Notable Renaissance women: some context for ‘Emilia’

MA Renaissance Studies student Tim Griggs recently undertook an internship at the Globe Theatre. He writes about Emilia Bassano, the subject of a new play by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm shown recently on the famous stage, and other educated, ambitious women of the Renaissance period.

“Men, who forgetting they were born of women, nourished of women, and if they were not of the means of women, they would be quite extinguished out of the world, and a final end of them all: do like vipers deface the wombs wherein they were bred.”

(Emilia Bassano, ‘To the Vertuous Reader’, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, 1611)

To explore the figure of Emilia Bassano, usually known by her married name of Aemilia Lanyer (or Lanier), a new work, Emilia, created by playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, made its debut in the Globe Theatre in August 2018. The play explores the life and influences of the woman described by the Globe’s new Artistic Director Michelle Terry as ‘often beguiling and always fascinating,’ and whom some consider to have been a muse and inspiration for Shakespeare.

While Bassano’s life has been described in, for example, Susanne Woods’ 1999 Lanyer: A Renaissance Woman Poet, the claim by A L Rowse in 1973 that she was indisputably the ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets has subsequently been widely challenged and discredited, as for example in the 1985 work of Schoenbaum (pp.74-79.) and 1999 work of Wynne-Davies (p.360.). But Bassano’s central achievement is not disputed: her Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, of 1611, is one of the first among texts by what scholarship now understands to be a substantial output of poetry by women in the seventeenth century.

As part of the background development work undertaken in support of this new work at the Globe, Humayra Yasmin and I were asked to research the lives and influences of a selection of contemporary Elizabethan and Jacobean women, as useful scene-setting context for the life of the relatively little-known Bassano (1569-1645). She was the daughter of an Italian Jewish musician who came to London in the 1530s: her married name was acquired by her marriage in 1592 to Alphonso Lanier, a Court musician of French origin.  Her status is succinctly summarised by Lanyer editor and critic Woods: ‘Lanyer was the first woman writing in English who clearly sought professional standing as a poet’ (Woods, p.vii). As Woods notes, Lanyer was preceded by Elizabethan female poets such as Anne Vaughan Lock, Isabella Whitney and Anne Dowrich, and can be described for the quality of her work as ‘a credible peer’ of her early seventeenth-century contemporaries Jonson and Donne (Woods, p.x).

What emerged from a relatively brief process of enquiry was an intriguing and complex picture, countering conventional assumptions about Renaissance women as being ill-educated, powerless and silent. In preparing a series of short biographies of ten notable women of the period, to inform the play’s early development, we discovered a number of instructive themes which tended to run counter to this conventional narrative.

Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke 1561-1621
By Nicholas Hilliard
© National Portrait Gallery, London

The first of these themes was the number of women born to power and position who, through family circumstances or the influence of family members, had received significant education despite their gender, and had used this to advantage.  Lady Agnes Campbell (1526-c.1590), influential in the Irish resistance to English colonisation, had been educated at the Scottish Court and was fluent in English, French and Latin, and proved an able negotiator and diplomat with the English Court. Mary Sidney Herbert (1561-1621), Countess of Pembroke and the sister of Philip Sidney, with whom she translated the Psalms, was an accomplished poet and translator. She received a classical education, was trained in rhetoric and was fluent in French, Italian and Latin: her father had been educated alongside Edward VI and educated his own children without regard to gender.

The second theme to emerge might be characterised as influence accruing from longevity. Bassano herself lived to the then-considerable age of seventy-six, and many of the women studied exhibited similar qualities of survival. Lady Elizabeth Russell (1528-1609), who enjoyed Court patronage through two marriages and was influential from the 1560s to the 1590s, lived to eighty-one; Lady Dorothy Stafford (1526-1604) survived Elizabeth by a year and died at seventy-eight; Lettice Knollys (1543-1634), Countess of Essex and then of Leicester, and despite incurring the Queen’s displeasure in the 1560s at her relationship with Robert Dudley, lived to ninety-one.

Closeness to power, and an adroit willingness to use it, whether through the Court or through diplomatic influence, was evident in several of the women studied. Dorothy Stafford was for forty years a senior member of Queen Elizabeth’s bedchamber, and herself a Plantagenet with her own claim to the English throne: she efficiently used her position to advance the interests of her family – one son became Ambassador to France and another served as an equerry to Elizabeth. Not all were successful, however: by contrast, Lady Arbella Stuart (1575-1615), though born a Lennox and a first cousin of James VI/I, seen until the early 1590s as the preferred successor to Elizabeth, failed to turn her position to advantage. Though described as ‘not very beautiful but highly accomplished’, she incurred the disapproval successively of Elizabeth and James, and proved unable to gain the approval of either for marriage.

