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La Mesure et l'excès

Melancholic Excess and Poetic Measure in Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus

Aurélie Griffin
p. 121-134


Dans son recueil de sonnets Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, publié en 1621, Mary Wroth représente la mélancolie du sujet poétique confronté à l’inconstance de l’amant. Pamphilia s’écrit à elle-même et s’emploie à trouver la mesure poétique susceptible de contenir sa mélancolie. Le choix du sonnet néopétrarquiste, avec ses limites strictes et ses codes esthétiques précis, peut être vu comme une tentative d’opposer excès mélancolique et mesure poétique afin de rendre plus supportable la douleur du sujet. La tension entre mesure et excès se traduit dans la structure du recueil, tout particulièrement dans la corona finale, qui marquerait le triomphe de la mesure si le dernier vers ne répétait l’enfermement du sujet annoncé dès l’ouverture. Oscillant entre mesure et excès, le recueil de sonnets de Mary Wroth illustre sa vision aporétique de la mélancolie, présentée comme la source de la création poétique mais qui ne peut être soulagée par l’écriture.

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  • 1  In the early seventeenth century, when Wroth wrote her poems, melancholy was still defined, in the (...)
  • 2  Timothy Bright “define[s] the humor no otherwise then that part of that bloud which naturally of t (...)

1Lady Mary Wroth’s sonnet sequence, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (1621), showcases the persona’s love melancholy as she is faced with her beloved’s inconstancy. The persona undoubtedly suffers from love melancholy, one of the three “species” of melancholy identified by Robert Burton as well as other scholars. Pamphilia suffers from acute melancholy not only because her lover proves inconstant, but more generally because “Love is a species of melancholy” (Burton 3.2).1 All humours, including melancholy, were defined by excess,2 while poetry implied measure in the form of prosody, rhythm and musicality, as well as the fourteen-line limit of the Neopetrarchan sonnet, which was favoured by Lady Mary Wroth. The main theme and the literary genre of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus thus present a tension between melancholic excess and poetic measure. Wroth’s poetry, furthermore, explores its own capacity to cure melancholy by expressing it, following Burton’s comment that “the simple narration many times easeth our distressed minde” (Burton 2.104). In that respect, poetry might become a cure for melancholy specifically because poetic measure contains or regulates melancholic excess.


  • 3  “O absent presence, Stella is not here” (Sidney 210).

2Lady Mary Wroth was one of the first women in England to write a sonnet sequence, and her poems, as many critics have shown, favour the woman’s perspective to the exclusion of the man’s (see in particular Miller 143-82; Moore 125-50; Waller 191-219). While Laura and Stella both played an important part in Petrarch’s and Sidney’s sonnet sequences – though they were “absent presence[s],” to quote Sidney3 – Amphilanthus is altogether absent. He never appears in the poems, except in the title of the sequence. As Gavin Alexander notes, although Pamphilia to Amphilanthus is labelled as a response to Astrophil and Stella, there is “a world of difference in the crucial change of ‘and’ to ‘to’ in its title” (Alexander 287). This change of perspective enables Wroth to focus exclusively on her persona’s feelings, and as such, to offer an extremely detailed study of melancholy in her poems.

3Pamphilia to Amphilanthus was published as an appendix to Wroth’s romance, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania – the first prose romance to be published by a woman in England – in 1621. As such, the sonnet sequence itself goes beyond the boundaries of the romance, a long-winded narrative which amounted to over five hundred and fifty pages in the original folio edition. The persona, Pamphilia (“all-loving”), is the main character in the romance, which focuses on her complex relationship with her lover Amphilanthus, whose name anticipates his unfaithfulness as it means “lover of two.” In the published volume, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus therefore appeared as a follow-up to the main plotline in the romance, giving the reader privileged access to the principal character’s interiority, even more so than the narrative had done. The book thus testifies to the importance of excess as a structuring principle in Wroth’s writing: the apparently unstoppable flow of the romance is repeated in the sonnet sequence which simultaneously displays an attempt to contain it. Moreover, the romance is seemingly unfinished, as it ends in mid-sentence (as did Sidney’s published Arcadia). The last word is highly provocative, since the romance ends with the conjunction “and” with a possible pun on “end,” drawing the reader’s attention to the ambiguous nature of this ending. Inside the volume, the final word of the romance also serves to tie together the two parts of the book, namely the romance and the poems, highlighting the hybrid nature of the work as well as the essential connection between romance and poems.

