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Mary Wroth's Poetry: An Electronic Edition, ed. Paul Salzman
by Clare Kinney

Salzman, Paul, ed. Mary Wroth’s Poetry: An Electronic Edition. La Trobe University. 2012. <>.


Paul Salzman’s digital project, Mary Wroth’s Poetry: An Electronic Edition, represents a fine new (or at least newish) resource for Wroth scholars. It is still a work in progress—Salzman has yet to edit the poems to be found in the unpublished continuation of the Urania and in the two manuscripts of Wroth’s pastoral drama, Love’s Victory. Nevertheless, he has already provided us with fine digital images and editions of every poem in the Folger MS version of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus sequence (dated 1602-13 by Josephine Roberts), as well as the opportunity to compare these with their printed versions in the considerably rearranged and significantly shortened  Pamphilia to Amphilanthus appended to the 1621 Urania and within the romance narrative itself. Salzman’s easily navigable site presents a splendid array of reading options: his display grid offers, horizontally, an image of each Folger poem, his own transcription of it, a transcription of the equivalent poem (if present) in the 1621 Pamphilia to Amphilanthus sequence, and a transcription of the equivalent poem (if present) in the 1621 Urania. Salzman also offers, within the row displays, modernized and edited versions of all his transcriptions. The reader may customize the display for her own purposes (one can, for example, de-select all the modernizations). An additional link offers digital images, new transcriptions and modernized texts of Edward Denny’s ill-tempered poetic epistle denouncing Wroth (“Hermaphrodite in sense, in art a monster”) and the witty riposte composed by his target, in which Wroth “re-verses” his scathing couplets line for line.

When Josephine Roberts compiled the first scholarly edition of Wroth’s surviving poems in 1983, she made choices—as most editors of literary works in hard copy still do—that rendered certain diachronic aspects of the author’s practice invisible. Her edition gives us the Pamphilia to Amphilanthus poems in the order that they occur in the 1621 printed text, but retains the spelling and punctuation of the autograph Folger MS, with the occasional substitution of Folger word and phrase variants. The sequence is followed by her edited transcriptions of poems from the Folger Pamphilia to Amphilanthus that do not appear in the 1621 sequence, and finally by edited versions of all Wroth’s poems from both the first, printed part of the Urania and its manuscript continuation. In her reprinting of the Urania poems, there is no direct indication of which poems from the Folger MS Wroth separated out and relocated within the body of the Urania; this information is buried many pages later in her textual notes, and the actual ordering of the poems in the Folger MS, recorded in Roberts’ introductory matter, is similarly physically distant. 

This electronic edition, by contrast, offers a much more immediate sense of the way that the Folger MS may be read as an experiment in lyric sequencing in its own right and also, as Salzman suggests, as “the testing ground for the Urania project.” Contemplating the easily browsed version of the Folger displayed by his site, we may, for example, wish to ponder the fact that the last of its poems is the plaintive and accusatory lyric beginning “I, who doe feele the highest part of griefe … .” (F117)—which offers a striking contrast, as a conclusion to a lyric sequence, to the quasi-palinode offered by the 1621 text’s  “My Muse now happy lay thy selfe to rest” (P103). Furthermore, the commentary included beneath Salzman’s modernization of F117 makes the reader  immediately aware that this extended complaint was subsequently given to the unhappy Antissia, Pamphilia’s poet-lover foil in the Urania: a particularly resonant and revisionary gesture.

The visual proximity of variants in the multiple transcriptions displayed by the electronic edition can also allow the reader to consider more directly Roberts’ editorial decisions. The 60th poem in the Folger MS is the song beginning “I, that ame of all most crost”; in the course of lamenting delights (possibly sexual) once had, now lost, its speaker muses on a “wished pleasure gott” that “brings with itt the sweetest lott.” In the 1621 printing (P59 in Roberts), it is a “wicked pleasure,” and Roberts, although generally using the Folger as her copy text, chose to retain this rather loaded reading—a reading which may reflect a Wrothian revision, but which may also simply reflect a printer’s error. Salzman suggests that in his digital edition Wroth’s poetry may “be studied both as ‘adjusted’ by editing, but also as directly as possible from its sources, and so those who use it may themselves edit, or re-edit, if they wish.” One can moreover imagine the site’s clarification of the intervention I’ve just described as offering wonderful material for classroom discussion of what is at stake in interpretive editorial choice.

There is just one aspect of Salzman’s own editorial practice that I find odd. Josephine Roberts identified one sonnet in the 1621 text that does not appear in the Folger MS, “Forbeare darke night” (P4 in her edition). Salzman, at the end of his reproduction of the Folger poems, identifies and reproduces two: Roberts’ P4, but also her P72. The latter, “Folly would needs make mee a lover bee,” is in fact sufficiently similar to F25, “Cupid would needs make mee a louer bee,” to be considered a variant, rather than a quite different, poem, despite the shift from Cupid to Folly as presiding deity. Roberts chooses to follow the 1621 text’s substitution of  “Folly,” even as she revises spelling and punctuation in line with the Folger copy text. (Her choice is intriguing, because the print version’s feminine pronouns [attached to Folly] actually revert to a “he” in its sestet; the poem appears to have only been half-revised.) Salzman does not explain his decision to decouple P72 entirely from F25, nor does he address their resemblances in his commentary.

The site includes a variety of material supplementing Salzman’s images, transcriptions and modernizations. A useful index of the poems cross-references their Folger numbering with  both their 1621 numbering and their numbering in Roberts’ edition. The lyrics are helpfully, although not exhaustively, annotated: Salzman discusses on occasion the material features of the Folger MS, lists textual variants between it and the 1621 text, glosses unfamiliar words and topical allusions, and notes echoes of or variations upon other poets (casting his net more widely than Roberts, although he is especially attentive to the lyrics of Wroth’s uncle and father, Philip and Robert Sidney). Occasionally he offers more detailed commentary upon interpretive difficulties, as in his notes to the notoriously difficult sonnet beginning “Take heed mine eyes, how you your looks do cast” (F39, P39). The site’s home page provides a link to a concise, but remarkably rich “contextual biography,” which includes some deft discussion of the political alliances of the Sidney family, as well as a link to a quite wide-ranging critical introduction  to the poems, in which Salzman places a welcome emphasis upon the sheer variety of styles and poetic experiments within the Folger manuscript. This critical introduction refers in passing to a good deal of important Wroth scholarship, although one regrets Salzman’s omission of Jeff Masten’s very influential article, “‘Shall I turne blabb?’: Circulation, Gender, and Subjectivity in Wroth’s Sonnets.” And although Salzman very properly glances at the work that Heather Dubrow and others have done on sub-sequences within the Folger MS, he does not note the more recent scholarship of Ilona Bell, who with Steven May is currently preparing a scholarly (non-digital) edition of the Folger MS. These small quibbles do not, to be sure, detract from the overall excellence of the site’s critical machinery. Salzman’s essays are remarkable for their clear and appealing prose and for their economical communication of information: an intelligent undergraduate, as well as graduate students and Wroth specialists, would learn much from a perusal of his online edition.


Clare R. Kinney
University of Virginia



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Cite as:

Clare Kinney, "Mary Wroth's Poetry: An Electronic Edition, ed. Paul Salzman," Spenser Review 44.1.9 (Spring-Summer 2014). Accessed April 19th, 2024.
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