Ann Depas-Orange &
Robert C. Evans, editors,
The Birthday of Myself:
Martha Moulsworth, Renaissance Poet

(The Princeton Journal of
Women, Gender & Culture/
Critical Matrix, 1996)

At first read, the 110 lines of Martha Moulsworth's "Memorandum" seem innocuous, even pedestrian. She chronicles a simple life and common beliefs: she loved all her three husbands, she thought women should have the same educational opportunities as men, she believed deeply in God. But three things make Martha Moulsworth's work rare and precious: she wrote the piece in 1632, she set it as a poem and she was a woman. And since the poem's discovery in 1992, historians and lovers of poetry alike have been dancing with glee at this unique opportunity to shed some honest light on this much-romanticized age.

Martha's poem only takes up four pages of the book -- the rest consists of notes, analytical articles and critical essays. The book is certainly not for someone looking for a permanent resident in their beach-bag, as the essays are dense and scholarly. But if you're willing to put your college-cap back on, you will learn a lot about Renaissance history, from numerology to women's role in Renaissance society (not as restrictive as we think -- or more, depending on which essay you read), to the real, lived importance of religion to the people of this era.

When I said the scholars were gleeful, I meant it; they're downright giddy at this rare scrap from the past, analyzing the poem from three separate psychological viewpoint (Jungian, Freudian and Lacanian), two feminist perspectives (comparing Martha to Chaucer's Wife of Bath and Adrienne Rich) and a panorama of religious viewpoints. Some of the work seems a bit of a reach, but given that female writers from the Renaissance are about as rare as unicorns, it's no surprise that academians made as much of the poem as they could. All these things show how Martha's poem is a gift that should not be missed by anyone interested in Renaissance history. If you've ever swung a sword or laced yourself into a corset at the Renaissance festival, you owe yourself a day of learning with this interesting book.

- Rambles
written by Tracie Vida
published 4 December 2004