  • 4  At about the same time, Gomberville published what would become the longest book in French literat (...)

4As the sonnet sequence appears after the ending of the romance in the published volume, it seems that Pamphilia to Amphilanthus derives from The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania. However, the sonnet sequence had been circulated in manuscript as early as 1613 (Hannay 181, 225; Wroth 19, 44), so that the romance is actually rooted in it. Urania also takes elements from Wroth’s pastoral drama Love’s Victory, which was probably performed at her sister’s wedding in 1619 (Hannay 221). The romance thus combines various elements from Wroth’s previous works. In Urania, Wroth both uncovers and develops the story which was implicit in Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, and she also writes around it, mirroring the main love story in a series of similar love stories between minor characters. Starting with a few complex but “contained” elements in shorter literary genres – pastoral poetry and drama –, Wroth repeated and expanded the same key elements in a more supple literary form which did not have to respect any boundaries, especially in terms of length: the romance.4 Wroth’s romance is not only long, but it is also hybrid, blending as it does prose, poetry and dramatic elements, as well as wavering between various tones.

  • 5  For the influence of Petrarch on early modern English poetry, see Roche.
  • 6  Margaret A. Witten-Hannah, divides the sequence into two sections, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus and t (...)
  • 7  She also writes: “Rather than offering a steady progression of attitudes, Lady Mary chooses to dra (...)

5The choice of the sonnet sequence was particularly appropriate for the type of psychological portrait Wroth undertakes, since the genre had been inaugurated by Petrarch for similar purposes: for Lady Mary Wroth as for Petrarch, the sonnet sequence follows the ups-and-downs of the lover’s psyche,5 implying a chain of events or a sequence of various emotions which the poet attempts to organise following a specific structure. In Wroth’s case, various attempts have been made to identify a meaningful structure inside Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, but none have managed to identify any evident organization.6 It seems, rather, that the sequence has no clear structuring principle other than the unpredictable evolution of the two protagonists’ relationship and the persona’s response to it. Josephine Roberts’s comment (made in 1983) that Lady Mary Wroth’s poems “show the mind of a woman in the process of evaluating the varied interpretations of the essence of love” (Wroth 45) remains true to this day.7 This “evaluation” implies hesitations, contradictions, and changes of mind. Rather than a demonstration culminating in an anticipated conclusion, the sonnet sequence reveals the exploration of a complex topic that remains impossible to pin down and thus challenges structure or measure.

  • 8  The name “Pamphilia” appears as a signature after P55 and P103, i.e. at the end of the corona and (...)

6Excess also has a part to play in the structure of the sonnet sequence itself. First, the name Pamphilia appears at the end of two poems, seemingly announcing closure, but the first of these signatures appears roughly in the middle of the sequence.8 The signature seems to highlight a pause or a break in the structure, and instead of closure, emphasises the fact that this is not the end of the sequence yet. The manuscript version of the sequence is also punctuated by many S fermés or fermesses, signs that Wroth also used in her letters and which seem to carry special weight for her as for her aunt:

Lady Wroth also followed her aunt’s lead in using an ‘S fermé,’ or an S closed with a slash, in her letters; both women hereby emphasized their identity as Sidneys although their signatures are, respectively, “Mary Wrothe” and “M. Pembroke.” (Hannay 230)

The fermesse thus serves to claim Wroth’s identity as a Sidney in spite of her marriage. The recurring presence of these signs repeatedly indicates a form of closure which is belied by the fact that the sequence goes on, and that some poems even have several of these signatures. The title of the sequence could also be read as the title of a letter, in which the signature would serve as a conclusion or a parting note, yet the actual signature and the fermesse seem to appear in random places, as if the persona attempted to curtail the poetic flow, but to no avail. More generally, the fermesse was also used to signify love and fidelity, notably in love letters (Ranum 244), so that it both reinforces the amorous nature of Wroth’s poems and underlines the fact that they were supposed to be read by the persona’s beloved Amphilanthus. With these recurring signatures, the poet seems to indicate that she keeps adding more poems to the sequence as she fails to limit the pain in which her creation is rooted.

