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Mary Wroth's Poetry: An Electronic Edition

Textual Introduction

The bulk of Wroth's poetry exists in two different texts. The first is a manuscript, written by Wroth herself, held at the Folger Library (V.a.104). This manuscript is reproduced in digital images as part of this edition. The manuscript is quite small (measuring 19 by 14 centimetres), and contains 66 pages. [1] Wroth's editor, Josephine Roberts, dates this manuscript some time between 1602 and 1613 - the poems must have been written over a period of time, and references to Wroth from other writers makes a date of roughly 1610 a likely guess. [2] Given that many of the manuscript's characteristics can be seen from the digital images, I will only call attention to some of the less easily discernible features.

As a whole, the manuscript is a fair copy, but includes some alterations and improvements Wroth made as she wrote out her poems. While Josephine Roberts interpreted the manuscript as an early version of 'Pamphilia to Amphilanthus', the song and sonnet sequence appended to the end of the printed Urania, recently some scholars have suggested that the manuscript is more likely to be a draft collection of Wroth's poetry arranged in a number of different sequences. Heather Dubrow in particular has mounted a convincing case that the slashed S mark (depicted as ) that appears in a variety of forms in the manuscript (a symbol used by contemporary French writers and called a 'fermesse') reinforces the idea of a mixture of poem groupings, rather than single sequence. [3] This edition allows readers to view the evidence and decide for themselves. It is undeniable that the rearrangement of poems in the printed Urania, with some of the manuscript poems distributed within the romance and others dropped, indicates that the poems must be seen as fluid rather than fixed in a particular order. And while so far none of Wroth's poems have turned up in manuscript collections, there is ample evidence that her poems circulated in manuscript when she wrote them, almost certainly as single poems, or small groups of poems, rather than exactly in the form of the Folger manuscript. The Folger manuscript therefore has to be seen as a valuable example of Wroth writing out her poetry and experimenting with ways of ordering it. The ascription of poems to Pamphilia and the naming of the collection certainly pays homage to Philip Sidney's 'Astrophil and Stella'. It may also mean that Wroth was already considering the use of Pamphilia as a character in her romance: a character who would write poetry and bear some resemblance to Wroth herself. Or perhaps the poetic voice of 'Pamphilia' inspired the idea of her as a character.

The fact that the poetry remained in a state of flux is testified to by its reappearance in print within Urania and as the sequence 'Pamphilia to Amphilanthus' that appears at the end of the book. As noted above, it is also possible to see Wroth making corrections and changes within the manuscript; for example, she changes Cupid's 'image, and service of his tyrannies' to 'mask, and service of his tyrannies' (P64). The poems as they appear in the printed 1621 text show further alterations and emendations, many of them certainly authorial, although some printer's errors are also introduced. Urania was published in 1621. It was registered by the publishers John Grismond and John Marriott on 13 July 1621, and was printed by Augustine Mathewes. The elaborate title page, engraved by Simon van de Passe, depicts a central, allegorical incident from the romance in which the characters are trapped within the Throne of Love. The romance as published ends mid sentence, possibly in imitation of the revised version of Philip Sidney's Arcadia, although the narrative is continued in a lengthy manuscript, which Wroth never published. The sequence of 'Pamphilia to Amphilanthus' appears on a new page, renumbered from one (it begins on signature Aaaa). Wroth has carefully re-ordered the poems into a series of sequences, beginning with a combination of sonnets and songs, a group of songs, another group of sonnets and songs, the crown of sonnets, another small group of songs, and a final group of nine sonnets. After the final sonnet ('My Muse, now happy, lay thyself to rest') there is a large capital 'FINIS'.

Roberts's edition of Wroth's poems uses the Folger manuscript as the copy text, but the ordering if that of the sequence at the end of Urania. Gary Waller's earlier edition was of the poems as published in 1621. The modernised edition by R.E. Pritchard also relies upon the printed text (and is a teaching edition, rather than a scholarly one). The advantage of the present on-line edition is that it does not require the choice of a copy-text. Or, to put this more productively, this edition allows access to both major sources of Wroth's poetry (and will in time also include the poems from the unpublished continuation of Urania and from Wroth's pastoral play, Love's Victory, which exists in two manuscripts). It is possible to view both source texts side by side, or to choose to read through one, either in its original form or in the modernised version. Given that there are, in essence, only two sources to be considered, I have not had to confront the dilemma that faces editors who have to deal with numerous source texts, although new ideas about editing have succeeded in incorporating the notion of circulating, transforming texts, rather than perfect authoritative, reconstructed originals, perhaps the best example being Harold Love's edition of the Restoration poet Rochester. [4] For the first time, with this on-line edition Wroth's poetry may be studied both as 'adjusted' by editing, but also as directly as possible from its sources, and so those who use it may themselves edit, or re-edit, if they wish.

As far as the modernised versions of the poems are concerned, I have tried to provide useful reading/teaching texts, considering the originals as images or transcripts may easily be viewed for comparison. I have therefore modernised both spelling and punctuation (albeit fairly conservatively) and used a modern layout with normalised capitalisation at the beginning of each line and where necessary standardised indentation.

View a complete index of all poems.


Ordering of poems in Folger MS as proposed by Heather Dubrow. (Numbers are those used in the Roberts edition).

P1-3, F1, P5-16, P64, P68, P70, P20-24, P72, P26-29, P65, P31-39, P95, P97, P42-46, P96, P48-55.
P56, P57, U18, P58-61, U14, P62, U12.
P63, P17, P30, P66, P67, P18, P69, P19, P71, P25.
P73, F2, P74, P75.
P91-3, U 34, P94.
P40, P47, P41, P98-100, P101, P102, P103.
U32, F4, F5.
U52, F6, U17, U24.


[1] Josephine Roberts, ed., The Poems of Lady Mary Wroth (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982). p.62

[2] ibid., Gary Waller, ed., Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (Salzburg: Universitat Salzburg, 1977), R.E. Pritchard, ed., Lady Mary Wroth: Poems: A modernised edition (Keele:Keele University Press, 1996).

[3] See Heather Dubrow, ' "And Thus Leave Off" : Reevaluating Mary Wroth's Folger Manuscript , V.a.104', Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 22 (2003), 273-91; see also Gavin Alexander, 'Constant Works: A Framework for Reading Mary Wroth', Sidney Journal 14 (1996-7), 5-32. I have provided Dubrow's arrangement of the poems in an appendix to this introduction.

[4] Harold Love, ed., The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

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