of knowledge making, this essay sheds new light upon what I call “atom poems” collected in her 1653 Poems and Fancies in conjunction with her remarks on atoms in Sociable Letters (1664).  My argument is that Cavendish’s publication of poems that describe the property and movement of atoms in different scales is indicative of meaningful intersections between her poetics and natural philosophy.  Poems like “A World Made by Atomes” and “All things are goveren’d by Atomes” reveal that the poet is invested in taking the full measure of the material world that surrounds her by construing atoms as the fundamental unit of the world. And yet, it should be noted that her version of materialism is not always consistent with the theorisation of atomism as done by her male contemporaries. In tracing and examining Cavendish’s atom poems alongside her speculations of atoms in other prose works, I aim to demonstrate that the poet toys with shifting notions of atoms and eventually creates a distinctively hybrid material world. By putting together seventeenth-century corpuscular theory, atomism, and elemental vision, Cavendish envisions her own poetics of “matter”. Notable is the fact that this particular elemental vision is compounded by the poet’s account of affective dimensions of the material realm: Cavendish resorts to a concept like “sympathy,” as found in “Of the Sympathy of Atomes”, in order to understand the governing principles of the physical world.

 

Hero Chalmers, Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge. “’Self-moving Atoms Historical Dilapidation of Royalist Estates’: Jane and Margaret Cavendish.”

 

This paper will compare the manuscript poetry written by Jane Cavendish with the printed verse comprised in her step-mother Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies (1653). While Sarah Ross frames Poems and Fancies as having little to do with Jane Cavendish’s verse, the present study will contend that, in order fully to appreciate the signifying power of Margaret’s printed volume, we need to recognise that it was written – and, in many cases read – by those familiar with the conventions of the royalist manuscript coterie writing associated with the Cavendish family. Kate Chedgzoy alerts us to the ways in which the royalist sympathies of Jane’s manuscript draw on a powerful sense of the place of its production in the besieged Cavendish home at Welbeck Abbey in 1644-45.  Yet, Margaret’s poems – written whilst in London to petition Parliament for her husband’s now sequestered estates – begin with a preface to the reader, announcing her alienation from the family’s houses and lands. The volume goes on to present an attenuated version of the coterie sociality identified by Ross as a key component of Jane’s political self-identification.  Images of the destruction and rebuilding of the stately house (as an abstract, rather than geographically-located entity) consistently resurface. Yet, the embedding of such images within a natural philosophy which foregrounds self-moving atoms as the basic components of matter gains a purchase on the specific historical dilapidation of royalist estates by portraying it as part of an endless process of creation and destruction in which even cataclysmic change can lead to renewal.

 

Lisa Walters, Liverpool Hope University. “Epicureanism and Intellectual Authority in The Convent of Pleasure.”

Cavendish believed that her particular understanding of science played an integral part in her various sorts of imaginative writing.  While much scholarship has examined the link between Cavendish’s prose fiction and science, this essay will use The Convent of Pleasure as a case study to examine the ways that Cavendish’s drama gained authority from her evocation and manipulation of Epicurean atomism.  Specifically, this essay will explore how her scientific view of nature and matter emerges to strengthen the intellectual credentials of the play and how dramatic performance enhances the philosophical standing of the piece.  The play on one hand engages with and manipulates Epicurean understandings of Pierre Gassendi who was a regular dinner guest of the Cavendish household while she and her husband William lived in Paris.  On the other, it provides a gendered critique of Epicurean notions of nature and pleasure.

 

Gweno Williams to join a SRS session on 17th century readers

Gweno Williams, Norwegian Study Centre, University of York. “Shakespeare’s Beatrice Reimagined with Agency by Margaret Cavendish in Her Published Plays Bell in Campo and Lady Contemplation.” 

This paper offers perspectives on the female agency of Shakespeare’s Beatrice from Much Ado about Nothing as reimagined by Margaret Cavendish.  Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-73) was the first woman to publish criticism of Shakespeare in her 1664 prose collection Sociable Letters, where she specifically refers to Beatrice. Cavendish’s various writings in different genres suggest that she read Shakespeare extensively and discussed this reading with her husband, William Cavendish Duke of Newcastle (1592-1676).

 

Cavendish’s first volume of drama Playes (1662) includes Bell in Campo, her partly comic retrospective reimagining of the English Civil War -- where women become militant, raise an all-female army and triumph on both military and domestic fronts. A ‘draft version’ of this plot-line is also explored in Lady Contemplation.  A brief, illustrative extract from this play in performance will be screened.

 

In this paper I argue that Cavendish’s Lady Victoria is Shakespeare’s Beatrice transformed into a victorious ‘Generalless’.  Through Lady Contemplation and, in greater detail Lady Victoria in Bell in Campo, Cavendish explores women’s choices and actions beyond the point at which Shakespeare reins in Beatrice.  Unlike Beatrice's experience, Cavendish’s heroic women’s mouths are not ‘stopped’ at the end of the play; rather they have made significant domestic gains, winning the right for women ‘to be mistresses in their own houses’.

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