A Case for Credit:
Isabella Whitney's "Wyll and Testament" and the Mock Testament Tradition

Jill P. Ingram

 


"Alms to the Poor"

 

 

And Bedlam must not be forgot,
for that was oft my walke:
I people there too many leave,
that out of tune doo talke.1  

     1. The speaker in Isabella Whitney's "Wyll and Testament" (1573) leaves to the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem "many" people who talk "out of tune": her mock-testament provides London's asylum with the insane who are already patients there.2 The paradox is double: her bequest fills, with a bounty of sickness and insanity, a hospital already full; and the lunatics are not hers to give. Thus she bestows an impossible, impractical gift to a recipient -- Bedlam -- that in turn is implicated through her satiric offering. This formula, endemic to the mock testament, highlights the testator's oppositional relationship to the recipient or, as in this case, to the cultural formations responsible for the recipient's continued "success": a fully occupied and thus "successful" hospital reflects upon the society that produces its mad inhabitants. But whether Bedlam was "oft" the speaker's "walke" because she was one of the Londoners who visited it to watch the ravings of the mad for amusement, or because she skirted the fringes of insanity herself, the condition of madness is nonetheless highlighted. And the bequest, offering hoards of mentally ill, provides not just for a more crowded hospital, but also for instability and noise, an "out of tune" cacophony to jangle London's already noisy streets. These lines attest to Whitney's own antic mode -- and to her deliberate employment of the mock testament genre -- in a poem that has often been placed in the female legacy tradition.3 But those poems authorize mothers' dying bequests to their children, offering advice in the guise of last wills. Whitney's poem is itself "out of tune" with that genre, and instead, in the speaker's rollicking and outlandish bequests of the indebted, the insane, the indigent and the widowed, needs to be placed firmly within its proper genre, the mock testament. A satiric literary will that exposed vices and burlesqued legal authority, the mock testament, traceable to the twelfth century, was a well-known genre by Whitney's time. With a glimpse into the workings of that genre, we can better understand Whitney's strategies in critiquing aspects of London's marketplace. Certain mock testament conventions, including the "outsider" status of the dead or dying and often impoverished speaker, and the shattering of social stratification, serve Whitney's primary goals: she is both dramatizing the ambitious female writer's plight as an "outsider," and calling for the opening of credit networks to the city's marginalized figures.

     2. Issues of genre are often at question in considering early modern women's writing, as recent studies have grappled with female writers' appropriations of poetic forms and traditions that often objectify women, such as Petrarchism and the poetry of courtship.4 These studies have analyzed how such appropriations skew traditional generic conventions. This article examines the ways in which Whitney, in "Wyll," manipulates mock testament conventions to narrate one female writer's economic disadvantage in London. The poem itself follows a female speaker who is forced to leave the city: denied credit, room or board and spurned by her lover, the city "London," she offers a fantasy that all of London is hers to bequeath. First she offers him the city's luxuries, but the poem quickly devolves into a bequest of poor laborers, tenements, and prisons. The will implicates a "London" refusing credit to those in need, but at the same time the speaker envies those in debt, members of the lending community from which she's barred. This ambiguity (and Whitney's use of the mock testament to best express not only the relationship of debtors to creditors, but also the consequences of exclusive credit channels) illumines conflicting attitudes toward debt in London's growing credit economy. The ways in which Whitney employs and then shifts centuries-old mock-testament conventions also highlights her strategy in reaching readers attuned to such conventions, specifically the exposure of economic iniquity.

     3. We can assume Whitney faced the frustrations exhibited by her speaker without necessarily equating author with speaker. Probably born to a gentry family in Cheshire near the middle of the sixteenth century, Whitney is thought to be the sister of Geoffrey Whitney, author of the well-known A Choice of Emblemes (1586).5 After some education Isabella may have become a domestic servant in London, serving as a companion in the household of a noblewoman, though we have no real evidence.6 She was probably the first woman to print a complete volume of secular poetry under her name, the miscellany The Copy of a Letter (1566-7). Her second miscellany, A Sweet Nosgay (1573), revises the adages in Sir Hugh Plat's Floures of Philosophie (1572), adds a section of epistles, and ends with her "Wyll and Testament." In the collection, Whitney makes explicit her professional literary aspirations: the book is presented to her hoped-for patron George Mainwaring, an affluent neighbor of the Whitney family in Cheshire, and to her addressees as payment for past debts and in hopes for future patronage. It includes the section of "Certain familier Epistles and friendly Letters by the Auctor: with Replies" to brothers, sisters, a cousin, and two friends. The epistles create an illusion of closeness to a social context which is absent. Her goal seems to be to create a store of personal credit to offset future insecurity. But ultimately hers is a sense of exclusion, not inclusion. Her letters to her sisters express her exile from domesticity, for one. And though she had used the epistles as a means to establish a sense of social credit, the concluding poem in Nosgay, her "Wyll," figuratively erases that credit. Saying that she is "wery of writyng," she expresses her departure in terms of the mock will and testament.7

     4. The bequest itself is to the city of London, the ruthless lover who has spurned the speaker. The mockery lies in the poem's central irony: the things she wills to London are the things she is without, things London has already. Indeed she recites an extended catalogue of London's abundance: "Brave buildings, "Churches," "Pauls," and "fayre streats" (28-29). When she leaves "people goodly store" (30), the list becomes a bountiful Homeric catalogue of provisions, with "Butchers" (33), "Brewers" (35), "Bakers" (36), "two Streets" full of fish (39), "Wollen" cloth (42), "Linnen" (43), "Mercers" offering "silke" (47), "Goldsmiths" with their "Juels" (51), and "Plate to furnish Cubbards with" (53). Such supply suggests demand: London's citizens are her next offering, whose "keeping craveth cost" (31). The "goodly store" of people includes the fashionable who indulge their extravagant tastes for "French Ruffes, high Purles, Gorgets and Sleeves" (63), and those relegated to serving such indulgent buyers. Emphasizing what we call the class divide, the speaker supplies boys who sell the buyers trinkets: "For Purse or Knives, for Combe or Glasse,/or any needeful knacke/I by the Stoks have left a Boy,/wil aske you what you lack" (65-68). The street hawkers' cry "what ye lack" signifies the all-pervasive supply that the city market, or "Stocks," provides. Yet in that word we also hear "stocks," the wooden device to which miscreants were chained, suggesting the presence of crime, poverty, and punishment corrupting and monitoring the market system. Within this supply, she hints, are the less comfortable consequences of demands which exceed, and potentially disturb, the marketplace.

     5. Such consequences begin to crowd the poem, as market demands include the stresses of a competitive environment. City ills -- from sickness to social unrest -- require provisions such as "Poticaries" (93), "Phisicians . . . for the sicke" (95), and "cunning Surgions" (101) to apply poultices to the wounds of those injured in duels. And the abundance of London's streets is undercut in much of Whitney's phrasing. When she writes "In many places, Shops are full,/I left you nothing scant" (107-8), the end-stopped word "scant" hints at the shops' potential for lack. Her description of the Royal Mint, "At Mint, there is such store, it is/unpossible to tell it" (111-12), suggests the great wealth in the Mint and also its ultimate material impenetrability for the speaker -- in contrast to upper gentry or aristocrats, she would never be in a position to "tell" how much money the Mint holds. And even the wine she'll leave only "glads" "dulled mindes" (114). These varied suggestions of the disconnect between the city's bounty and the deficiencies for which it may or may not provide serve as the set-up for the poem's second, darker section.