7Furthermore, the sonnet sequence contains another sonnet sequence in miniature, entitled “A Crowne of Sonetts Dedicated to Love.” This group of fourteen poems is the only known example of a poetic corona authored by an Englishwoman in the seventeenth century. Wroth’s most notable precedent in that regard was of course John Donne’s La Corona, which presents a similar tension between measure and excess as well as an interplay between human love and spirituality. The corona was originally an Italian poetic form in which the last line of a sonnet is repeated as the first line of the next sonnet. The last line of the last sonnet coincides with the first line of the first sonnet, so that the corona comes full circle and can be seen, in Wroth’s case, as a triumph of measure over excess. Moreover, as the first line suggests, the whole corona plays on another highly structured, visual pattern: that of the labyrinth. A fashionable pattern in Elizabethan gardens as well as a religious symbol for man’s search for God which could be found in both Catholic and Puritan churches, the maze represents the persona’s melancholic wanderings, as she tries to escape from the overwhelming power of love over her (Chiari 381-97; Moore 125-50; Morlier 93-102). With its well-tended alleys, the labyrinth can also be seen as a guiding principle for the wanderers (although they may lose their way), limiting the number of possibilities which are presented to them as they are looking for a way out. Similarly, although the persona is lost in the labyrinth of love, there are only a number of possibilities available to her.

8However, the first and last line of the corona, “In this strang labourinth how shall I turne?” reiterates the persona’s predicament. The triumph of measure over excess is, therefore, merely formal, and ironically emphasises Pamphilia’s helplessness as she is both governed and perplexed by melancholy. The final line is an open question which the whole corona has tried, and failed, to answer, so that there remains no choice for the persona but to repeat the same question. The fact that the corona ends on this open question testifies to the impossibility of containing melancholy. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the corona does not coincide with the very end of the sonnet sequence, but is rather inserted in it.

9After this failed attempt to find her way in the labyrinth of love, Pamphilia goes back to the initial “thread” of her sonnet sequence, which goes on for another thirteen poems – a section almost equal to the corona in terms of length, with what would be one missing poem. Only after the formal completion of the corona has been overruled can the persona put a final stop to her melancholic meditations. The last poem in the sonnet sequence works as a metatextual reflection on the practice of writing in which the persona vows to stop writing: “My muse now hapy, lay thyself to rest” (Wroth 142, 1). Since poetic measure has proved unable to contain melancholic excess, she “leave[s] off” writing (Wroth 142, 13).


10The overall structure of the sonnet sequence is thus marked by a tension between poetic measure and melancholic excess. Like other sonnet sequences, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus not only contains sonnets but also lyrics, which tend to be twice or three times as long (30-40 lines). The less rigid form of the lyric enables Wroth to experiment with poetry in a different, more simple way. For instance, in the lyrics, Wroth’s lines are usually self-contained, while run-on-lines are, as we shall see, extremely frequent in her sonnets. In the lyrics, the unity of the line is widely respected, which conveys an impression of ease, almost spontaneity, while the sonnets highlight the difficulty of containing thought.

11Wroth’s peculiar use of syntax has been noted by critics such as Paul Hecht, Colleen Rosenfeld and Paul Salzman. The first poem of the sequence already illustrates this specific tendency of Wroth’s style:

When nights black mantle could most darknes prove, And sleepe deaths Image did my senceses hiere From knowledg of my self, then thoughts did move Swifter then those most swiftnes need require:
In sleepe, a Chariot drawne by wing’d desire
I sawe: wher sate bright Venus Queene of love,
And att her feete her sonne, still adding fire
To burning hearts which she did hold above,
Butt one hart flaming more then all the rest
The goddess held, and putt it to my brest,
Deare sonne, now shutt sayd she: thus must wee winn;
Hee her obay’d, and martir’d my poor hart,
I, waking hop’d as dreames it would depart
Yett since: O mee: a lover I have binn. (Wroth 85)

