The English Renaissance was a time of great literature. The world was changing and people were exploring their boundaries. In a time of such opportunity, women were often excluded. For instance, it was very difficult for women to receive education. Even if they did, it was extremely difficult for them to be accepted as writers and nearly impossible to have their work published. Only a small number of women writers succeeded in having their works published because of the many social barriers.
One of the few women to overcome these obstacles was Isabella Whitney. She grew up in a middle-class family in Cheshire, England. Little is known about her family except that she was the sister of the Protestant poet Geoffrey Whitney, who wrote Choice of Emblems (Todd). She worked for aristocratic households where she encountered many opportunities to learn, but she was never formally educated (Krontiris). In addition to this self-education, she spent a lot of time reading, which enriched her knowledge.
During the Renaissance, it was looked down on when women read anything other than the Bible. People thought that women must have Divine intervention to guide their interpretations of literature; if they did not they were looked at suspiciously (Krontiris).
This shows that during the English Renaissance women were viewed as being basically incompetent. They were not thought of as even being capable enough to read something and interpret it for themselves. Knowing this, Whitney had a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to be a successful poet. She tried to avoid criticism in many different ways.
For instance, Isabella Whitney was the first professional woman poet in British literatu...
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... make a way for themselves.
It is strange to think about what the world would be like today if not for women like Isabella Whitney. If not for her, women might still be prohibited from publishing their written works. She and the women who followed in her footsteps created the opening of minds that allowed the possibility of women’s equality to men. I am sure Whitney had no idea the impact she would make not only on literature, but on women, and the world.
Clark, Danielle. The Politics of Early Modern Women’s Writing. England. Pearson Education Limited, 2001.
Krontiris, Tina. Oppositional Voices: Women As Writers and Translators of Literature in the English Renaissance. London. New York: Routledge Publishing, 1992.
Todd, Janet. British Women Writers A Critical Reference Guide. Continuum New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1989.
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