     6. The speaker provides a scathing bridge to the poem's remaining two thirds -- a satiric critique of points of failure in London's mercantile society -- with a brief foray on single male apprentices: "handsome" apprentices who "must not wed/except they leave their trade" (115-16). Referring to the formal indenture of apprenticeship to a master, she touches on one of the promises apprentices made in return for instruction, room and board. But the indenture agreement also included refraining from fornication, gambling, and the haunting of alehouses.8 Here the apprentices break the promise: "They oft shal seeke for proper Gyrles,/and some perhaps shall fynde:/(That neede compels, or lucre lures/to satisfye their mind)" (117-20). For once the speaker won't supply a social need: for this rather unseemly demand, the apprentices are on their own. She instead provides for the "gyrles'" needs. Their compulsion to sell their bodies to the eager tradesmen draws the speaker's sympathy: she leaves "houses" for the girls and others in the neighborhood to "repayre" and to bathe themselves "to prevent/infection of the ayre" (123-24).

     7. As if the prostitutes' fortunes spur the speaker to reflect on her own compelling financial needs, she pauses to comment explicitly on her difficulties in the market economy. Of her own economic fate in London, she says: "I little brought/but nothyng from thee tooke" (131-32), a reprise of the poem's opening thrust blaming London for not extending her credit: "Thou never yet, woldst credit geve/to boord me for a yeare" ("communication," 21-22). London did not reciprocate its end of their market relationship. The speaker's disappointment is registered in an extended pathetic fallacy, as the poem turns from Golden Age abundance to Silver Age competition.9 Here Whitney attributes her own sense of competition and penury to London -- or in this case, to its prisons, depicted as gaining advantage through her offerings. Golden Age "provision" becomes an abundance of indigence, where London's prisons are "supplied" through her gift of prisoners:

I wyll to prisons portions leave,
what though but very small:
. . . .
And fyrst the Counter they shal have,
least they should go to wrack:
Some Coggers, and some honest men
that Sergantes draw aback.
    (137-44)

This pathetic fallacy carries some material truth, however: the speaker's freshly motivated focus on debt and debtors' prisons, while perhaps pathetic, is not entirely fallacious.10 The poor and indebted certainly existed in London -- it is just that they become, in a brilliant turn, a synecdoche for her generosity. They are the "bequest" she offers to the prisons. While to debtors' prisons she leaves people to fill them, to the Newgate prison for felons she leaves "a sessions" (150), or court hearing, to empty it out. The narrative here -- the workings of justice, relayed in matter-of-fact description of the sessions' results -- becomes more cynically carnivalesque. Some prisoners emerge from court with "burning nere the Thumb" (154), the branding received by petty offenders as punishment; others are allowed to beg discharge fees; and finally there are "such whose deedes deserveth death" (157). All punishments are provided for: even to those on their way to execution she leaves "a Nag" (161) to carry them up Holborn Hill.

     8. The speaker's own relationship to debt colors her descriptions of the Counter, Fleet, and Ludgate. To the debtors' prison the Counter she leaves cheats or "Coggers" (143), unlucky souls like herself without credit, either economic or social: "such as Friends wyl not them bayle,/whose coyne is very thin" (145-46). From the Fleet, the prison for those found guilty in Star Chamber or Chancery, she fears a "curse" if she doesn't leave the prison -- "him" -- a portion (167, 166), so she bequeaths a recusant, "some papist old" and a money box for the poor. If her adversarial tone isn't clear from her reluctant bequest of a dying papist, it becomes so in her subsequent provision to Ludgate, where we might interpret her bitterness at being denied credit as carrying a religious gravitas. We could understand her socio-economic anxieties in terminology of the covenant, and see her using Ludgate as a metaphor for heaven welcoming abject sinners, where she envisions herself in the role of the abject. She "dyd reserve" Ludgate for her debtor days: for when she "ever came in credit so/a debtor for to bee" (181-82). Sinners admit their indebtedness to Christ as creditor, who insures atonement; and so she anticipates her indebted state. While such a reading may seem speculative, applying this interpretive frame is not entirely outlandish: many late sixteenth-century readers could have done the same, in a culture in which the boundaries separating the religious and the secular were nonexistent. We might even see Whitney escalating the religious tone with the intensely evocative image of shrouding, perhaps suggestive of Christ's shroud: "When dayes of paiment did approch,/I thither ment to flee./To shroude my selfe amongst the rest,/that chuse to dye in debt" (183-86). While indebtedness at first glace may seem to impart a weakness, in London's early market economy, the opposite is actually true. Indebtedness is not only a desired social condition, connoting community ties, but is the yearned-for spiritual condition, related in the New Testament embrace of debt, dependence, and obligation. The voluntary recognition of obligation, familiar from Matthew 6:12, is explicitly termed "debt" in the Geneva Bible, "forgive us our dettes, as we also forgive our detters."11 The repentant sinner, according to doctrine, confesses that she is a bankrupt, unable to discharge the least of her sins, and thus dependent upon Christ to do so. This state nonetheless remains elusive for the speaker: "Yet cause I feele my selfe so weake/that none mee credit dare:/I heere revoke: and doo it leave,/some Banckrupts to his share" (189-93). Since she cannot attain the indebted state, she cannot be imprisoned for debt; instead, she will leave her prison spot to "some banckrupt." To use the poem's operating logic, she actually will leave to Ludgate some bankrupts in her "wyll," since she herself cannot occupy a cell there. On the one hand these lines reinforce the central complaint of the poem, anger that the speaker has been denied access to London's credit networks, and is forced to leave the city. But there is also something radically aggressive in "revoking" her place in the debtors' prison. Why, after all, would she refuse the "bankrupt" state of the repentant sinner, if that is the expectation for all Christians?

     9. Acceptance of Christian grace necessarily implies a wholesale acceptance of indebtedness, a sign of humility in the sinner. But there is no easy one-to-one correlation of this concept in terms of secular, socio-economic reckoning. Whitney suggests that indebtedness in the secular world cannot carry the same degree of faith and acceptance as it does in Christian doctrine. Some signal of reciprocity is requested by the debtor from the creditor, for instance. Writers in the period take up business ethics in economic pamphlets and religious tracts, including casuistry manuals which allow for some measure of self-interest in economic practices.12 But Whitney is among the first to suggest that a woman's right to London's credit networks is a secular right, distinct from accepted social proscriptions for women's public behavior. And she is the only woman, so far as we know, to do so by invoking the genre of the mock testament.

     10. From this point forward, the speaker begins to claim a more active economic agency. Denied credit, she in turn refuses culpability. Like Coriolanus's radical and stoic "I banish you!" to the citizens of Rome, the testator's "I heere revoke" asserts an identity separate from the economic community that at the same time hints at a wish to be accepted.13 Like Coriolanus who rejects the Roman populace upon whom he depends, the speaker reveals a hostility to the social norms excluding her. This gesture however admits to a desire for incorporation into the community's means of economic membership. She hints more explicitly at that desire in the poem's subsequent section on the book trade in London, where the tone of her bequest moves from bitterness to something more like generosity.

     11. Thus far the sympathy informing the spirit of bequest has been undercut by the nature of the items: poultices, prisons, an old papist. It is only in envisioning the "Bookebinders by Paulles" (194) that the speaker sounds sincere -- she leaves them "mony" "when they from Bookes departe" (195-96), staging a perfect market economy. Of course her books (or those sold by her printer) get note as well: "Amongst them all, my Printer must,/have somwhat to his share:/I wyll my Friends there Bookes to bye/of him, and other ware" (197-200). When the speaker leaves money to bookbinders and leaves customers to buy her printers' books, she is subverting -- or at least sidestepping -- a traditional call for patronage. The poem becomes a marketing tool, a successful print advertisement for marketing her printers' books to an expanding clientele. Of course by using print in the first place, Whitney was making a radical, opportunistic move. Like Tottel, Whitney, by publishing her miscellany in print and not circulating it in manuscript, took advantage of print technology's ability to open the closed communications of an elite to a wider audience.14 Wendy Wall has noted the significance for Nosgay of the miscellany, a form traditionally circulated in private exchange, among a group of elites. Wall writes "Whitney counters the anxieties of print publication by presenting a book that replicates private textual circulation."15 But while Whitney may reproduce private circulation in the book's form, in her poem's content she stages a public scenario. Here we find a printer's marketplace, full of buyers for Whitney's product. Among the advantages print offered were features described by Elizabeth Eisenstein as, among others, rapid dissemination, preservation, and amplification of a writer's output.16 In writing a female "author's" bequest providing friends to buy her books from her printer, Whitney stages a mise-en-abyme in a poem that she hopes will sell well and make her a popular writer.