A degree of literary recognition, despite what has been described by Margaret Patterson Hannay as the period’s ‘cultural injunctions to female silence’, could also be found in the period. Mary Sidney, after her brother Philip’s death in 1585, and despite being barred from his funeral on account of her gender, served as a literary patron to those who wished to honour his memory. She supervised the publication of editions of his Arcadia, and wrote poems to praise him. She travelled widely and continued her literary patronage, though on a reduced scale, in later life. (Hannay, ODNB).

And finally, perhaps reflecting a recognition of the educational endowments they had received early in their lives, many of the lives examined showed a strong interest in creating and supporting educational institutions. As examples:  Joyce Frankland (1531-1587), a London-born commoner whose two marriages had left her considerable wealth, continued the work of her mother in endowing scholarships, lectureships and other benefactions to Cambridge University. And Frances Radcliffe (c.1531-1589), an aunt to Philip and Mary Sidney, became Lady Sussex by marriage, founded Sidney Sussex College at Cambridge and endowed a lectureship at Westminster Abbey.

Some of these characters would have recognised, and possibly provided fuel for, Bassano’s sharp description of men as ungrateful ‘vipers’.  For example, despite her untiring promotional efforts on their behalf, both Dorothy Stafford’s sons were arraigned in the 1580s: one on account of a scheme in support of Mary Queen of Scots, and the other was involved in a plot to assassinate the Queen herself. Agnes Campbell, despite her diplomatic and linguistic skills, was described slightly waspishly by an English courtier as ‘dutifully [using] herself to further the Queen’s service as if she were a natural-born subject’. Lady Agnes’ response to this summary is not recorded.

The women we examined in our researches were intelligent, often well-educated, and ambitious: clearly, the late sixteenth century was not populated purely by subservient females.  Emilia Bassano herself, though a commoner, was brought up and educated by Susan, the dowager countess of Kent, whom she addresses in her writing as ‘the noble guide of my ungoverned days’: the environment to which she was thus exposed was strongly Protestant humanist, and she is believed to have read widely. Her poetry can be seen to bear the traces of such an education. According to one biographer, the central poem of her volume of 1611 ‘is remarkable for managing to avoid identifying female virtue with chastity, articulating in its place a feminine mastery of […] the humanist ideal of masculine virtue’. This is a radical departure from the norms of the early seventeenth century.

The depiction of the elusive Bassano and her worldview in Emilia was generally well-received in its run at the Globe. Reviews remarked on the principal character’s qualities as “a subversive feminist spirit” (Independent), and as a “freethinker and writer of imagination and ambition” (Daily Telegraph). Perhaps the play has helped Emilia Bassano finally to be seen in the tradition of the powerful, expressive Renaissance women who preceded her.

Bibliography

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [www.oxforddnb.com]
  • Rowse, A L, Shakespeare The Man (London: Macmillan 1973)
  • Schoenbaum, Samuel, Shakespeare and Others (Washington D.C: Folger Shakespeare Library 1985)
  • Woods, Susanne, Lanyer: A Renaissance Woman Poet (Oxford: OUP 1999)
  • Wynne-Davies, Marion, ed., Women Poets of the Renaissance (New York: Routledge 1999)
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Picturing the family: media, narrative, memory

Dr Silke Arnold-De Simine, Reader in Birkbeck’s Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies, discusses family photographs and cultural memory – the subject matter of her new book, co-edited with Dr Joanne Leal.

In the summer of 2005, during a Visiting Fellowship at the ANU in Canberra, I came across a rather eerie notice in a display cabinet of a small campus exhibition only to see it again and again in the following weeks at the beginning of television programmes and cinema screenings. It advised spectators to ‘use caution viewing these photographs/films, as they may contain images or voices of dead persons’. At first I was puzzled but then I came to understand that in aboriginal society, where people traditionally live in extended family groups, it is considered a taboo to refer to a dead person by name or to look at photographs or film footage of the deceased, partly out of respect but also to avoid painful memories.

As a scholar I was of course reminded of Roland Barthes’s iconic winter garden photograph of his late mother as a young girl, which he famously describes but refuses to share with his readers, and of W.G. Sebald’s omissions in his books, in which family photographs – some reproduced as actual images, some only described – conjure up a mournful mood. What makes photographically captured moments so powerful that they stay with us as a form of ‘afterimage’ even if they have been evoked in another medium such as language? It made me think about what difference it makes if we remember through language, through images, both still or moving, or a combination of mimetic and non-mimetic representations. While it draws out questions around mediated memory, the affective power of photography and the related tropes of death, loss and mourning, my Australian experience was also a stark reminder of the historical and cultural specificity of our encounters with photographs.

