Lady Mary Wroth, with archlute, artist unknown. Original is at Penshurst (Kent) in the collection of Viscount de L'Isle.

The image represents the poet Mary Wroth (NAEL 8, 1.1451) in a conventional pose and role, holding the archlute, which indicates that she has been educated in the graceful arts (besides instrumental music, singing, dancing, French, fine needlework) that an aristocratic woman was expected to know. But the massive archlute, emblem of song-making, also points to her Sidney heritage — as niece of the poets Sir Philip Sidney and the Countess of Pembroke, and as daughter of Sir Robert Sidney of Penshurst, also a poet — and to her own distinctly unconventional role as female poet. In short, the image points to the normative gender and social roles for women and men, and the contests about those norms, that loom large in the literature of the early seventeenth century.
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