     12. Of course Whitney had no direct financial interest in the sale of her printed work. This would only have come by way of something like a royal grant of patent.17 Typically, an author would receive a number of free copies of the book, one to present to the dedicatee in hope of reward. The bookseller or stationer was the one who stood to profit: Whitney's pursuit was instead the cultural and social profit resulting from access to credit networks, if we for a moment find a parallel between the speaker's and Whitney's situations.18 She inscribes her speaker into the sphere from which she herself has been in effect barred, giving that speaker the power to provide "friends" to buy her printers' books. The speaker substitutes the booksellers' trade as a circuit of literary transmission for the client-patron relationship. She stages a scenario of professional success that serves as a "counterfactual" to the poem's central complaint.19 If, instead of being denied credit, she had been given the means to succeed and possibly to market more of her work to printers, she could have remained in the city. Like John Taylor whose published pamphlets stage a "subscription scenario" in which he is cheated of his authorial profits by the Stationers' Company, Whitney recognizes discourse as a commodity.20 She likely would have felt the pressure from recently penned vagrancy laws prohibiting within city bounds those "able to labour, havinge not Land or Maister, nor using any lawfull Marchandize Crafte or Mysterye whereby hee or shee might get his or her Lyvinge."21 To avoid punishment for being what the law identified as a "Roge," "Vacabonde" or "Sturdye Begger," the speaker needs the credit necessary to escape not just penury but also identification as one of these types.22 The speaker's fantasy of perfect supply and demand in the center of the poem reflects her desire to be safe from the laws' proscriptions. Her exile and departure at the end of the poem, however, simply reinforces the laws' consequences. Here the dictates of genre and law meet, in that both the mock testament and the vagrancy laws require the same result: the speaker's or vagrant's departure, respectively. This is one of the reasons the mock testament is so suitable for Whitney's purposes in narrating effects of the credit crunch.

     13. And yet many critics pass over the mock testament entirely in their discussions of Whitney's poem. Some link Whitney's "Wyll and Testament" to the genre of the "mother's legacy," as part of a broader critical conversation about the testamentary powers of women in the Renaissance.23 Mother's legacies -- dying mothers' bequests and last words to their children, often in the form of "advice books" -- were hugely popular works, and one of the few acceptable outlets for women who wanted to publish their writing. While a few women were involved with bookselling and printing, writing was a suspect activity which carried, for women, the "social and sexual stigma of print."24 Women's writing threatened to subvert the injunction to be chaste, silent, and obedient.25 The most well-known "mother's legacies," Elizabeth Grymeston's Miscelanea, Meditations, Memoratives (1604), Dorothy Leigh's The Mother's Blessing (1616), and Elizabeth Joscelin's The Mother's Legacy to her Unborne Childe (1624) actually became bestsellers.26 While the later legacies were more influential, a number predate them, such as Lady Frances Abergavennny's prayers, a deathbed gift to her daughter, printed in Thomas Bentley's Monument of Matrones (1582). It is appropriate to link Whitney's text to these women's works, in the context of the will as a rhetorical strategy for women's published thoughts. Mostly relegated to providing translations of humanist works or the psalms, women risked public opprobrium for their literary endeavors.27 As Wendy Wall has pointed out, "the legacy's enabling vantage point . . . became a more general cultural script for empowerment."28 Private farewell scenes could serve as apologies for presenting final legacies that were more public in nature. The genre also allowed women to offer prophetic utterances to a reading public.

     14. But many of the defining characteristics of the female legacy -- its address to intimate family members, its advice to children, private farewell scenes -- are not found in Whitney's poem. Of course her epistles throughout Nosgay are addressed to family members, but "Wyll" takes quite a different tone. The underlying justification of most legacies differs significantly from Whitney's. Many focus on sacrifice for the younger generation, whereas Whitney's speaker is primarily concerned with her own gain. Grymeston's Memoratives for example preserves her "last speeches" to her son, and she describes herself as a "dead woman among the living," so that the will becomes a "portable veni mecum," a counseling voice for the child in the parents' absence.29 The emphasis lies on the child's needs after the parent's death. Dorothy Leigh writes, "the first cause of writing, is a Motherly affection," and "[parents], some sparing from their own bellies, and . . . not caring if the whole Common-wealth be impoverished, so their children be inriched; for themselves they can bee content with meate, drinke, and cloth, so that their children by their meanes bee made rich. . . ."30 This articulation of self-sacrifice is entirely missing from Whitney's poem, where the whole point is not sacrifice of the self, but assertive self-interest. In fact Whitney's self-interest in "Wyll" seems connected to her very lack of family ties, in direct opposition to the familial connections asserted throughout the rest of Nosgay.

     15. To properly contextualize Whitney's poem we must leave the female legacy behind and look to the mock testament, a very different genre rooted in economic concerns of a more biting and public nature. Her title itself, "Wyll and Testament," virtually identifies it as a mock testament, one in a genre the members of which most often were titled "[x's] Wyll and Testament," or "Last Testament."31 Satirical, admonitory, and often vituperative, mock testaments employ the topsy-turvy festive logic of the dead or powerless willing grotesque or extravagantly impossible legacies (parts of their own body, for instance) to those they wish to implicate in their death.

     16. The critics recognizing Whitney's poem as a mock testament do not properly contextualize its significance for the genre's development. Lorna Hutson, who goes furthest in this direction, identifies the poem as a mock testament, a genre, she says, "in which unreliable travellers or dying festival fools expose the madness and hypsocrisy of 'things as they are' in the real world."32 Hutson does not take this analysis much further, however.33 Betty Travitsky does squarely place "Wyll" in the mock-testament tradition, noting that "[Whitney] can be viewed as a trend-setter for her composition of . . . a mock testament," and concluding that as a female writer in this genre she is unique, but Travitsky does not elaborate.34 More typical of Whitney scholars in her relative neglect of the mock testament is Danielle Clarke who, in her recent edition of "Wyll," focuses attention on the conventional legacy at the expense of the mock testament genre. She comments that "the will is a legal document that substitutes for the processes of exchange engaged in by a living person, a form of writing which organizes the disposal of material goods."35 But while admitting that the form employs the catalogue or list, Clarke sees Whitney's technique as disordered: "Her listing of places, persons, professions and commodities reinforces a sense of chaos and disorder, and she swings from area to area, and trade to trade, without any apparent sense of connection."36 The only thread, Clarke finds, is Whitney's exclusion from the abundance. The "disorder" and absence of "connection" Clarke finds is belied by the fact that, upon closer inspection, Whitney's description of London is actually quite ordered and deliberate, employing conventions peculiar to the mock testament. By examining these conventions we can uncover the nature of Whitney's deployment of the genre. Further, we can retrieve aspects of the mock testament itself that suit Whitney's concerns over economic stresses of the marketplace.

