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Proposal

Filed Under History 299

I realized I never posted my proposal paper:

Proposal:  Rachel Speght

Over the entirety of the history of mankind, the role of women in society has always been under fire.  Do they deserve to have a voice?  What is expected of them?  The proposed topic is centered on one such debate from the 17th century.  This argument is known as “La Querelle des Femmes” and went on for approximately three centuries.  It’s subject matter crossed borders of nations and involved a nearly constant battle of literary works between those who had misogynistic tendencies and attacked the character and role of women in society, and those who defended women.  Narrowing the matter down, the main focus is on Rachel Speght, a woman who ascertained a place of importance by defending her gender through a poem entitled “A Mouzell for Melastomus.”  This poem (written and published 1617) was in response to a 1615 satirical piece that attacked and berated females, written by Joseph Swetnam.  It is the confrontation between Speght and Swetnam that fuels the heart of this proposal.

The scope of issues and questions that the paper can address links together multiple avenues.  Primarily, the research will hopefully bring to light the effect of Speght’s work on the time:  Did it make a difference?  What were the effects?  If these angles prove to be too ambiguous to answer within the allotted time, it is possible tto shift the view and instead highlight the literary face-off between Rachel Speght and Joseph Swetnam—Was he truly as misogynistic as it seemed in his writing, or just following the pattern of his time period?  Was the tension between Speght and Swetnam more ideological, or did it have roots on a personal level?

As far as a primary source goes, Rachel Speght’s first writing, “A Mouzell for Melastomus,” is vital.  The book The Polemics and Poems of Rachel Speght (Speght) is a collection of her responses and beliefs in defense of women.  Within it, her argument against Swetnam is found, followed by some of the other pieces that serve to provide insight into her writing style and attitude.  Even more exciting than having just that version is this:  in the fourth volume of The Early Modern Englishwoman is a picture copy of the original work.  It provides a visual of the original pamphlet for added analysis.  In order to provide the opposing side of this particular argument, Joseph Swetnam’s piece The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women will need to be tracked down, though locating a solid, full copy is proving to be more difficult than anticipated.  However, this source will prove useful as it will be able to set down an opposing argument, as well as reflect the general sentiment of the time.  It is crucial to have primary sources from both Speght and Swetnam as it encompasses the entire debate between the two, from which this research project stems.

Plenty of secondary sources exist on this subject.  The debate is fueled by literary responses from those acting on behalf of, or against women.  Due to this fact, there are criticisms on the arguments proposed by Rachel Speght to combat attackers.  These will likely be more difficult to locate, but if found, literary criticism on the work will provide a better understanding of the meaning and intended direction of Speght’s work.  However, more important than criticisms at this point is background information.  It is important to be able to understand the mindset of the time period.  This understanding will allow for a more impartial analysis; as readers are used to an environment in which men/women are treated relatively equally, such matters are approached with a modern eye.  Putting oneself into the shoes of those who lived at this time allows for a better sense of the debate.  The secondary sources are also important for giving more details on what the “Querelle” was all about, a time span, and an idea of the major figures involved.  The secondary sources help break down the other particulars of the debate.  It is neither strictly a historical nor a literary movement; the two are intertwined, so in order to get a more full understanding of it, it is imperative to comfortably analyze from both perspectives.

Clearly the most critical resources are the primary sources:  the poem itself, as well as the printed visual of the original document.  In addition to the immediately obvious primary sources, the writings from other women of the time, some of which are referenced in The Early Modern Englishwoman (Askew), allow for a means by which to gauge the success of Speght’s work.  Did other such authors of her time seem to copy her ideas?  Does their style, word use, or opinion seem influenced?

Of the secondary sources, a handful will prove to be of the most use, laying foundation for the argument.  The rest, however, will most probably serve to simply double check what information is already gathered, and of those, the majority will likely have redundant content.  Sources such as “Qerelle des Femmes”, and the works by Spongberg, Stanford, and Stuard will benefit the research project as they provide the necessary information about the time period, as well as information on the major player of the debate at this time, which could contribute to determining what/who influenced Speght.  Many of the internet sites also simply are useful as backing up the aforementioned points; they provide information more so for factual reasons than for thought-invoking ones.

The “Querelle des Femmes” stretched over three centuries and pulled many a writer into its folds.  The questions that this paper addressed and hopes to answer involve:  Who was Rachel Speght and what role did she have in the Querelle?  Did she truly make a difference, either in her field or in the debate in general?  Again, as backup, the cause of the paper can also be championed by posing the following questions:  Were Rachel Speght and Joseph Swetnam simply following the ways of their era, or did they have more invested in the debate than is immediately noticed?  If at least one of these questions can be answered, then the others will hopefully fall into place.  There is much to analyze within the primary sources, but, fortunately, that background information, gleaned from the secondary sources, will provide a foundation from which to work.

Works Cited

Askew, Anne.  Jane Anger, Rachel Speght, Ester Sowernam, and Constantina Munda: The Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works, Part 1, Vol. 4. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1996.

Askew, Anne.  Women Writers in English, 1350-1850:  The Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works, Part 2, Vol. 10. Aldershot: Scholar Press, 2001.

Charles Schriebner’s Sons.  “Querelle des Femmes.” http://www.novelguide.com/a/discover/rens_04/rens_04_00395.html. (accessed September 12. 2010).

Hastings, Susan.   Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. Vol. 4.  Tulsa:  University of Tulsa, 1985.

Kelly, Joan.  Women, History, and Theory:  The Essays of Joan Kelly.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Lasch, Christopher.  Woman and the Common Life:  Love, Marriage, and Feminism. New York:  W. W. Norton & Co, 1997.

Speght, Rachel.  The Polemics and Poems of Rachel Speght.  New York:  Oxford University Press, Inc, 1996.

Renaissance Society of America.  Review of:  The Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works. Part 1: Printed Writings, 1500-1640. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+Early+Modern+Englishwoman%3A+A+Facsimile+Library+of+Essential…-a021240700 (accessed September 12th, 2010).

Spongberg, Mary.  Writing Women’s History since the Renaissance.  Illinois:  University of Southern Illinois, 2002.

Stanford, Ann, ed. The Women Poets in English. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972.

Stuard, Susan Mosher, ed. Women in Medieval History and Historiography. Philadelphia:   University of Pennsylvania Press,1987.

Sunshine for Women.  “Rachel Speght:  1597-after 1621.”  http://www.pinn.net/~sunshine/march99/speght3.html (accessed September 12, 2010).

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