The first scholar to investigate the subject of women’s anger in early modern England, Gwynne Kennedy analyzes portrayals of and attitudes toward women’s anger in printed texts by or purporting to be written by women during the period.
Kennedy draws from recent critical work on emotions by historians, literary scholars, philosophers, and psychologists as well as comparative studies of the emotions by cultural anthropologists. Kennedy also examines a number of male-authored works, including sermons, conduct literature, philosophy, rhetoric, and medicine. The focus of her work, however, is on representations of women’s anger in printed works signed with women’s names in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England. She addresses the ways these writings conform to, conflict with, or appear to reconfigure prevailing beliefs about women’s anger.
Kennedy looks at such literary texts as Mary Wroth’s romance, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, the first fiction by an English woman; Elizabeth Cary’s play, The Tragedy of Mariam, the earliest extant play in English by a woman; and Aemilia Lanyer’s verse collection, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. She also discusses religious writings by Protestant martyr Anne Askew and Elizabeth Cary’s history of Edward II. Kennedy considers as well defenses of women’s nature authored by women (Rachel Speght and Aemilia Lanyer) or published under female pseudonyms (“Jane Anger,” “Ester Sowernam,” and “Constantia Munda”).
Kennedy demonstrates the importance of class and race as factors affecting anger’s legitimacy and its forms of expression. She shows how early modern assumptions about women’s anger can help to create or exaggerate other differences among women. Her close scrutiny of anger against female inferiority emphasizes the crucial role of emotions in the construction of self-worth and identity.