     17. As a mock testament, Whitney's "Wyll" belongs to the genre known as the "worthless bequest," a form with its origins in the Menippean confession. Also heavily influenced by Lucianic dialogues of the dead, the Renaissance genre figured in English festive pageantry. During the Reformation, Catholic institutions would stage their own festive funerals, but the genre mostly targeted the Catholic Church, as in ballads of "Jack a Lents Testament," where uneaten herring and stockfish were "bequeathed" in a political satire against Lent.37 And "The Wyll of the Deuyll, and Last Testament" (c. 1550) was an early Reformation attack upon the Roman Catholics in which "Beelseebub" gives his chastity to the clergy, the Church's "millions of gold" to the usurers, and relics to dead popes in Hell.38 In other versions the fool confesses through his last will and testament, and figuratively takes himself to pieces by narrating his own dismemberment, bequeathing merriment in the revelation of his impotent, dispersed body. Whitney's "dismemberment" of London becomes more trenchant when placed squarely in this tradition. In festive mockery the victim cheerfully offers him- or herself up for consumption, with satirical disinterestedness. In Wyl Bucke His Testament (1560), Wyl bequeathes his throat to the hounds, his blood and guts to the woman of the house for puddings, and his muzzle to the king. The testament concludes with various recipes for cooking buck and other dishes.39 This type of testament can be traced to a fourteenth-century Latin genre, a type known collectively as Testamentum Asini, or more generally the animal testament. Satirical attacks primarily on things ecclesiastical, these testaments often were composed by Goliardic clerics. When this type of literary will became fully popular in France in the fifteenth century, the genre was used both to entertain and as subtle social criticism, as in The Testament de la mule Barbeau, by Henri Baude (1465), and Le grand testament de Taste-vin, Roy des Pions (1488).40 In the former, an overworked, underfed mule has suffered from cold weather; death is upon him, and he wills his voice to a lawyer and his song to a curate. In the latter, "Taste-vin" leaves his walking stick to men with nagging wives and his dice and cards and other gambling implements to the town's pipeurs. The genre reveals the impotence of the lower orders, the poor, and the drunken; such parody hinges on the notion of the inherent social power vested in a legal document such as the last will. The most remarkable example of the genre is Francois Villon's Testament (1489), in which the narrator-testator assumes a series of identities, such as the prisoner, the Christian penitent, the Job-like sufferer, the musician, the joker, and the student, among others. Villon employs the motif of growing weakness as the occasion of the will, but it is the nature of this weakness that provides a link to Whitney's work. He admits that his weakness is "more in wealth than in health" ("Trop plus de biens que de sancte").41 The legal formula is given a specifically materialist interpretation: his bank balance is suffering. In place of the conventional praise of a patron or benefactor, Villon substitutes malediction of a Bishop, the "patron" of all the testator's woes and misfortune.42 We hear echoes of Villon's prefatory anti-dedicace in Whitney's opening complaint to London.

     18. The primary echo one hears in Whitney, however, is the genre's defining aesthetic: the list. In its enumeration of inaccessible material goods and luxuries that highlight the speaker's poverty, the mock testament emphasizes not the testator's disposal of wealth, but his or her lapse into poverty. In the contrast between the generosity of the multiple offerings and the seemingly irreversible dwindling of the testator's vital powers lies the genre's aggressive agon. Mock testaments also employ the extensive list to implicate, within a festive sheer abundance, a moral barrenness. Often their purpose is to foreground the reduction of life to the resources of economic survival. Whitney's version of this reduction is of course her description of multiple debtors' prisons, to which she leaves "portions" of prisoners as a type of sustenance to feed the Counter, Newgate, and the Fleet. With each piece of evidence for credit failures, she transforms the city's abundance to a copia of punishment. Exposing the city's landscape of prisons and punishment through rhetorical amplification, the speaker foregrounds market failure. The satire excoriates not only the prodigality that sends debtors to prison, but also the exclusivity of parts of the London economy that offer such abundance, an exclusive club she nonetheless craves.

     19. This ambivalence -- scoffing at upper-class wealth while implicitly desiring riches to bestow -- is characteristic of the mock testament. But what makes the genre most suitable for Whitney's purposes is its more basic identification with "economy" -- the exchange of material goods and the attendant social complications. Others after Whitney would use the genre to update centuries-old traditions of economic satire and complaint. Thomas Nashe, for example, in Summers' Last Will and Testament (1600), depicts the economic anxiety of Will Summers. Summers wishes that he had "some issue," imagining the economic security of an inheritance transferred from him through generations after his death. But there is no chance of such a future for Will, and Nashe's work combines the grave implications of material loss with the reckless gaiety of self-consuming festivity. Summers alludes to a much earlier mock testament, one (among others) which may have influenced Whitney, "Gyllian of Braynfords will, where she bequeathed a score of farts amongst her friends."43 The reference is to Jyl of Braintfords Testament by Robert Copland, written in 1535.44 Copland's poem was influenced by the medieval fool-catalogues or fool-lists such as those incorporated in Robert de Balsac's Le Chemin de L'ospital (1502), which provides a listing of types who are likely, through improvidence, generosity, or laziness, to end in the poorhouse.45 Those excoriated in the French lists include time-wasters, dreamers, the disagreeable, the negligent, and the overgenerous. Economic success and a hard-headed realism is valued in the figure of Jyl, stingy and judgmental. Firmly in the tradition of the "worthless bequest," Jyl bequeaths farts to both the lazy and the prodigal, such as "He that suffereth all maner of offence/and loseth his good through negligence/Shall have a fart for a recompence."46 Like Jyl's trenchant, ironic generosity with her farts, Whitney's speaker's lavish heaping of prisons, papists, and hospitals upon the city of London adds insult to injury, willing to London nothing London needs.

     20. Whitney's "worthless bequest" is not as purely admonitory as many of its models, however. In her critique of the hazards of London's marketplace are notes of self-incrimination. Her dystopia of perfect market supply (providing for imprisonment and even death) reflect the speaker's fraught, conflicted perception of debt relations. She desires the extension of credit but not its ramifications. One way that Whitney registers this paradox is to posit the conflicting claims of law and credit. The speaker sees the economic system in London through the lens of risk, a risk that drives many into debt. These debts are desirable on the one hand because they represent economic and social connections, but dangerous on the other when unpayable. It is this double bind, this economic paradox to which she addresses her poem. Thus she's harnessing a familiar satiric genre to represent the conflicting claims of the credit crunch upon the female author. As one of many attempting to navigate her way through the terms of credit in the marketplace, Whitney registers the urgency of achieving these terms in one's favor, a factor newly pervasive for many of London's workers.47 She simultaneously implicates London's competitive market workings and her own individual dilemma. In doing so, however, she asserts the social capital of indebtedness across the strata of London's classes.

     21. The value of indebtedness does not necessarily apply to marriage transactions, however, where the speaker deliberately separates economics from affect.48 There she willfully represses a model of social relations based on emotional commitment, in favor of economic rational disinterestedness. Her use of the term "portion" is a case in point, through which she foregrounds the economic contingencies of marriage, if we read "portion" in the sense of "marriage portion" or dowry and not just a "share," the original meaning of "portion." When she says "I wyll to prisons portions leave" (137) she yokes two very different notions of "provision" in an eerie metaphor: 1) the "portion" of an estate that a bride's father provides as a dowry and 2) the fulfillment of prisons' material needs. In her weird equation, the estate "portion," a stand-in for the bride's value to the groom and a means for the couple's economic security, is imagined as a hoard of people served up as an offering for the prisons' legacy, for the ability of the prison as an institution to thrive. The marriage portion, then, is relegated to a carceral tool.

     22. By placing her work within a genre that would implicitly join her poem with the likes of "Jyl's" carnivalesque festivity, Whitney could avoid being labeled an "unruly" woman or a scold, which brought formidable sanctions.49 But she also could rail against an economic system while at the same time participating in it, thus inviting reading according to the norms of Carnival, which allowed for a revisionary impulse while admitting an ultimate return to "authority."50 In wanting access to the very channels she targets, Whitney is not necessarily calling for their dismantling; instead she asserts a parallel channel of cultural capital, by way of her poem and its "treasurye."

