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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: July 2010

5 - ‘A Womans writing of diuinest things’: Aemilia Lanyer's passion for a professional poetic vocation


There are but fewe of many that can rightly judge of Poetry, and yet thear ar many of those few, that carry so left-handed an opinion of it, as some of them thinke it halfe sacrilege for profane Poetrie to deale with divine and heauenly matters.

Giles Fletcher, Christs victorie, and triumph in heauen, and earth

Come all the worlde and call your wittes together,

borrowe some pennes from out the Angells winges;

Intreate the heauens to send the muses hether,

to holpe your soules to write of sacred thinges.

Nicholas Breton, The Countesse of Penbrookes passion

In her dedication ‘To the Queenes most excellent majestie’, Aemilia Lanyer asks her ‘to view that which is seldome seene, / A Womans writing of diuinest things.’ Lanyer's claim notwithstanding, divine things were the most common subjects of literary (and, in post-Romantic terms, extra-literary) treatment by women in the early modern period. While Lanyer's long poem, Salve Deus Rex Judæorum (1611), is ostensibly religious in nature, a number of critics deem the religious content of the work peripheral to its central intentions. Such assertions are subject to question; what is clear is that religious conviction was not Lanyer's sole – probably not even her prevailing – motivation. She published her poem on the Passion of Christ to solicit patronage.