112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Interiority, Selfhood, and Early Modern English Lyric Poetry

Amber True, Michigan State University

While there is little debate about the existence of lyric poetry in the early modern period, there is ongoing argument regarding lyric poetry’s access to any kind of interiority – specifically that interiority as a concept did not exist during this time period. My paper argues that early modern lyric poetry does, in fact, access a particular kind of interiority, although perhaps with a differing definition from current lyric poetry.


Charles Taylor argues in Sources of the Self: the Making of Modern Identity that the notion of the individual is a modern idea and thus misapplied in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, many definitions of lyric poetry rely on a notion of interiority and access to the self, and it is mostly agreed upon that lyric poetry as a form exists in the early modern period. Thus we encounter a problematic disjunction.


More recent scholarship argues that early modern people had a different sense of identity that employed different vocabulary, but a sense nonetheless. This notion is what I intend to explore in this paper, relying on the poetry of Elizabeth Tudor and George Herbert to illuminate the argument. Early modern English poets, particularly when grappling with religious ideas, represent interiority and self in a highly personal manner – a manner that cannot be ignored in the face of these interiority arguments. I find a distinct representation of self through a speaker in early modern lyric poetry that rebuts current arguments against early modern (and perhaps earlier) interiority.

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