     23. And yet the seriousness of the speaker's ultimate conundrum -- penury, exile from London -- may belie an entirely "festive" reading of the testament. This leads to the question of whether mock testaments in general were meant to be read in a festive light. The formula by which festive misrule temporarily usurps legitimate authority is generally not in play in mock testaments. Lorna Hutson's reading of "The Testament of the Buck" and "The Testament of the Crab-Tree" as "festive disintegration[s] of the fool-king" misinterprets such festive conventions, according to Edward Wilson. He finds that Hutson's analysis distorts the poems: Wilson says that neither "the utterly miserable, and far from festive, crab-tree" nor the buck are associated with regal authority or kingship at all.51 In mock testaments generally, the testator is not represented as a temporary ruler, and his or her authority is based on absence. For Whitney, the testator is excluded from provision, from London's credit channels, and perhaps (we are led to imagine) even life itself. The occasion of the poem, after all, is irrevocable exclusion. The outsider status of one refused credit in the credit-oriented economy persists through the end of the poem, as does the harsh critique of the status quo and of the exclusionary "authority" of those refusing to extend credit. This outsider identity of most testators in the mock testament genre may have been one of its most attractive features for Whitney. The origins of the genre can be traced, as mentioned above, to the poems of an outsider group, the Goliardic clerics. A vagrant, vagabond class of hedge-priests, they were monks out of the cloister, who had taken to nomadic life.52 Their early versions of the mock-testament, twelfth-century lyrics, were outspoken satires directed against a distrusted authority, the corrupt clergy. That outsider status was, through the years, transmitted in the fact that the speaker was often a marginalized figure. But too the speaker's dramatic point of view -- as dead or dying -- makes him or her a de facto outsider. The testator's only authority -- the power vested in the document of the testament itself -- is located in the certainty that he/she has no possibility of return: only the testator's death authorizes the will's provision. Whitney, in choosing the mock testament and this formula, suggests that the speaker cannot return to London's marketplace. It is only from such a perspective that she passes judgment on it. With the very absurdity of this position -- the absent presence of the omniscient observer -- Whitney highlights a crux for ambitious female writers. Since their ambition is frowned upon, it is not in their interest to be vocal about their ambitions. Given this situation, Whitney's strategy in voicing her ambition is to do so as a writer who has failed, and then to reflect upon the cultural conditions surrounding that failure. So here Whitney's speaker is not merely the onlooker, commenting on the city's dangers as John Donne does in his Satire I, but ultimately she is a departing outsider.53 She voices her ambition as such an outsider, as one who has not been able to achieve her professional goals, because that is the most acceptable way to appear ambitious -- as one who has failed.

     24. One might expect such an admission of failure to come from a woman returned to a domestic household, exiled from the London marketplace. Instead of reflecting from the realm of private domesticity, however, the speaker is positioned as a departing outsider: first as an exile according to the poem's dramatic narrative; and secondly as a dying or dead speaker, in line with generic requirements of the mock testament. Owing to her ultimate exile from domesticity, her familiarity with London's street life, and her public disposal of her "goods," her voice can be interpreted as more public than private. Indeed it may have been so understood at the time Whitney was writing. With an eye to contemporary definitions of "public" and "private," we may see how the speaker's identity as a public figure supports her "outsider" status. While some scholars claim that the distinction between public and private did not fully exist at the time, there is evidence that contemporaries framed the distinction with some clarity.54 Public business, transacted for the benefit of the community, was differentiated from private household work. James Cleland outlined the notion of "public" office as opposed to private, domestic occupations: "a private person is bound to honour those who are publike, and in office."55 J. Ferne categorized "publique person[s]" or officials, naming military, church, and civil office holders, e.g. judges, magistrates, mayors, soldiers, bailiffs, bishops, and clerics.56 And in 1630, Richard Brathwaite explained the categories as types of vocation that a gentleman may assume: "Publike, when imployed in affaires of State . . . Private, when in domesticke businesse he is detained."57 While women were generally advised to remain at home, prohibited from holding public office, meant to remain loyal to their "domesticall duties" outlined by William Gouge among others, London was of course full of the enterprising activity of wives and daughters of shopkeepers, assistants, prostitutes, and servants.58 And certainly women crowded the streets for the public activity of hearing sermons, visiting churches, attending fairs, and buying goods at the Royal Exchange.59

     25. Early modern women, including Whitney herself, articulated their sense of social roles according to this public-private distinction, scholars have found. Some place Whitney on the private side of this divide. For instance, Ann Rosalind Jones stresses Whitney's poetry as having a private rather than a public significance.60 Retha Warnicke traces a certain self-imposed retiredness in the writings of women's private diaries (though her examples are mainly taken from the Stuart period), but other critics are not so ready to generalize in such a way.61 Patricia Phillippy argues that Whitney remains between the public and private spheres.62 And Elaine Beilin has distinctly identified Whitney as one of a few who "reposition" their work "in the domain of public poetry."63 The public sphere Beilin claims for Whitney is one, she says, that Whitney created: the poet made "a public place for women's intellectual work," where we can see in her collection of epistles and poems a larger message whereby she replaces her sister's occupation of "huswyfery" with her own job as a writer.64 For Beilin, the value of Whitney's work is that it serves as metaphorical commerce. But the poem can be viewed not just as symbolic commerce, but as actual commerce too. It works as an actual unit of exchange for the credit she's been denied. In other words, if her poem is read by readers who buy the miscellany in which it appears, and demand rises for her work, the poem is a commodity that in its popularity creates more demand for her work. This is not to deny the poem's value as symbolic commerce, but its function as a commodity should not be discounted.

     26. But the role of Whitney's "Wyll" as a commodity, as a material act of exchange, coupled with its importance as a document in London's growing credit economy, should not overshadow its significance for late sixteenth-century satire. Whitney identifies herself as a satirist in the very fact that she employs the mock-testament genre. Like early fifteenth-century English satirists, Whitney offers a Piers Plowman type, symbolizing the new ethical ideas of the period. In fact some early mock-testament testators, such as Colin Blowbol, have been identified with Piers Plowman.65 And though we find her base comparisons of a sordid London world firmly ensconced in later writers, often we see references to the originality of such approaches, as with Thomas Nashe in The Unfortunate Traveller (1594) or Thomas Dekker in The Gulls Hornbook (1609). But here is Whitney, as early as 1573, appealing to a contemporary interest in the criminal underworld that includes the laboring poor, the vagrant, and the imprisoned.

     27. On the one hand, Whitney's poem belongs to the tradition of "rogue literature" first made popular in the 1550's and 1560's by such writers as John Awdeley, Thomas Harman, and Robert Greene, but we don't often find "Wyll" included in that genre. In another sense, Whitney's place in early modern satire might best be defined as part of the "female jest" tradition, recently explored by Pamela Allen Brown. Brown analyzes the strategies whereby "jesting links the drama of neighborhood with theatre itself," describing ways in which local conflicts get expressed in dramatic and literary forms.66 Whitney imagines the dramas of London's byways of credit and penury through the literary "theatre" of the mock testament, with its attendant generic imperatives. Thus Whitney suggests a double role for herself as author: as a monitor or reporter of credit networks, and as a satirist carrying on the mock testament tradition, changing the terms of the genre as given.67 The shift in genre that Whitney implicitly urges is one that moves the mock testament into a credit age. Poems in the genre traditionally critiqued the economic, political, religious, or legal authority that benefited from the death of the testator, thus implicitly calling for a return to a society free of such greed or corruption. Her voice, however, goes beyond that of a "Piers," and is not just that of the country simpleton calling for a return to a debt-free golden age; she calls instead for the risks and rewards attending credit relationships -- and she demands a new kind of social accountability. Just as the mock testament often emphasizes elements of physical deterioration in terms of dispersed items or goods, Whitney highlights the aspects of a deteriorating London marketplace in terms of failed actors when crucial credit relationships are neglected. In the end she asserts a normative ideal: she presents her speaker as an actor in a neighborly, moral community where loans and debts are necessary tools for healthy participation in the marketplace.

