By Nadir Roberts
Students experienced some 17th century culture during this week’s installment of the English Department’s Close Readings Series, a recitation of Aemilia Lanyer’s poem “To the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty” by English professor Felicia Steele.
Those who attended the event on Tuesday, Nov. 28 in the Education Building enjoyed pizza and beverages provided by the English Department as they were enchanted by Lanyer’s words.
The event started off with a brief history of Lanyer’s impact on poetry both in her lifetime and to this day. Lanyer was born in London into a family of Italian musicians and became the first woman of the early modern age to publish a volume of poetry under her own name for public consumption, according to Steele.
“Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” (Hail God, King of the Jews) is a religious poem that narrates the passion and the inequalities of the time period.
The line “To judge if it agree not with the text: And if it do, why are poor women blamed, or by more fault men so much defamed?” from “To the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty” highlighted how women have always been held at a different standard than men.
The pieces were selected from Lanyer’s volume of poems, titled “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.”
Each poem in the collection was dedicated to Queen Anne and her court, which depicts a complicated picture of women as both readers and artistic patrons.
For those without a deep understanding of the subject matter during the reading, Steele as well as other English department faculty members provided an in-depth analysis of the content.
One of the underlying themes of the poem was Lanyer’s desire to be recognized as a poet, not just as an artist.
In line 34 of “To the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty,” Lanyer wrote, “I humbly wish that yours may light on me: That so these rude unpolished lines of mine, Graced by you, may seem the more divine.”
Lanyer constantly changed her rhyme schemes and form throughout her poems to captivate her readers.
“Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” showed how Lanyer verbally begged for the approval and recognition from Queen Anne and her court.
Despite Lanyer’s versatility and skill, the queen would not read her work, reaffirming the effects of the social hierarchy on women during this time.
Through Lanyer’s poetry, Steele highlighted deeply rooted gender inequalities and provided students with insight into 17th century culture.