Several structural and syntactical features make this poem, as many in the sonnet sequence, difficult to read. The frequent inversions create a convoluted syntax which tends to make the general meaning of the poem somewhat opaque. The emphatic use of the auxiliary “did,” which is repeated throughout the poem, reflects a paradoxical tension between excess and lack: these auxiliaries have been added for metrical purposes, but they are not necessary in terms of meaning, so that they appear as a form of syntactic or grammatical superfluity which actually covers a semantic void. Wroth’s choice of obscurity – in this as in many other poems – recalls Donne’s “strong lines.” Like him, she might be said to expect “[her] readers to enjoy difficulty […] in the combination of complicated verse forms and apparently spontaneous thought – thought that doubled back, corrected itself, broke off in passionate interjections” (Kermode 120). By emulating Donne, however, Wroth challenges Carew’s notion of Donne’s “masculine expression” (Carew 39) by proving that whatever poetic strength was at stake could equally be displayed by a woman writer.

12In Wroth’s poems, inversion also sometimes entails its own consequences in terms of musicality, as in the phrase “thus must we winn” (instead of “thus we must win”), which forces the reader to pronounce two [u] sounds in a row as well as a long and a short [i]. This creates a sort of imperfect echo which is rather difficult to read and may even be seen as clumsy, joining as it does too many similar sounds. Moreover, the number of run-on lines (five in fourteen lines) is disturbing, since the layout indicates a form of measure which is repeatedly overruled. Similarly, the choice of alternate rhymes in the quatrains provides an effect of containment which is belied by the subsequent run-on lines (lines three and six). The lines thus fail to contain the poetic flow which derives from the persona’s melancholy.

13The poem symbolically narrates the persona’s rebirth as a lover, situating the origins of her love melancholy in a dream. The poem thus recounts a larger-than-life experience which the poet strives to express in the elaborate structure of her sonnet. The apparition of Venus and the recurring image of the flaming heart make the poem hyperbolic in its imagery, which culminates in the verb “martir’d” in the last tercet. This sonnet actually describes an erotic experience recalling Saint Teresa’s transverberation:

In this vision it pleased our Lord to let me see him [an Angell] so, he was not great but litle, very beautifull, his face so glorious, that he seemd to be one of the higher angells, which seem to be all enflamed […] I did see in his hand a long darte of gold, and at the end of the yron head it seemed to have a little fyre, this he seemed to passe through my hart sometimes, and that it pierced through my entrayles, which me thought he drew from mee, when he pulled it out agayne, & he left me wholy enflamed in great love of God, the payne was so great that it made me complayne greevously, & the sweetenesse was so excessive, which this exceeding great payne causeth, that I could not desyre to have it taken away […] (Teresa 232)

  • 9  Pamphilia calls Cupid a “wanton child” (Wroth 120, 5; see also Wroth 125) and ends another poem wi (...)

This famous passage, which inspired Bernini for his statue in the Cornaro Chapel in Rome, evokes a spiritual vision in explicitly erotic terms and reveals several striking similarities with the first poem from Pamphilia to Amphilanthus. Both texts are intensely sensuous in their distinctive blend of pleasure and pain, and both display recurring images of divine light. The “long darte of gold” evoked by Saint Teresa could be a fitting description of Cupid’s arrow with which Venus instructs him to “shutt” Pamphilia, while the size of the angel (“not great but litle”) who appeared to Saint Teresa equally fits Cupid, the child god whom Wroth belittles in several other poems.9 The flaming heart, which is the central image of Wroth’s poem, was not only a familiar emblem in seventeenth-century England but also an image associated with Saint Teresa, since it was used as the title of a later English translation of her autobiography, The Flaming Heart. Saint Teresa’s Life had been published in English in 1611, so that it is possible that Lady Mary Wroth was familiar with it when she wrote her sonnet sequence at approximately the same time. In Wroth’s poem, the superimposition of erotic and spiritual discourses qualifies as a form of excess, since each of these discourses is made to signify more than it usually does. It is unclear whether this dual imagery should lead to a religious reading of the poem, which rather seems to waver between the erotic and spiritual poles of understanding. The run-on lines and the rhyming pattern therefore testify to the difficulty of containing excess of meaning (or lack of meaning, if one considers that the apparent spiritual discourse is only used metaphorically) within the boundaries of the sonnet.

