Category Archives: Poetry

Biography Court Elizabeth Love Marriage Poetry

In Stella’s face I read what love and beauty be

Penelope Rich was a notorious Elizabethan beauty, inspiring poetry and praise from the courtly male elite. But as a married women she also achieved a certain notoriety and fame by virtue of a serious of love affairs.   Born into the wealthy Essex family in 1563, Penelope was the daughter of Walter Devereux, first Earl of Essex and his wife, Lettice. Well-educated, she spoke several languages including French, and was accomplished in music. Before his death, her father had sought to have her contracted in marriage to the poet and courtier Philip Sydney, however Sydney opposed the match and seemed disinclined to marry. In 1581 Penelope arrived at court and became one of Elizabeth I’s maids of honour, and by the end of the year she was married to Robert Rich, Lord Rich of Essex, later first Earl of Warwick. The wedding took place in November, and afterwards Penelope developed a habit of visiting her mother, who by now had become wife of the Queen’s favourite, the Earl of Leicester; often staying with her brother Robert, earl of Essex (he of the famous Essex Rebellion of 1603).

At the time of her marriage, Sydney, who had previously discounted marriage to Penelope, appears to have had belated second thoughts, and attending court in 1581 he fell in love with her. Astrophil and Stella, his famous sonnet sequence, is thought to have been inspired by Penelope. There are several puns on the name Rich throughout the sequence, and in Sonnet 35 he claims:

long needy Fame
Doth even grow rich, naming my Stella’s name

No evidence survives to confirm Stella ever read Sydney’s poetry, neither is there proof the two became lovers, but Penelope’s biographer suggests it is likely, since ‘on his deathbed in 1586 Sidney reportedly told the preacher George Gifford of a vanity in which he had taken delight, of which he must now rid himself, naming Lady Rich.’

 

Philip Sydney

 

Penelope and her husband had five children, four of whom survived. But Penelope was not content to lead the life of a wife and mother, trapped in a country house with no diversions. She insisted on attending court, and soon attracted the advances of another courtier, Sir Charles Blount. Their affair became public knowledge in 1590 when he wore her colours at the Accession Day jousting tournament. Blount and Penelope went on to have six children together, the first, Penelope, born in 1592. However the child was given the surname Rich, and her mother continued to spend some time with her husband. She nursed him through a serious illness in 1600 and he appears to have at the very least accepted the situation he found himself in, even permitting all the children to be brought up together. This may have been because by this stage Penelope was quite a powerful force at court. People petitioned her for favours and for mediation with the Queen, and she would request favours for people from Robert Cecil. However after Essex’s debacle in Ireland in 1599, her brother fell dramatically out of favour with the Queen, and Penelope, ill-advisedly attempted to intervene. The result was a humiliating response from Elizabeth, castigating Penelope for daring to meddle, and although the two later resolved their differences, Penelope was never fully forgiven.

In 1603, Penelope’s relationship with court suffered a catastrophic failure when she was named as one of the ring-leaders in Essex’s botched attempt at a coup:

she had dined at Essex House with the leaders the previous night, and went to fetch the earl of Bedford on the morning of the revolt. After the trial, Essex reportedly insisted that she had urged him on by saying that all his friends and followers thought him a coward. She maintained that she had been more like a slave, and that her brother had wrongly accused her. After a brief confinement, and examination by the privy council, she was released.

 

Sir Charles Blount, earl of Devonshire

 

After the death of the Queen, Penelope restored her status and social standing by escorting James I’s wife from the borders, and appearing in a series of masques at court alongside the new queen Anne. In 1605, her marriage to Rich was formally dissolved in the London consistory court, on the grounds of her acknowledged adultery. Although she named no one in the proceedings, she had by this point become involved with the earl of Devonshire, formerly Mountjoy, head of armed forces in Ireland. Remarriage remained illegal while her former spouse lived, but nevertheless the two were married on Boxing Day 1605.  Her new husband prepared a long defence of his marriage to Penelope, writing to James I, claiming that Penelope had ‘protested during the wedding with Rich, that after it Rich had tormented her, and had now not “enjoyed her” for twelve years.’ Their marriage however proved to be short lived. Devonshire died in April the following year, and Penelope outlived him by little more than a year, dying at Westminster in July 1607.

Penelope fascinated men throughout her life. She was celebrated in paintings, poetry, and songs; described as ‘the starre of honor, and the sphere of beautie’. Nicholas Hilliard painted her portrait, and named his daughter after her. The happiness of her relationship with Devonshire was celebrated by John Ford in his elegy Fame’s Memorial.

Sources: DNB; NPG; EBBO

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Love Poetry

Now let us sport us while we may

Utilising the Horatian precept of carpe dieum, the following poem by metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), has been extensively mined by authors since it’s original publication shortly after the poet’s death.