     28. The mock testament is perfectly suited for this message. As a medium, it works through shattering social stratification, and anatomizing society and its seemingly stable types and professions.68 In fact mirroring new social configurations was one function of the Menippean genre, and the mock testament joined in the Renaissance Menippean tradition by illustrating the plight of newly emerging social groups.69 In order to portray the condition of the lower sort most forcefully, Whitney chose to position her speaker as an outsider to their conundrum: they experienced debt and imprisonment. These are dubious goals she nonetheless regrets failing to achieve, since indebtedness is a condition the lack of which forces her speaker from London. But hers is not a London only bleared with trade and smeared with toil: in her vision of a supply of buyers for her printers' books, for example, she paints a marketplace that works. That notion of a workable capitalist society, however, necessitates open credit channels. Whitney is original in her specific treatment of credit. Her critique, less than assailing a failed system, more urgently asks of London's citizens a certain civic responsibility.

     29. Her "Wyll" attempts to meet that responsibility. As a work of literature, it proposes the ethical consideration of those in need. As a commodity, it is a material offering ostensibly designed to gain credit. In the end, however, it seals the loss of that credit, exposing one result of failure in the marketplace. Nonetheless, it not only represents, but it is an economic transaction. She represents in the poem a testamentary complaint, but also transacts a poetic testament. In other words, the poem as a testament is an economic transaction through which she nearly obtains, then loses credit. We can read Whitney's poetry of economic exchange as an act of economic exchange. It rehearses and advertises economic and social loss, but does so in a way that proclaims her status as a writer who not only belongs, but who pursues her self-interest, in the public realm.

 

 

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Notes

1 Isabella Whitney, "Wyll and Testament," in Danielle Clarke, ed., Isabella Whitney, Mary Sidney and Aemilia Lanyer: Renaissance Women Poets (London: Penguin, 2000) 18-28, ll. 225-28.

2 All quotes from Whitney's "Wyll and Testament" are taken from Clarke; hereafter line numbers will be cited parenthetically. The poem includes a preface titled "A comunication which the Auctor had to London, before she made her Wyll," numbered separately, and will be cited parenthetically as "comunication." I distinguish between the speaker of the poem and Isabella Whitney: we should not conflate the speaker's fate with Whitney's or assume autobiography, as some critics have done. Betty Travitsky, whose invaluable work introduced the poem to the modern reader in "The 'Wyll and Testament' of Isabella Whitney," ELR 10 (1980): 76-94, nonetheless assumes that the poetic persona offers biographical information about Whitney (78); Tina Krontiris, in Oppositional Voices: Women as Writers and Translators of Literature in the English Renaissance (London: Routledge, 1992) 28, makes the assumption that Whitney was a maid employed in London, but we have no direct evidence of this. The headnote to the Norton Seventh Edition gets it right, it seems to me, in stating: "She writes in the voice of an impoverished gentlewoman who is compelled by her circumstances to leave the city," Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th ed., Vol. I, M.H. Abrams, ed., 606. Lynette McGrath, in Subjectivity and Women's Poetry in Early Modern England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), identifies the speaker as a "persona" (145), as does Kim Walker in Women Writers of the English Renaissance (New York: Twayne, 1996) 157. In drawing connections between the challenges facing female writers producing printed texts in London's market economy and Whitney's speaker's conundrums and descriptions, I emphasize the literariness of one author's response to this situation.

3 See Betty Travitsky, ed. The Paradise of Women: Writings by Englishwomen of the Renaissance (Westport: Greenwood, 1981); Mary Beth Rose, "Where are the Mothers in Shakespeare?" Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991): 291-314; Susan Dwyer Amussen, An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988) 81-85, 91-93, 119-123; Wendy Wall, The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993) 284-306; and Randall Martin, ed., Women Writers in Renaissance England (London: Longman, 1997) 279-281.

4 See for example Margaret Patterson Hannay, Silent But for the Word: Tudor Women as Patrons, Translators, and Writers of Religious Works (Ohio: Kent State UP, 1985); Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy Vickers, eds., Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe (Chicago: U Chicago Press, 1986); Elaine V. Beilen, Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the English Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987); Ann Rosalind Jones, The Currency of Eros: Women's Love Lyric in Europe 1540-1620 (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990); Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Writing Women in Jacobean England (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1993); Ilona Bell, Elizabethan Women and the Poetry of Courtship (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998); and Lynette McGrath, Subjectivity.

5 See Betty S. Travitsky, 'Whitney, Isabella (fl. 1566-1573),' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford UP, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/45498, accessed 6 Nov. 2004]. Commentators believe that Whitney was fairly young when she published the poems and so was probably born in the mid-sixteenth century.

6 For biographical details about Whitney, much of it speculative, see the DNB, "Geffrey Whitney"; R. J. Fehrenbach, "Isabella Whitney, Sir Hugh Plat, Geffrey Whitney, and 'Sister Eldershae'," ELN 21 (Sept. 1983): 7-11; Richard Panofsky, ed., The Floures of Philosophie (1572) by Hugh Plat and A Sweet Nosgay (1573) and The Copy of a Letter (1567) by Isabella Whitney (Delmar, NY: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1982) intro.; Henry Green, ed., Geffrey Whitney, A Choice of Emblemes (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1967) intro., and Martin, ed., Woman Writers, 280.

7 Clarke, "A modest meane for Maides In order prescribed, by Is. W. to two of her yonger Sisters servinge in London," "To her Sister Misteris. A.B." 10-13; "IS. W. being wery of writyng, sendeth this for Answere," 17.

8 Christopher Brooks, "Apprenticeship, Social Mobility and the Middling Sort, 1550-1800," in Jonathan Barry and Christopher Brooks, eds., The Middling Sort of People: Culture, Society and Politics in England, 1550-1800 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994) 52-83; 53.

9 Whitney is pathetically fallacious here, according to Ruskin, because she is ascribing human feeling to the Fleet prison, who will feel so bitter, she suggests, that he will "curse" her if she gives "him nought," (l. 167; 166). Ruskin's explanation of the "pathetic fallacy" appears in Modern Painters (Boston: Colonial Press Pub., 1851) III, pp. 200-218.

10 Since Ruskin applied his term "pathetic fallacy" in a derogatory sense because it applied not to the actual appearance or state of things but to false appearances described by a writer under the influence of emotion, here I distinguish between true pathetic fallacy and Whitney's description of prisons that actually were crowded with criminals and debtors. In other words, while the personification of the prisons was a literary trope, the description of them was not.