14Another recurring aspect of the poet’s effort to impose measure upon her melancholic thoughts appears in the use of a very regular caesura, which Wroth often emphasises by splitting the line into questions and answers:

Be you all pleas’d? your pleasures grieve nott mee:
Doe you delight? I envy nott your joy:
Have you content? contentment with you bee:
Hope you for bliss? hope still, and still injoye[.]
(Wroth 91, 1-4)

The regularity of the iambic pentameter is particularly striking in this quatrain, and is further highlighted by the rhetorical questions with which each line starts. The slightly longer answers (three feet versus two) give the speaker the advantage as she asserts her indifference to her lover’s selfish joy. The extremely firm structure and rhythm of this quatrain also conveys an impression of aggressiveness – a feature of Wroth’s poetry that has been studied by Paul Hecht –, but this aggressiveness turns out to be self-inflicted, as the rest of the poem makes clear:

Lett sad misfortune, haples me destroy,
Leave crosses to rule mee, and still rule free,
While all delights theyr contrairies imploy
To keepe good back, and I butt torments see,
Joyes are beereav’d, harmes doe only tarry
Dispaire takes place, disdaine hath gott the hand;
Yett firme love holds my sences in such band
As since dispis’d, I with sorrow marry;
Then if with griefe I now must coupled bee
Sorrow I’le wed: Dispaire thus governs mee.
(Wroth 91, 5-14)

While the rhetorical questions put strict boundaries to the poetic flow, these limitations are overruled in the rest of the poem, which uses the caesura to affirm despair with unprecedented force. This sonnet exemplifies voluptas dolendi in an extremely violent manner. Efforts to enclose melancholic excess, which appear in the regular caesura and the alternate rhymes, are repeatedly thwarted, as the persona seems to take pleasure in juxtaposing “contrairies” such as joy and grief in a typically Neopetrarchan manner (“Joyes are bereeav’d,” “I with sorrow marry,” with the implied paronomasia on “merry”). In that respect, this poem illustrates the masochism which Gary Waller has identified in Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (190-219). While the persona explicitly takes pains to create poetic measure in many ways, she simultaneously takes pleasure in breaking free from the boundaries she had imposed upon her creation.

15One of the best examples of the tension between poetic measure and melancholic excess in Pamphilia to Amphilanthus can be found in the corona. Not only does it form a circle, but this pattern is repeated inside each individual sonnet, as the last line echoes the first. In the first poem of the corona, the last line “Is to leave all, and take the thread of love” functions as a response to the initial question: “In this strang labourinth how shall I turne?” (Wroth 127-28). In the second poem, the image of the “thread” is echoed in the last line: “His flames ar joyes, his bands true lovers might,” while the “flames” are further echoed at the end of the third poem: “And bee in his brave court a glorious light” (Wroth 128-29; my emphasis). As it reaches its own end, each poem both marks a return to its own beginning and anticipates the next poem. The “thread” which is mentioned in the first poem thus reads as a metatextual image materialising the linear connection between the poems, while, as threads used in embroidery, it can be twisted on itself so as to go back to the beginning. The corona, therefore, both progresses and regresses, and shows how excess ultimately becomes a form of measure that proves instrumental to poetic creation.

16The first poem in the corona illustrates Wroth’s intricate work on measure in miniature:

In this strang labourinth how shall I turne?
Wayes are on all sids while the way I miss:
If to the right hand, ther, in love I burne;
Lett me goe forward, therin danger is;
If to the left, suspition hinders bliss,
Lett mee turne back, shame cries I ought returne
Nor fainte though crosses with my fortunes kiss;
Stand still is harder, allthough sure to mourne;
Thus lett mee take the right, or left hand way;
Goe forward, or stand still, or back retire;
I must thes doubts indure without allay
Or help, butt traveile find for my best hire
Yett that which most my troubled sence doth move
Is to leave all, and take the thread of love.
(Wroth 127-28)

Each line represents the persona exploring one of the many ways offered by the labyrinth. The alternate rhymes, which are maintained throughout the poem except for the last rhyming couplet, mimic the persona’s hesitations, as she cannot decide whether to move forward or to go back. The alternate rhymes can be read simultaneously in two contradictory ways, either as an attempt to move forward or as a constant return, thus suggesting the other possibility of “stand[ing] still” which the persona ultimately abandons.

