Presentation Title

Impresas and Impositions: Female Marginalization through the Impresa in Petrarch, Wyatt, and Sidney

Location

Room 2908

Session Format

Paper Presentation

Research Area Topic:

Humanities & Social Sciences - Literature & Philosophy

Abstract

Emblems in Renaissance literature have been critically studied for hundreds of years, and yet there has been no real modern focus on the presence of impresas in Renaissance literature. Like an emblem, an impresa presents a picture and a motto. What sets this definition apart from an emblem is the fact that those of noble or learned status use the impresa to convey their own personal message, or motto. Renaissance poets Francesco Petrarch, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and Sir Phillip Sidney all feature the impresa in certain sonnets. The three men not only include impresas in their sonnets, but they also represent the ladies of their sonnets as impresas. It is the goal of this essay to prove that Petrarch, Wyatt, and Sidney position their female sonnet subjects as impresas in order to silence them.

We can trace a pattern between the works of Petrarch, Wyatt and Sidney and note that as the impresa is modified, the female subject becomes increasingly marginalized. In Petrarch’s “Sonnet 190,” the motto of the impresa is attached to the subject, a deer, in the form of a collar. Based on the combination of the image of the deer with the collar and her motto, the reader is able to infer that Petrarch’s impresa suggests that the deer does retain some freedom, and yet is still forced to wear a collar, and is silenced with no real agency. In Wyatt’s sonnet “Whoso List to Hunt,” which was inspired by Petrarch’s “Sonnet 190”, the motto of the impresa is engraved on the body of the deer. For Wyatt, the motto and image in the sonnet imply that the deer has even less identity than that of Petrarach’s, due to the fact that she belongs to someone else and is both branded and silent. In Sidney’s “Sonnet 13” of the sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella, Stella is represented as an engraving on Cupid’s shield. Astrophil does not allow her to have any sort of separation from his idealization of her chastity. Instead of simply having the motto engraved on Stella’s skin, like the deer in Wyatt’s poem, Stella is now both the motto and the shield. Her agency is stripped away entirely. Stella is completely dehumanized, and is now trapped to be the champion of chastity, an image that Astrophil holds fast to throughout the entirety of Astrophil and Stella.

Female marginalization is not uncommon during the Renaissance era. However it seems that when the impresa is considered in the works of Petrarch, Wyatt, and Sidney, this marginalization is driven even further. Not only do the women not have a voice, but are only given their voice through the motto that the speaker imposes on them. Therefore, the impresa seems to be another tool for Renaissance sonneteers to marginalize and silence women in their poetry, while ultimately promoting themselves in the process.

Keywords

Renaissance Literature, Renaissance Poetry, English Literature, English Poetry, Sonnet, Women/Gender Studies

Presentation Type and Release Option

Presentation (Open Access)

Start Date

4-24-2015 9:30 AM

End Date

4-24-2015 10:30 AM

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Apr 24th, 9:30 AM Apr 24th, 10:30 AM

Impresas and Impositions: Female Marginalization through the Impresa in Petrarch, Wyatt, and Sidney

Room 2908

Emblems in Renaissance literature have been critically studied for hundreds of years, and yet there has been no real modern focus on the presence of impresas in Renaissance literature. Like an emblem, an impresa presents a picture and a motto. What sets this definition apart from an emblem is the fact that those of noble or learned status use the impresa to convey their own personal message, or motto. Renaissance poets Francesco Petrarch, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and Sir Phillip Sidney all feature the impresa in certain sonnets. The three men not only include impresas in their sonnets, but they also represent the ladies of their sonnets as impresas. It is the goal of this essay to prove that Petrarch, Wyatt, and Sidney position their female sonnet subjects as impresas in order to silence them.

We can trace a pattern between the works of Petrarch, Wyatt and Sidney and note that as the impresa is modified, the female subject becomes increasingly marginalized. In Petrarch’s “Sonnet 190,” the motto of the impresa is attached to the subject, a deer, in the form of a collar. Based on the combination of the image of the deer with the collar and her motto, the reader is able to infer that Petrarch’s impresa suggests that the deer does retain some freedom, and yet is still forced to wear a collar, and is silenced with no real agency. In Wyatt’s sonnet “Whoso List to Hunt,” which was inspired by Petrarch’s “Sonnet 190”, the motto of the impresa is engraved on the body of the deer. For Wyatt, the motto and image in the sonnet imply that the deer has even less identity than that of Petrarach’s, due to the fact that she belongs to someone else and is both branded and silent. In Sidney’s “Sonnet 13” of the sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella, Stella is represented as an engraving on Cupid’s shield. Astrophil does not allow her to have any sort of separation from his idealization of her chastity. Instead of simply having the motto engraved on Stella’s skin, like the deer in Wyatt’s poem, Stella is now both the motto and the shield. Her agency is stripped away entirely. Stella is completely dehumanized, and is now trapped to be the champion of chastity, an image that Astrophil holds fast to throughout the entirety of Astrophil and Stella.

Female marginalization is not uncommon during the Renaissance era. However it seems that when the impresa is considered in the works of Petrarch, Wyatt, and Sidney, this marginalization is driven even further. Not only do the women not have a voice, but are only given their voice through the motto that the speaker imposes on them. Therefore, the impresa seems to be another tool for Renaissance sonneteers to marginalize and silence women in their poetry, while ultimately promoting themselves in the process.