Internet Shakespeare Editions


Women: loved and loathed

Satirical attacks on women by male writers were common, though some wrote defenses of women, and one man--Edward Gosynhill--even wrote both an attack and a defense in the same year (1540).

While misogynist literature was popular, it also sparked a furious response from women (and some men). The first feminist pamphlet in England was written in 1589 under the name Jane Anger. Although the name may be a pseudonym, Anger was a common surname in parts of England, and there are records of women by that name who lived around the time the pamphlet was published.

Her angry prose

The full title of the pamphlet was Jane Anger her Protection for Women to defend them against the SCANDALOUS REPORTES OF a late Surfeiting Lover, and all other like Venerians that complaine so to bee overcloyed with womens kindnesse.

Anger's style is a combination of witty invective and the fashionably elegant style of John Lyly. She begins by describing a misogynist pamplet she had just read:

The chief matters therein contained were of two sorts: the one in the dispraise of man's folly, and the other, invective against our sex, their folly proceeding of their own flattery joined with fancy, and our faults are through our folly, with which is some faith. . . Fie on the falsehood of men, whose minds go oft a madding, and whose tongues can not so soon be wagging, but straight they fall a railing. Was there ever any so abused, so slandered, so railed upon, or so wickedly handled undeservedly as are we women? . . .

If Hesiod had with equity as well looked into the life of man as he did precisely search out the qualities of us women, he would have said that if a woman trust unto a man, it shall fare as well with her, as if she had a weight of a thousand pounds tied about her neck and then cast into the bottomless seas.


  1. Probably not very successful with women. . .

    Joseph Swetnam wrote a satirical attack on women called The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward and Unconstant Women, printed in 1615 under the pseudonym Thomas Tel-troth. Swetnam writes with typical (and graphic) misogyny:

    Many women are in shape angels but in qualities devils, painted coffins with rotten bones. . . . Although women are beautiful, showing pity, yet their hearts are black, swelling with mischief, not much unlike unto old trees whose outward leaves are fair and green and yet the body rotten. . . .

    Then who can but say that women sprung from the devil, whose heads, hands and hearts, mind and souls are evil, for women are called the hook of all evil, because men are taken by them as fish is taken with the hook.

  2. Putting Swetnam in his place

    A play about Swetnam, Swetnam the Woman-Hater Arraigned by Women, was performed at the Red Bull theatre in 1619. Its main plot deals with state politics, while in the sub-plot Swetnam is tried (as in the illustration, from the title page) by women.

    Rachel Speght wrote A Mouzell for Melastomus. Of the women who wrote in defense of their sex, only Rachel Speght is known to have used her own name. Speght also wrote poetry: The Dreame, an allegorical poem written in a medieval dream frame; and Mortalities Memorandum, a meditational work. Both were published in 1621.

    The second woman to respond to Swetnam's pamphlet was "Ester Sowernam." Although this was a pseudonym, the writer is presumed to have been a woman, most likely from the middle class, because her dedication was addressed to London apprentices.

    The Worming of a Madde Dogge. . ., written under the pseudonym Constantia Munda, was the third response to Joseph Swetnam. The writer seems to have been the most professional and educated of the three, using quotations in several languages, and citing information from the higher professions.