17Wroth also resorts to repetition, alliteration and assonance which mimic the perplexity the persona feels as she keeps turning around to try and find her way: “Wayes are on all sids while the way I miss”; “Lett mee turne back, shame cries I ought returne”; “Nor fainte though crosses with my fortunes kiss” (my emphasis). The alternate repetitions “If to the right / If to the left” and “Lett me goe forward / Lett me turne back,” forming phrases of almost equal length, are particularly explicit in that regard. The regularity of the rhythm even seems to replicate the echoing footsteps of the persona in the labyrinth. The repetition “ther” / “therin” (3-4) is especially powerful as the monosyllable “there,” in the middle of the line, indicates a change of direction in the labyrinth as well as in the line (thus working as a cue to read the line backwards).

18As the poem moves on, these units which show the persona looking for a way out get smaller and smaller. In the line “Goe forward, or stand still, or back retire,” Wroth upsets the repeated pattern of the caesura in the middle of the line, which she had used so far, and resorts to a double caesura which creates a ternary rhythm. This pattern is repeated line twelve (“Or help, butt traveile find for my best hire”), in which the run-on-line also disrupts the regularity of the line and similarly entails a ternary rhythm. These smaller units seem to represent the persona gasping for breath as her predicament proves more and more perplexing. The poem thus exceeds its own measure to convey the intense melancholy felt by the speaker.

19As she tries to encompass the persona’s sufferings in the fixed limits of the Neopetrarchan sonnet, Wroth is faced with the impossibility of setting boundaries to melancholy. Poetry, therefore, is unable to cure the black humour, as Wroth puts it herself: “I seeke for some smale ease by lines, which bought / Increase the paine: griefe is nott cur’d by art” (Wroth 90, 3-4). Melancholy is an ever-growing excess of pain which cannot be redeemed by the measure of poetry. In another poem, however, Wroth offers another solution to this tension:

Noe time, noe roome, noe thought, or writing can
Give rest, or quiet to my loving hart,
Or can my memorie or phantsie scan
The measure of my stil renuing smart. (Wroth 141, 1-4)

Writing fails to cure melancholy, but the pain becomes its own “measure,” one that is defined by excess. While Wroth has attempted and failed to find the proper balance between the two notions in her poems, it is by embracing the fundamental imbalance of melancholy that she finds her own poetic voice.

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Primary sources

Bright, Timothy. A Treatise of Melancholy. London, 1586.

Burton, Robert. The Anatomy of Melancholy. Ed. Thomas C. Faulkner, Nicolas K. Kiessling, & Rhonda L. Blair. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

Carew, Thomas. “An Elegy upon the death of the Dean of St. Paul’s, Dr. John Donne.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry. 4th ed. Ed. Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter & Jon Stallworthy. New York: Norton, 1996. 350-52.

Elyot, Thomas. The Castel of Helth. London, 1539.

Sidney, Sir Philip. Astrophil and Stella. The Major Works. Ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones. 1989. Oxford: OUP, 2002.

Teresa of Avila. The Lyf of the Mother Teresa of Jesu. Antwerp, 1611.

Wroth, Lady Mary. The Poems of Lady Mary Wroth. Ed. Josephine Roberts. Baton Rouge LA: U of Louisiana P, 1983.

Secondary sources

Alexander, Gavin. Writing after Sidney: The Literary Response to Sir Philip Sidney, 1586-1640. Oxford: OUP, 2006.

Chiari, Sophie. L’Image du labyrinthe à la Renaissance. Détours et arabesques au temps de Shakespeare. Paris: Champion, 2010.

Hannay, Margaret P. Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth. Farnham: Ashgate, 2010.

Hecht, Paul J. “Aggression and Sex in Wroth’s Sonnets.” SEL 53.1 (2013): 91-115.

Kermode, Frank. Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne: Renaissance Essays. 1971. Abingdon: Routledge, 2005.

Miller, Naomi J. Changing the Subject: Mary Wroth and Figurations of Gender in Early Modern England. Lexington KY: UP of Kentucky, 1996.

