Hammond, Brean S. Pope and Bolingbroke: A Study of Friendship and Influence. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1984.
Morris, David P. Alexander Pope, the Genius of Sense. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.
"EVE'S APOLOGY IN DEFENSE OF WOMEN" Aemilia Lanyer (1611) As part of Aemilia Lanyer's larger work, Salve Deus Rex Judaeo-rum, "Eve's Apology in Defense of Women" sets for itself a remarkable agenda. Lanyer reenvisioned the traditional view of woman as the cause of all mankind's misery as a result of Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden. She adopts two approaches in attempting to redeem Eve and, by extension, all women. First Lanyer contrasts Eve's innocent betrayal of Adam to man's active betrayal of Christ in his crucifixion to argue the far greater degree of man's betrayal. Second she argues that man's self-proclaimed position of lord of the earth, a being stronger than woman, made Adam far more culpable than Eve in eating of the forbidden fruit, which she offered in innocent love. While unremarked upon in any public venue by Lanyer's contemporaries, her revised myth of the Garden of Eden proved an extraordinary feminist work. In 12 eight-line stanzas, with rhyme scheme of abababcc, Lanyer makes a thorough case in defense of Eve.
The speaker begins by describing the part of Pontius Pilate as judge of Christ. She inserts the plea of Pilate's wife for her husband to spare Christ, it is based on her dream, a telling consistent with the biblical version of the story. Pilate's wife pleads,
"o noble governor, make thou yet a pause,
Do not in innocent blood imbrue thy hands; But hear the words of thy most worthy wife, Who sends to thee, to beg her Savior's life." (5-8)
Lanyer reverses the tone of the request made by Eve of Adam to partake of the fruit, when Pilate's wife begs him not to act. She can later make the point that men gathered to kill Christ, while a woman attempted to halt his murder. Pilate's wife continues at the conclusion of the second stanza emphasizing that women should not celebrate man's fall, referring either to the fall of Adam, Christ's death, or Pontius's part in his death: "Let not us women glory in men's fall. / Who had power given to overrule us all." Lanyer makes clear that men have always had power, by their own claim, over women, thus suggesting Adam neglected his duty in allowing Eve's innocent gift to corrupt all of mankind. The third stanza states, our mother Eve, who tasted of the tree
Giving to Adam what she held most dear,
Was simply good, and had no power to see;
The after-coming harm did not appear. (20-23)
In contrast Pilate had been warned by his wife, as a result of her power to see the terrible consequences of Christ's persecution.
The speaker notes that Eve employed neither "guile nor craft" in offering the forbidden fruit to Adam; rather her ignorance had allowed Satan to confuse her. Although Eve's blame was great, Adam's proved greater, for "What weakness offered, strength might have refused; / Being lord of all, the greater was his shame." Lanyer's tone remains respectful but firm, as she relates that Adam had been created perfect by God and "received that straight command" not to eat from the forbidden tree directly from God's mouth. Furthermore, Adam understood, as Eve did not, that betrayal of that order would result in death. Adam begins to appear more and more the dupe, as Lanyer reminds readers that Eve silently offered Adam the fruit without any attempt to persuade him, and the fruit's "fair" appearance acted as the persuasion: "No subtle serpent's falsehood did betray him; / If he would eat it, who had power to stay him?" Lanyer proposes that Eve's only fault was loving Adam too much; love prompted her to give him what she believed to be a wonderful gift.
Having constructed her comparison of Eve's act to the potential sin of Pilate, Lanyer states bluntly in lines 72-73; "Her weakness did the serpent's words obey, / But you in malice god's dear son betray." Clearly, man's sin far overshadows Eve's. Lanyer further presses her point, asking, "Your fault being greater, why should you disdain / our being your equals, free from tyranny?" She follows that question with a stinging indictment: "If one weak woman simply did offend, / This sin of yours hath no excuse nor end." Lanyer closes in her final stanza by restating the fact that women were in no way complicit with man's murder of Christ. The warning by Pilate's wife proves the opposite.
As noted by Barbara K. Lewalski, Lanyer "challenges patriarchal ideology" as well as "the discourses supporting it." She succeeds in "displacing the hierarchical authority of fathers and husbands," quite a feat for a 17th-century female poet. Her combination of narra tion and religious meditation results in an informed challenge to traditional views of women and their place in society. Aemilia Lanyer became an important force in women's literature in the 20th century, and her small body of writing continues to attract more attention in the 21st century. It remains easily obtainable, in both electronic and print versions.
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