To his Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Poetry

S. Lucies Day

In honour of the winter solstice, and the ancient feast of St Lucy (Dec 13th), which before the reform of the Gregorian calendar fell on midwinter, this snippet comes from John Donne (1572-1631).

A Nocturnall upon S.Lucies day, being the shortest day

Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the dayes,
Lucies, who scarce seven hours herself unmaskes;
The sunne is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rayes;
The world’s whole sap is sunke;
The generall balme th’ hydroptique earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the beds-feet, life is shrunke,
Dead and enterr’d; yet all these seeme to laugh,
Compar’d with mee, who am their Epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers bee
At the next world, that is, at the next Spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new Alchimie.
For his art did expresse
A quintessence even from nothingnesse,
From dull privations, and leane emptinesse:
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soule, forme, spirit, whence they beeing have;
I, by Love’s limbecke, am the grave
Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two Chaosses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our soules, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the Elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; Yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; All, all some properties invest;
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light and body must be here.

But I am None; nor will my Sunne renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser Sunne
At this time to the Goat is runne
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since she enjoys her long night’s festivall,
Let me prepare towards her, and let mee call
This houre her Vigil, and her Eve, since this
Both the yeares, and the day’s deep midnight is.

Medicine Poetry Shakespeare

The Bard & The Bath

John Wilmot having died of syphilis, I thought some snippets on the treatment of this disease in early modern England might prove interesting. The disease, contracted through sexual intercourse, was believed to have been transmitted by the French (although Columbus was often blamed for having brought it over from the newly-found America). Much more virulent than today, syphilis came to be widely-feared.  Fracastoro’s Syphilidis sive de Morbo Gallico (1525) graphically illustrates just how disfiguring the disease could be:

[U]nsightly sores broke out over all the body and made the face horrifyingly ugly, and disfigured the breast by their foul presence: the disease took on a new aspect: pustules with the shape of an acorn-cup and rotten with thick slime, which soon afterwards gaped wide open and flowed with a discharge like mucous and putrid blood.  Moreover the disease gnawed deep and burrowed into the inmost parts, feeding on its victims’ bodies with pitiable results: for on quite frequent occasions we ourselves have seen limbs stripped of their flesh and the bones rough with scales, and mouths eaten away yawn open in hideous gape while the throat produced feeble sounds.

 

 

In early modern Europe, the use of Mercury was a widespread method of treating Syphilis. It was administered to the patient in four different ways: orally, topically, by ointment, and by fumigation.  Mercury taken orally was absorbed internally. When used topically, mercury would be applied several times a day to different parts of the body and the metal absorbed into the skin. Mercury ointment adhered to the same principle, but the metal was kept in continuous close contact with the skin. Treatment by fumigation was the least effective and most gruelling mercury therapy. The unfortunate patient was placed in a closed box, or bath tub, with only the head visible. A fire was then lit underneath the cabinet, raising the temperature and causing the mercury to vaporize. This method was not popular since it was such an agonising ordeal and did little to treat the disease effectively. All processes were intended to accomplish the same goal; to increase the amount of saliva produced by the patient, since it was believed saliva carried away the venereal poison. Three pints of saliva a day was considered a good prognosis, and in the cases when the patient would not produce the required amount of saliva, more mercury was used.

The French doctor Ambroise Paré reports in his treatise on the Lues venera that sweating treatments involving mercury vapour

infect and corrupt their venomous contagion, the braine and lungs, by whom they are primarily and fully received, when the patients during the residue of their lives have stinking breaths. Yea many while they have beene thus handled, have beene taken hold of by a convulsion and trembling of their heads, hands & legges, with a deafenesse, apoplexie, and lastly miserable death.

Mercury caused sweating and salivation. Sores developed on the mouth, tongue and throat. Teeth and hair often fell out. In Book Two of Pantagruel (1532) Rabelais depicts a pox victim in the advanced stages of the disease, his face glistening with corrosive mercurial ointment, his teeth chattering, his mouth foaming.

The French Pox appeared widely on the London stage; it is referenced in numerous plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries and according to some scholarship, Shakespeare’s 154th Sonnet may in fact be an autobiographical reference to his own enforced agonies at the hands of the mercury quacks:

 Sonnet 154

The little love-god lying once asleep,
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
While many nymphs, that vowed chaste life to keep,
Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand
The fairest votary took up that fire
Which many legions of true hearts had warmed;
And so the general of hot desire
Was, sleeping, by a virgin hand disarmed.
This brand she quenched in a cool well by,
Which from love’s fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy
For men diseased; but I, my mistress’ thrall,
Came there for cure, and this by that I prove:
Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers:

© Shakespeare's England 2009-2014