Lady Mary Wroth's Urania: the work and the tradition

by Witten-Hannah, Margaret Anne

Abstract (Summary)
Restricted Item. Print thesis available in the University of Auckland Library or available through Inter-Library Loan. The Introduction reviews critical attitudes to Lady Mary Wroth's The Countess of Montgomery's Urania, nearly all of them based on a reading of only the first part of the romance, which was printed in 1621. The commonest view is that the work is no more than a longwinded "phantasmagory". The following biographical account of the author is intended to show that, on the contrary, there is a "documentary" quality about the whole work that has roots in Lady Wroth's experience of life at the late Elizabethan and Jacobean courts. The third chapter presents a hypothetical reconstruction of the way in which the first half of the complete "Urania" came to be printed, which answers the questions raised by the unusual bibliographical state in which the printed book appears. The Urania (1621) was in all likelihood published without the author's permission. Chapter Four describes the two surviving manuscripts by Lady Wroth (one of them a continuation of the printed book), the evidence of her letters strongly suggesting that they are autograph. The relationship between the manuscripts, and between them and the book printed in 1621, is therefore seen to be close. The prose manuscript and the Urania (1621) are contiguous halves of one work, and the author's apparent intention to divide the romance into two parts remained tentative. The genesis of the poetry manuscript was separate from that of the prose. It was probably used as a basis for the revision of many of the poems appearing in the printed book. The fifth chapter outlines Lady Wroth's debt to the romance tradition and shows how she "transfigured" received material by drawing on spectacular theatre, especially on masque settings designed by Inigo Jones. The effect of such spectacular elements is novel: Lady Wroth suggests through them the impermanence of her hero's protestations of undying love. She also portrays her heroine's situation as consquently ambiguous: Pamphilia represents the ideal of constancy, but her fidelity is also the cause of her "ruine". Chapter Six concludes that the complete "Urania" is a Mannerist work betraying the author's alienation from the ideals espoused by her society. Lady Wroth was keenly aware of the double standard of sexual behaviour for men and women, an awareness which shaped her work and gave the romance its peculiar tone.
Bibliographical Information:


School:The University of Auckland / Te Whare Wananga o Tamaki Makaurau

School Location:New Zealand

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:01/01/1978

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