The contexts in which we peruse family photographs can be marked as a sad occasion (for example after the death of a family member) or a joyous moment in life (celebrations, birthdays or anniversaries). The viewing experience will not only be influenced by what is depicted and by the occasion that triggers a re-viewing, but also by the formats in which these images are available to us. Are they carefully collected and even annotated in a family album, stored away in shoeboxes or (half-)forgotten in attics? Or are these records of cherished or important moments at our fingertips on camera phones to be shown to a wide circle of acquaintances? Are they framed and on display in homes or in (semi-)public spaces such as social media or archived and exhibited in museums? Do they circulate across different media? Have they gone through a period of being lost, together with the identity of those depicted, to resurface in archives, junk shops or eBay auctions?

If the photographs or photo albums have been displaced and the oral forms of communication which accrue around them have been lost, if they themselves have no annotations or captions, they can be full of mysteries and invite imaginative investment: not only the questions of who and what the photograph shows, but also why, how, where and when it was taken are open to speculation. Who is behind the camera lens? Who do these people in the photograph look at, smile at, frown at? Once they have forfeited their function as family memento, family photographs can lead a complicated after-life in which they become decontextualised and recontextualised, triggering and shaping memories, inviting storytelling, helping us negotiate the past and the future, deconstructing and reconstructing notions of family, kinship and community, and helping us cope with ruptures and (re)establish connections and elective affinities in empathic encounters.

It is important to remember that we perform our identities in relation to the cultural contexts that shape who we are. How we practice intimacy and share our lives with others is determined by the very specific family dynamics in which we grew up, just as much as it depends on the media technologies that are at our fingertips, but it is also historically and culturally contingent. The boundaries between what is considered private and what can be shared with a wider public have experienced a seismic shift over the last few decades: from chat shows and reality TV to social media, blogs and YouTube, ‘sharing’ has become part of how we define our identity as connected beings. We are encouraged to connect to ‘Others’ through empathy, a feeling of relatability that is very much modelled on the notion of kinship and just as often limited by it.

With the increased mobility of people across the globe and the encounters resulting from this, it becomes more and more necessary to question what we mean by ‘family’, ‘home’ and ‘belonging’, to reconceive these concepts so that they enable us to understand and come to terms with the complex realities that we will have to face and to enable us to build alternative modes of social belonging and new forms of community.

These are some of the themes that are explored in this collection of essays (edited by myself and Joanne Leal) that introduces a dialogue between academic, creative and practice-based approaches. From the act of revisiting and reworking old, personal photographs to the sale of family albums through internet auction, each of the twelve chapters presents a case study to understand how these visual representations of the family perform memory and identity.

Picturing the Family is available from Bloomsbury. 

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Who knows wins: the validity of employee selection methods

Duncan Jackson, Chris Dewberry, Jarka Gallagher and Liam Close discuss the effectiveness of different candidate selection methods for businesses.

Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash.com

In our recent article published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, we were interested in how HR practitioners perceived the validity of employee selection procedures, and how their perceptions aligned with validity estimates published in academic literature.

We summarised the discrepancies between published validity evidence and the perceptions of those who reported holding:

  1. CIPD (Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development) qualifications
  2. HRM (Human Resource Management) qualifications
  3. OP (Occupational Psychology) qualifications
  4. and laypeople, who do not hold formal HR qualifications.

Our findings suggest that the responses of those with CIPD- and HRM-related qualifications did not differ significantly or substantially from the responses of laypeople.  However, those with OP-related training tended to respond in a manner significantly and substantially more aligned with findings reported in the research literature. What do these findings imply?

They could imply that those trained in OP have a better awareness of the research literature regarding employee selection than the other groups sampled.  This is consistent with the fact that research in this area is predominantly published in journals that are psychology-oriented.  Our findings might also imply that those with CIPD- and HRM-related training do not tend to access – or perhaps do not have access to – contemporary, high-quality research related to the validity of candidate selection methods.

Dr Chris Dewberry from the Department of Organizational Psychology and a co-author on this paper states:

‘For organisations, selecting the best job candidates is very important. To achieve this, familiarity with the results of high-quality scientific research on the effectiveness of different selection methods is vital. The results of the research presented in this article clearly indicate that practitioners without a background in organisational psychology are at a disadvantage here. The implication is clear: initiatives to familiarise practitioners with an HR background about the results of scientific research on personnel selection are urgently needed.

As a community of applied researchers and practitioners, perhaps we need to do more to make research findings available and to communicate those findings.  For example, occupational psychologists could work in conjunction with the CIPD to ensure that findings published in occupational psychology-related journals are shared in an appropriate format with HRM practitioners.

