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Renaissance Idea of the Female Body

Renaissance Idea of the Female Body - The texts of the...

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The Renaissance Idea of the Female Body The texts of the renaissance, or early modern period, in England demonstrate the biases against women, which were common for the time. The writings of some men give us a glimpse of how at least some men viewed women and what it meant to be female. Delight in Disorder , written by Robert Herrick and Elegy 19 , by John Donne are two of these writings. The “gaze” is a convention employed in both of these works, and although they both discuss clothing with regards to the female body, the works differ in both tone and content. The speaker in both poems is a male, gazing upon a woman. The male gaze is fixed specifically on the feminine form. Both Donne and Herrick choose to write on the erotic nature of the female. Donne focuses more on the physique than Herrick, looking at the physical body, nakedness, more closely. Donne’s poem demonstrates an erotic appreciation of the female form, “Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glistering, / But a far fairer world encompassing.” (Donne 5-6) John shows his fascination with breasts in lines 7-8 and then, “Off with that wiry coronet and show / The hairy diadem which on you doth grow;” he hints at his eager reaction to her bare genitalia. (Donne 15-6) Donne continues to prove that his speaker’s fascination with the female body is sexual, “A heaven like Mahomet’s paradise; and though Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know By this these angels from an evil sprite, Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.” (Donne 21-4) The clothes worn by the female are described well, but seem to matter only in that they are a hindrance to the goal of the speaker. The male speaker of Elegy 19 obviously appreciates the female body, at least for its erotic capacity.
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In Herrick’s Delight in Disorder he describes the beauty of a partially disrobed woman. The poem implies clothes in disarray add to the sexiness and temptingness of a woman, “A sweet disorder in the dress / Kindles in clothes a wantonness.” (Herrick 1-2) Donne’s Elegy 19 implies a similar provocation, “. . . cast all, yea, this white linen hence, / Here is no penance, much less innocence.” (Donne 1284) Donne’s implications relating to clothing remain focused intently on the principle of removal whereas Herrick’s speaker enjoys gazing upon a woman who is disordered. The idea of the “disorder” portrayed in Robert’s poem gives the impression of flowing softness and femininity. “A lawn about the shoulders thrown / Into a fine distraction;” lines 3-4, brings to mind a shawl or scarf thrown haphazardly over the shoulder as opposed to a rigidly-in- position garment, confining its wearer unmercifully. (Herrick 3-4) Herrick’s gazer seems to appreciate a woman more for her flexibility than her rigidity.
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