11 Geneva Bible (London: Christopher Barker, 1579) Matthew 6:12, B7v.

12 Thomas Tusser outlined the elements of honest trade in Five hundred pointes of good Husbandrie (London: Henry Denham, 1580); Sir Thomas Smith recognized self-interest as an acceptable force in A Discourse of the Commonweal of this Realm of England, asserting that men naturally "seek where their advantage is," (Sir Thomas Smith, A Discourse of the Commonweal of this Realm of England, ed. Mary Dewar (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, for The Folger Shakespeare Library, 1969), 35; John Wheeler emphasized merchants' communication skills in A Treatise of Commerce (Middleburgh: Richard Schilders, 1601); William Scott asserted the importance of some self-interest in business dealings, claiming that "honesty without wisdome is unprofitable" in An Essay on Drapery (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Printing Office, 1953), 17. In addition, seventeenth-century casuistry manuals took up "cases of conscience" concerning economic issues in great detail, including those concerning "profit" and "traffique." (Some were delivered as sermons beginning in the sixteenth century.) Among the topics explored were the legality of monopolies, the morality of profit margins, pursuing debtors, and even the retrieval of goods from robbers. On this last topic, Joseph Hall would write in 1650, "if . . . in hot chase [you] so strike him . . . and if hereupon his death shall follow . . . God and [your] own heart would acquit [you]," Joseph Hall, Resolutions and decisions of divers practical cases of conscience (London: N. B., 2nd ed., 1650) E4.; William Perkins, The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience (Cambridge, 1604); and William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof (Leyden and London: Edward Griffin, 1639). Among other common topics were the negotiation of contracts, and the use of riches. The puritan divine Ames would write that "riches" "are usefull and profitable, and . . . rightly called the gifts and blessings of God," (Ames, 253).

13 The Norton Shakespeare, eds. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus (New York: Norton, 1997) The Tragedy of Coriolanus (3.3.127) 2841.

14 On this topic see Arthur F. Marotti, "Patronage, Poetry, and Print," in Patronage, Politics, and Literary Traditions In England, 1558-1658, ed. Cedric C. Brown (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1993) 21-46; 24.

15 Wall, Imprint, 297.

16 Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communication and Cultural Transformation in Early Modern Europe, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1979) 1: 121.

17 A small number of authors secured patents in the sale of their works. Royal printing patents supervened upon the institution of guild copyright by which the stationers regulated with own competitive practices. Patents gave authors a direct financial interest in the sale of their printed work. See Joseph Loewenstein, "Wither and Professional Work," in Print, Manuscript and Performance: The Changing Relations of the Media in Early Modern England, eds. Arthur F. Marotti and Michael D. Bristol (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2000) 107.

18 For a review of the establishment of literary publishing and the growth in reading publics, see The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, Vol. 4, 1557-1695, eds. John Barnard and D.F. McKenzie (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002).

19 The study of counterfactuals is a methodology traditionally employed by military historians, engaging "what if" questions of speculative history. It has re-emerged most recently in the work of the historian Niall Ferguson who, as editor of and contributor to the collection Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals (New York: Macmillan Pub. Ltd., 1997), explores with other historians the implications of a series of historical scenarios that might have turned out differently.

20 Alexandra Halasz, "Pamphlet Surplus: John Taylor and Subscription Publication," in Marotti and Bristol, 90-102.

21 "An Acte for the Punishement of Vacabondes, and for Relief of the Poore and Impotent" (14 Elizabeth, c. 5), 1572. Reprinted in Tudor Economic Documents, eds. R. H. Tawney and Eileen Power, Vol. II (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1924) 328-29.

22 ibid.

23 As cited above, among the critics who have placed her poem in the tradition are Travitsky, Paradise; Rose, "Where are the Mothers?"; Amussen, Ordered; Wall, Imprint; and Martin, Women Writers.

24 Wendy Wall, Imprint, 340.

25 Among the influential proscriptions on women's learning and writing were those forwarded by Juan Luis Vives, whose De Institutione Feminiae Christianae (1523) was translated by Richard Hyrde in 1540 as Instruction of a Christian Woman. Vives argued for the limitations of the uses to which women might apply their humanist learning; and Richard Brathwaite, in The English Gentlewoman (1631), tells us that "bashfull silence is an ornament to their sex," 39. Of course we find a slightly different version of feminine conduct for women at court, who could look to more liberal models in continental courtesy books like Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier (1561) and Guazzo's Civil Conversation (1581). Ladies in waiting, for instance, were often encouraged to take part in conversations and contests. However, Whitney, a woman of the middling sort, was overstepping what might be considered "proper" behavior for women in their writing. See reviews of injunctions for women in Ian Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1980); Suzanne Hall, Chaste, Silent, and Obedient: English Books for Women, 1475-1640 (San Marino, Ca.: Huntington Library, 1982); L. Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620 (Urbana, Il.: U Illinois Press, 1984); M. R. Sommerville, Sex and Subjection: Attitudes to Women in Early-Modern Society (London: Arnold Press, 1995).

26 See Sylvia Brown, ed., Women's Writing in Stuart England: The Mother's Legacies of Dorothy Leigh, Elizabeth Joscelin, and Elizabeth Richardson (Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Pub., 1991) ix.

27 See Margaret P. Hannay, "'So May I With the Psalmist truly Say': Early Modern Englishwomen's Psalm Discourse," in Write or Be Written: Early Modern Women Poets and Cultural Constraints, eds. Barbara Smith and Ursula Appelt (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001) 105-127. In this article Hannay points out that Anne Lock's 1560 Sonnets were presented as a socially sanctioned psalm "commentary" and "paraphrases," as her title suggests: "A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner: Written in Maner of a Paraphrase upon the 51 Psalm of David." Translations of non-religious works were also considered suspect: Margaret Tyler goes to great lengths to defend her act of translating a secular piece of literature, Diego Ortunez de Calahorra's chivalric romance, The Mirrour of Princely deedes and Knighthoood (1578), in her preface, offering the novel assertion that "it is all one for a woman to pen a story as for a man to address his story to a woman" A3r.

28 Wall, Imprint, 293.

29 Elizabeth Grymeston, Miscelanea. Meditations. Memoratives. (London: M. Bradwood for F. Norton, 1604) A3v, A3r.

30 Dorothy Leigh, The Mother's Blessing (London: 1616) A11r.

31 Testaments published as solitary texts, rather than as parts of larger texts, include Anon., The Wyll of the Devyll, and Last Testament (London: Humphrey Powell, 1548); Robert Copland, Jyl of Braintfords Testament, Newly Compiled (London, 1535); and John Lacy, Wyl Bucke his Testament (London: William Copland, 1560). Others were published within longer works, such as George Gascoigne's Dan Bartholmew of Bathe, "His last will and Testament," which appeared in Gascoigne's Posies (1575). Other anonymous solitary testaments include The Testament of Andro Kennedy (1508), Hunting of the Hare with her last Wyll and Testament (n.d.), and Colyn Blowbols Testament, (n.d.). William C. Hazlitt cites these last three in Remains of the Early Popular Poetry of England (London: John Russell Smith, 1864), 91.

32 Lorna Hutson, The Usurer's Daughter: Male Friendship and Fictions of Women in Sixteenth-Century England (London: Routledge, 1994) 127.

33 Hutson had provided extensive analysis of the mock testament genre in her earlier work on Nashe, Thomas Nashe in Context (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), esp. chapter 7, "Nashe, Mock-Testament, and Menippean Dialogue," 127-151. In Usurer's Daughter, she does refer to her earlier work in a footnote in the Whitney chapter. Her examination (in Nashe) of the backgrounds to early modern uses of the mock testament is vigorous and illuminating.

34 Travitsky, "Whitney," ODNB. The brief format of ODNB entries does not allow Travitsky the space to elaborate, so there is no discussion of the mock-testament tradition here, except for her point that "Gascoigne may have written his 'Last Will and Testament of Dan Bartholomew of Bath' in imitation."

35 Clarke, xv.

36 ibid.

37 See Charles Read Baskerville, The Elizabethan Jig and Related Song Drama (Chicago: UC Press, 1929) 23, 47.

38 Anon., The Wyll of the Deuyll, and Last Testament (London: Humphrey Powell, 1548), reprinted in J. Payne Collier, ed., Illustrations of Early English Popular Literature, Vol. I (1863, London: New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1966) 4-14.

39 John Lacy, Wyl Bucke his Testament (London: William Copland, 1560) A3-Bv.

40 Winthrop Huntington Rice, The European Ancestry of Villon's Satirical Testaments (New York: The Corporate Press, 1941) 210-11.

