Skip to main content Skip to navigation

My Research

Authority and Influence in Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus.

My thesis examines the authorities drawn on, and the influences on and of Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth’s published sonnet sequence Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, appended to her prose romance, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania. The frontispiece of Wroth’s 1621 printed text invokes the authorities of Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, and Philip Sidney, author of the Arcadia and Astrophil and Stella. Aside from these, Wroth’s sonnet sequence is rich with influences and authorities both contemporary and classical. This thesis will consider societal, familial, contemporary, and classical influences. Alongside the work of Wroth’s Sidney forebears, I will focus on intertextuality with the work of Jonson, Shakespeare, Horace, and Ovid. I will use the idea of authority to explore Wroth’s conscious invocation of and reference to texts and personages, whilst I will discuss similarities derived from coterie activity or collaboration as influences. My use of the word authority refers not only to literary allusions, and to the idea of authorship, but also to political authority.

Whilst the work of Paulissen, Kennedy, Lamb, and others have made thematic links between Wroth’s work and Classical texts, this thesis will break new ground by exploring Wroth’s direct interaction with the works of Horace and Ovid, and her use of intralingual allusion. I will build on the work of Smith and Britland who have excavated political themes in the sonnet sequence, particularly the dilemma of how to interact with authority. My work takes these ideas a step further by connecting such ideas to their practical application within contemporary politics. Much previous scholarship on Wroth’s biography and work has shown a bias towards presenting her as a helpless victim of circumstance. This thesis, in contrast, will seek to explore Wroth’s active role within contemporary structures of patronage, and to understand further the political agenda behind the printing of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus. I will link this to an investigation of how Wroth’s role as literary heir to Philip Sidney fitted into the contemporaneous ‘Sidneian’ political agenda and the ambitions of her lover and cousin William Herbert, Third Earl of Pembroke and his struggle for power and influence against the favourites of James I.

This examination of the authorities and influences at work in Pamphilia to Amphilanthus reveals Wroth’s ambitious self-fashioning as a Sidneian laureate and casts new light on early modern attitudes to female education, authorship, patronage, and sexual mores. Perhaps most excitingly, this work also reveals the scale of Wroth’s previously under estimated influence on her contemporaries as both patron and poet.

Thomasin lecturing


Dr. Paul Botley