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.