41 Francois Villon, Le Testament Villon, eds. J. Rychner and A. Henry, Textes Litteraires Francais 207-8 (Geneva, 1974) 74, as quoted in Tony Hun, Villon's Last Will (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) 8.

42 In his opening stanza, Villon writes of "the many penalties inflicted on me, all of them at the hands of Thibault d'Aussigny" ("maintes peines eues,/Lesquelles j'ay toutes receues/Soubz la main Thibault d'Aucigny") Villon, Testament, 4-6.

43 The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow, Vol. III (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958) 272 (ln. 1235).

44 Robert Copland, Jyl of Braintfords Testament, Newly Compiled (London, 1535).

45 Mary Carpenter Erler, ed., Robert Copland, Poems (Toronto: U. Toronto Press, 1993) 177.

46 Copland, A4r.

47 See Craig Muldrew, The Economy of Obligation (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998); Muldrew, "Interpreting the Market: The Ethics of Credit and Community Relations in Early Modern England," Social History 18.2 (1993): 163-183; and Keith Wrightson, Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain (New Haven: Yale UP, 2000).

48 On economic "affect," see Theodore Leinwand, who, in Theatre, Finance, and Society in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999), examines emotional responses to socio-economic pressures as they are revealed in early modern English plays, historical narratives, and biographical accounts.

49 See David Underdown, "The Taming of the Scold: The Enforcement of Patriarchal Authority in Early Modern England," and Susan Amussen, "Gender, Family, and the Social Order, 1560-1725," both in Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, eds. Anthony Fletcher and J. Stevenson (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985) 116-36; 196-217; David Underdown, Revel, Riot and Rebellion (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985); and Laura Gowing, "Language, Power, and the Law: Women's Slander Litigation in Early Modern England," Women, Crime, and the Courts in Early Modern England, eds. Jennifer Kermode and Garthine Walker (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1994) 26-47.

50 While there is divergence among social historians and literary critics about how festival liberty functions, many recent theorists have argued for festival's inclusion of both normative and revisionary impulses. Mikhail Balkhtin argues that festival forms are completely separate from the official culture in Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1968), 255; responses countering that view and instead arguing that holiday "liberty" holds a more interactive relationship with the existing forms of political organization include Barbara A. Babcock, ed., The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1978) 13-36; Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1975); Clifford Geertz, "Ritual and Social Change," in The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973) 142-69; and Leah S. Marcus, The Politics of Mirth (Chicago: U Chicago Press, 1986). As Michael Bristol has pointed out, a critical recognition of Carnival and misrule provides an alternative reading of such consolidation of authority. What Bristol terms "the political life of the plebeian culture" is expressed in the festive agon of the battle of Lent and Carnival, a battle in which there is no consolidation of rule. Michael Bristol, Carnival and Theater: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England (New York: Methuen, 1985) 202.

51 Edward Wilson, "'The Testament of the Buck' and the sociology of the text," Review of English Studies 45:178 (May, 1994): 182.

52 The Goliard Poets, tr. and ed. George F. Whicher (New York: New Directions, 1949) intro., 4-5.

53 Karen Newman usefully points out Donne's rhetorical strategies by which he highlights his speaker's role as the outsider in Satire I, in her essay, "Walking Capitals: Donne's First Satyre," in The Culture of Capital: Property, Cities, and Knowledge in Early Modern England, ed. Henry S. Turner (New York: Routledge, 2002) 203-221. She ultimately locates Donne the satirist outside the city's dangers, as an onlooker. He protects himself from the threatening urban sear of trade by using, Newman asserts, a series of rhetorical distancing devices. For instance, the "needy broker" and the "cheape whore" appear only through simile in the poem, and the whore and prostitute boy "enter the poem interrogatively as an ethical opposition to virtue posed by the speaker. . . ." 215. Donne used satire, Newman concludes, "to manage the burgeoning multitude of persons and behaviors that characterized early modern London and troubled its inhabitants and city government. . . . The satire protects the speaker rhetorically from peripatetic encounters and insists on his disconnection from the persons, sights, and things that people the city," 212. I am indebted to Margaret Ferguson for alerting me to this informative and enlightening essay.

54 Susan Amussen reviews some modern historians' claims that the two are blended in An Ordered Society, 2.

55 James Cleland, Hero-paideia, or the Institution of a young noble man (Oxford: J. Barnes, 1607) 181.

56 J. Ferne, The Blazon of Gentrie (London: J. Windet, f.T. Cooke, 1586) 59-60. Ferne makes the case that these public office holders should be granted coats of arms.

57 Richard Brathwaite, The English gentleman: containing sundry excellent rules . . . how to demeane or accommodate himselfe in the manage of publike or private affairs (London: J. Haviland for R. Bostock, 1630) 136.

58 On women's domestic duties, see Robert Cleaver, A Godlie Form of Household Government for the ordering of private families. (London: F. Kingston for J. Man, 1598) and William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties (London: J. Haviland, 1622).

59 See for instance Margaret Hoby, Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby 1599-1605, ed. Dorothy M. Meads (London: Routledge & Sons, 1930) 136-39; 159; 167; 221.

60 Jones, Currency, 43.

61 Retha Warnicke, "Private and Public: The Boundaries of Women's Lives in Early Stuart England," Privileging Gender in Early Modern England, ed. Jean R. Brink, Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies 23 (1993) 133-37.

62 Patricia Phillippy's critique, in "The maid's lawful liberty: service, the household, and "Mother B" in Isabella Whitney's 'A Sweet Nosegay'," Modern Philology 95:4 (May 1998), rests on the plight of maidservants in the marketplace: Whitney's persona in the poem is a writer seeking credit, but she also speaks for maidservants unable to find secure employment (8). Thus Whitney's mock testament highlights the culture of service and itineracy. Domestic servants were not bound to contracts. Phillippy points out that maidservants were "both consumers and commodities," 8.

63 Elaine Beilin, "Writing Public Poetry: Humanism and the Woman Writer," Modern Language Quarterly 51:2 (Jun 90): 249. She finds a number of female authors who rewrite the "humanist concept of the learned lady" from the private into the public realm (249).

64 ibid., 250; 249.

65 Alvin Kernan, The Cankered Muse: Satire of the English Renaissance (New Haven: Yale UP, 1959), "[Piers] was a figure already associated with religious and social protest who had the characteristics needed for attacking vice and foolishness. Piers does not appear by name, of course, in the majority of medieval satires, but even in those cases where the speaker remains anonymous the Piers characteristics are evident: a plain man with plain morals addressing plain people in plain terms on plain matters. Piers Plowman is simply the most popular name for the medieval satirist, and although in the course of time the figure acquired many names he remained the same type. Colin Blowbol, Cock Lorel, Roderick Mors, Colin Clout, Jack Napes, and Jack Upland are all satiric personae who, as their plain, country names suggest, are proliferations of the Piers type" 43.

66 Pamela Allen Brown, Better A Shrew than a Sheep: Women, Drama, and the Culture of Jest in Early Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2003) 36.

67 Alastair Fowler comments on this salient feature of genre: "Every literary work changes the genres it relates to. . . . However a work relates to existing genres -- by conformity, variation, innovation, or antagonism -- it will tend, if it becomes known, to bring about new states of these genres," Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982) 23.

68 W. Scott Blanchard, Scholars' Bedlam: Menippean Satire in the Renaissance (London: Associated University Presses, 1995) 17. I thank Anne Lake Prescott for this invaluable reference.

69 ibid.: "As new social categories emerged, so, too, did the attention paid to less-valued social categories which now must be incorporated into the organization of social practices, as well as marginal types (courtesans, pick pockets, etc.). Here the Menippean form shares the kind of urban crowding that we find in the Elizabethan "comicall satyre" play. . . ." 39.

 

 

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