Prosopopoeia, gender, and religion

The poetry of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

Authored by: Rosalind Smith

Routledge Companion to Women, Sex, and Gender in the Early British Colonial World

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781472479945
eBook ISBN: 9781315613772
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315613772-12

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Abstract

Studies of early modern women and religion have expanded significantly in the past decade, with the discovery and analysis of new texts, new modes of transmission, and new roles for women in the production, circulation, and reception of religious writing, alongside a revaluing of religion as a crucial category of cultural organisation through which early modern subjects framed their experience. This essay builds upon this work to consider religion, gender, and authorship in the poetry of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, whose corpus consisted of couplets, quatrains, sonnets, and devotional meditations, some recognisably religious in form, others secular but circulated alongside devotional texts. Cumulatively, this body of poetry provides a rich resource for understanding not only sixteenth-century women’s Catholic textual agency in England and beyond, but also the intersections between the secular and the religious, the Protestant and Catholic, and the authentic and the prosopopoeic in early modern women’s writing. As a relatively prolific poet and a figure under whose signature multiple, probably male-authored, texts were circulated, Mary Stuart has a unique status: she exists simultaneously as a historical woman writer and as several imaginary, prosopopoeic counterparts. Untangling the complex publication and attribution histories associated with Mary Stuart’s poetry, this essay explores the political and social work her autograph texts performed as well as the ways in which the prosopopoeic texts circulated under her signature shaped her political and religious objectives. It argues for a more complex, and equivocal, narrative of early modern women’s deployment of discourses of gender and religion than is orthodox – a narrative of uncertainty, failure, and constraint as well as empowerment.

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