Burning blushes, weeping water: the perversion of nature and its relation to female agency in Shakespeare’s A Lover’s Complaint

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University of Alabama Libraries

Scholarship on Shakespeare’s enigmatic, female-voiced narrative poem A Lover’s Complaint, which first appeared in the 1609 edition of the Sonnets, often revolves around attempting to definitively determine the poem’s authenticity. Besides Shakespeare, numerous alternative candidates have been put forward as the author of the poem, the most recent suggestion being John Davies of Hereford by Brian Vickers. By focusing on the issue of authorship, however, many critics have dismissed the immense complexity of A Lover’s Complaint, labeling it difficult, confusing, and even poorly written. Despite this, A Lover’s Complaint is in actuality a highly ingenious work which merits further examination, particularly in its utilization of natural elements to frame the shifting gender dynamics of the poem. Often written from the perspective of a male author, female-voiced complaints relating the story of a fallen woman experienced popularity in the early modern period and beyond. A Lover’s Complaint follows this model, recounting a young woman’s seduction and fall in her own voice. Focusing particularly on the moment of seduction, this essay will locate the influence of nature in the youth’s attempt to seduce the maid, examining how the youth is particularly framed as a consumer of nature. This paper looks at the possibility for female agency in male-voiced-female-complaint as the maid begins to experience the influences of seduction through her retelling. Ultimately, the maid’s intense passion and desire allow her to navigate a space of agency separated from the natural world that has been corrupted by the youth.

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English literature