If practitioners do not hold an awareness of the latest and greatest vis-à-vis employee selection research, then they might not be using candidate selection methods optimally.  This could, in turn, affect the careers of individuals and the optimal function of organisations.  Dr Scott Highhouse from Bowling Green State University offers a related explanation and suggests that practitioners might not see selection research as being relevant to their practice.  This perspective suggests that it is important to educate about the importance of validity in selection and how it impacts on practice.  A clear example of where selection applies to the bottom line for an organisation is seen in utility analysis – a function which shows how validity relates to monetary gains for organisations on the basis of using valid selection procedures.

Practitioners should consider the following actions:

  • Ensure that the choice of selection method is guided by validity evidence as published in high quality, peer-reviewed sources
  • Understand that knowledge of validity is power in employee selection: practitioners need to take the time to familiarise themselves with the literature on the validity of selection methods
  • Know that the degree of validity makes a difference to the quality of selection decisions and to the bottom line for organisations

Further information:

  • For the original, peer-reviewed article, see:
    Jackson, D. J. R., Dewberry, C., Gallagher, J., & Close, L. K. (in press). A comparative study of practitioner perceptions of selection methods in the United Kingdom. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. doi: 10.111/joop.12187
  • About the authors: Duncan Jackson, Chris Dewberry and Liam Close are members of Birkbeck’s Department of Organizational Psychology. Jarka Gallagher works for Arctic Shores Ltd, where Liam Close also works.
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Building a hive mind through immersive art

Lily Hunter Green, Birkbeck’s next Artist in Residence, discusses the project she will be undertaking during her tenure: Bee Composed Live. The residency supports collaboration between academics and artists and will culminate in May with an exhibition of Lily’s work and a symposium.

I first began my work with honey bees in 2014. At the time I was working as a Sound Artist, exploring resonant and sustained sounds within different structures and spaces. As a pianist, I was anatomising the inner workings of my piano. By chance, a bee flew inside. The sound produced was resounding and alveolated, unlike anything I had heard before. I immediately began researching the bees. I was surprised that I didn’t know more about the pollination crisis, especially given the severity of the problem.

My previous piece, Bee Composed (2014), involved transforming a piano into a working beehive in which bees dwelled while an installed audio-visual recording device captured the harmonics of their interaction with the piano strings. One of the central aims of Bee Composed was to raise awareness about the human-caused threat to the honey bees and, as a result, to us too, if we don’t do something to stop their decline. I have since begun to develop Bee Composed Live, the work that my residency at Birkbeck will be focused on: that is, a live performance piece that combines music, dance and original audio-visual compositions in a bid to explore the ways in which we can artistically and critically draw attention to our rapidly changing ecology, and our role within it.

I believe that the role of the artist is to present an alternative way of experiencing the subject. One that provokes new ways of thinking, feeling and responding. Art as a creative transformer, as a catalyst for change, if you like. My primary objective in terms of Bee Composed Live is to present audiences with an alternative way of experiencing and interacting with nature via a series of immersive creative strategies. This will include the creation of a simulacrum ‘hive mind’, a unique microcosmic space, or ‘super-organism’, that enables audience members to experience the inner dynamics and scientific happenings of the hive. The concept of the ‘collective consciousness’ or ‘hive mind’ is itself an appropriation of how the worker bees administrate the hive.

As such, Bee Composed Live is dynamic collaboration. It represents togetherness, the power of collective thinking and action, and the importance of community.

This residency provides a unique opportunity for me to develop my creative thinking and practice within a new and challenging environment. To develop Bee Composed Live, I will work closely with the Birkbeck Centre for Contemporary Theatre, a space in which theatre makers, critics and audiences gather to share knowledge, ideas and practices.  I also hope to explore collaborative opportunities with other academic departments that intersect with my work, such as the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies and Birkbeck Research in Aesthetics of Kinship and Community. As someone who usually works in isolation, I am hugely excited at the prospect of working with such a range of creative practitioners and academics.

Most of the 10-month residency will be spent within The Centre for Contemporary Theatre. During this time students will have the opportunity to engage with a range of creative activities extending from inter-disciplinary workshops, digital screenings and seminars, through to the final performance and exhibition. My ambition is to inspire students and academics of all ages and disciplines to think ‘outside of the box’ and consider new ways of working with artists and creative forms, potentially creating new opportunities and collaborations across a range of disciplines, and thereby transforming complicated, often ‘dry’ scientific fact and theory, into a more accessible, digestible and dynamic form.

Another dimension of the residency will be to involve local communities and the wider public in Bee Composed Live: whether as active participants or as passive observers. Diversity is at the heart of my creative practice. As such, I am keen to ensure that as many people as possible are able to engage with this project in some way. As a consequence, every effort will be made to create a piece of work that can eventually go out into the community, by physically in a touring capacity, and/or, via a digital platform.

Collaboration and participation will be key to the success of this residency. I hope as many people as possible will become part of this creative hive mind.

 

 

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