Morlier, Margaret M. “The Maze Within: Lady Mary Wroth’s ‘Strang Labourinth’ in Pamphilia to Amphilanthus.” The Labyrinth. Ed. Harold Bloom & Blake Hobby. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009. 93-102.

Moore, Mary B. Desiring Voices: Women Sonneteers and Petrarchism. Carbondale IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2011.

O’Hara, Susan Lauffer. The Theatricality of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus: Unmasking Conventions in Context. Canbury PA: Susquehanna UP, 2011.

Paulissen, May N. “The Love Sonnets of Lady Mary Wroth: A Critical Introduction.” Diss. U. of Houston, 1976.

Ranum, Orest. “Les Refuges de l’intimité.” De la Renaissance aux Lumières. Vol. 3 of Histoire de la vie privée. Éd. Philippe Ariès & Georges Duby. Paris: Seuil, 1999. 209-59.

Roche, Thomas P. Jr. Petrarch and the English Sonnet Sequences. New York: AMS, 1989.

Rosenfeld, Colleen Ruth. “Wroth’s Clause.” ELH 76.4 (2009): 1049-71.

Salzman, Paul. “Not Understanding Wroth’s Poetry.” Parergon 29.2 (2012): 133-48.

Waller, Gary F. The Sidney Family Romance: Mary Wroth, William Herbert, and the Early Modern Construction of Gender. Detroit MI: Wayne State UP, 1993.

Witten-Hannah, Margaret A. “Lady Mary Wroth’s Urania: The Work and the Tradition.” Diss. U of Auckland, 1978.

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1  In the early seventeenth century, when Wroth wrote her poems, melancholy was still defined, in the terms of Galenic medicine, as an excess of black bile (also called melancholy) which disrupted the balance of humours in the body, and entailed a number of physical and psychological symptoms such as paleness, leanness, love of silence and obscurity, fear, and most importantly, an acute sadness which could neither be explained or alleviated. See for instance Burton 3.139.

2  Timothy Bright “define[s] the humor no otherwise then that part of that bloud which naturally of the rest is most grosse; and the excrement the superfluitie of the same” (3).

3  “O absent presence, Stella is not here” (Sidney 210).

4  At about the same time, Gomberville published what would become the longest book in French literature, Polexandre, which amounts to 20,000 pages and was published in instalments over a period of 20 years.

5  For the influence of Petrarch on early modern English poetry, see Roche.

6  Margaret A. Witten-Hannah, divides the sequence into two sections, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus and the Crowne of Sonetts (Witten-Hannah 143); May N. Paulissen identifies four sonnet sequences in the collection (Paulissen 191); Josephine Roberts distinguishes between four sections (1-55, 63-72, 77-90, 95-103), with “interludes of songs” (Wroth 44-46); Susan Lauffer O’Hara views Pamphilia to Amphilanthus as composed of “a traditional sonnet sequence (1-55)” and “a double masque (56-90 and 91-103).”

7  She also writes: “Rather than offering a steady progression of attitudes, Lady Mary chooses to dramatize the mental processes through which Pamphilia seeks to discover the truth of her own feelings” (Wroth 44).

8  The name “Pamphilia” appears as a signature after P55 and P103, i.e. at the end of the corona and at the end of the whole sonnet sequence (Wroth 48 and 142).

9  Pamphilia calls Cupid a “wanton child” (Wroth 120, 5; see also Wroth 125) and ends another poem with the following rhyming couplet: “Yett this Sir God, your boyship I dispise; / Your charmes I obay, butt love nott want of eyes” (Wroth 90, 13-14). Her attitude towards him wavers between reverence and contempt throughout the sequence, but such uses of irony against the love god who dominates her remain occasional as the poet devotes all her energies to the melancholy which consumes her.

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Aurélie Griffin, « Melancholic Excess and Poetic Measure in Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus », XVII-XVIII, 71 | 2014, 121-134.

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Aurélie Griffin, « Melancholic Excess and Poetic Measure in Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus », XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 71 | 2014, mis en ligne le 26 mai 2016, consulté le 24 février 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/1718.397

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Aurélie Griffin

Université Jean Monnet – Saint-Étienne

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