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‘Large complaints in little papers’ : negotiating Ovidian genealogies of complaint in Drayton's Englands Heroicall Epistles

Thorne, Alison (2008) ‘Large complaints in little papers’ : negotiating Ovidian genealogies of complaint in Drayton's Englands Heroicall Epistles. Renaissance Studies, 22 (3). pp. 368-384. ISSN 0269-1213

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Taking as its starting point Michael Drayton's reworking of a key Heroidean topos, the heroine's self-conscious reflection on letter-writing as an activity fraught with anxiety, this essay examines the cultural and literary factors that conspire to inhibit or facilitate the emergence of a distinctive feminine epistolary voice in Englands Heroicall Epistles. In particular it seeks to explain how Drayton's female letter-writers manage to negotiate the impediments to self-expression they initially encounter and thus go on to articulate morally and politically incisive forms of complaint. It argues that the participation of Drayton's fictional writers in the authorial business of revising Ovid for an altered historical context plays a crucial role in supporting that process. This allows Drayton's heroines to recover a degree of textual authority through an independent critical engagement, by turns resistant and identificatory, with his Ovidian sources, including the Metamorphoses as well as the Heroides. A comparative analysis of the ways in which intertextual allusions to these sources are deployed by his male and female writers reveals them to be governed by a different dynamic and used for different ends. It is primarily by means of their complex, intersecting dialogues with their male correspondents and with the Ovidian models upon which they draw that Drayton's heroines are able to formulate a compelling counter-perspective on the politics of love and history.