Frances James


This essay explores the complex relationship between women’s devotional writing in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and the female claim to the authority to represent Christ’s body in textual form. I focus on the literary devices which female authors used to represent Christ in their writing and attempted to establish their own authorial voices within the means of public expression available to them. I advance a reading of Katherine Parr’s The Lamentacion of a synner (1547) and Elizabeth Tudor’s A godly medytacyon of the christen sowle (1548) as early Renaissance attempts to reconcile female authorship with the necessity of claiming divine authorisation and inspiration to write. I argue that these texts also express a longing for what Katherine Parr calls a ‘booke of the crucifixe’ (C.ii.), through which it would be possible for women to speak with a legitimate, individual female voice that did not require the authorisation of a patriarchal God. I then propose that Aemilia Lanyer’s poem Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611) presents a more confident externalisation of Christ’s body which authorises Lanyer to claim the corpus Christi for her female readers and assert her own voice by textually representing Christ. Lanyer uses the devotional text to claim the legitimising power of the male gaze by reversing its direction and focusing the gaze of her female reader on the body of Christ. I conclude that Lanyer depicts Christ’s body as a ‘christal glasse’ in which women may realise their own unmediated, undiluted voice, rather than attributing their words to a divine source and calling God to turn his redeeming gaze on the to-be-looked-at female object.

Author Biography

Frances James wrote this essay under the supervision of Dr Philip Schwyzer as her final dissertation for her BA degree in English Literature, which she completed in 2007 at the University of Exeter. She has since completed an MSt at Oxford University and is currently training to teach English in secondary schools.