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William Herbert

To find out more about William Herbert's poetry watch this interview with Professor Mary Ellen Lamb, who is currently editing his poetry.
Does poetry feature the love relationship between Lady Mary Wroth and William, William Herbert? Absolutely. It is quite clear in the manuscript continuation of accounts of Montgomery’s Urania that his poem, “Had I Loved at That Rate,” was sung by Pamphillia, avatar for Wroth, to Amphilanthus, avatar of Pembroke. And it’s a very, very disturbing poem if you read it. Although, as she sang it, there was no sense that anyone was disturbed. She apologised for her voice, for her performance. But what the poem actually said was that I’m a man, and so I’m able to love deeply. You are a woman unable to love the way I can love as a man. It’s not your fault. You’re just a woman.
And so I can’t blame you. It’s my fault if I blame you. Which is a very disturbing poem. And in the romance, he hadn’t even written it originally to her. He’d written it to a woman that he had deserted. Anticia was quite angry that she was deserted. So Pamphillia sings a song about infidelity back to him, inhabiting his role as the man who loves more, as the person who loves more. So it’s very, very complicated and multilayered. And those issues of constancy came up before she sang it. But afterwards it was all about voice and did she she– if my voice was good enough for this.
And it reminds me a bit of uncomfortable family gatherings where someone says something uncomfortable and everyone kind of nods and smiles and goes onto another subject. But that what was said was said, and the fact it was denied, it was still said. And it even makes it even more important that it was said. And how about Lady Mary Wroth’s poem, “Penshurt Mount”? Oh, yes, he wrote another poem, a very angry poem, “Why with Unkindest Swiftness Dost Thou Turn,” and which I’m paraphrasing terribly. But he said, do you remember, my darling, when we shared pleasures on the mount?
And you promised at that time that you would give your love to no other man and you would share those pleasures with no other man. And I leave the country for three days, and you share your pleasures with someone else. And I come back, and you would turn your head from me? [LAUGHS]
He has one fantastic line saying– thou art malicious as incontinent. And he ends the poem by saying, well, whether there’s many more lovers or just one, I was the first. And it is thought that her poem, it seems fairly clear– it’s been argued well by Gareth Bond and also Marion-Wynn Davis– that her poem, which is entitled “Penshurst Mount” in the Conway Papers in the British Library, is a response to that poem. He begins– dost thou remember? And her poem was, I do remember. And very, very interesting. And it seems that he misunderstood something that happened. And I think this is the plot for “Love’s Victory” in a sense. So that poem was about the taking of her maiden head.
He writes another poem that is so beautiful. “Muse, Get Thee to a Cell and Want To Sing,” that this was the woman that he had been her first. And now she blesses another man’s bed. And it’s said with enormous regret. Pembroke was an occasional poet. He wasn’t trying to be a poet. He was using poetry to transact some kind of event or some kind of relationship. He writes poems of seduction but primarily poems of apology. Can you suspect a change in me and value your own constancy? That’s, if you think that I was unfaithful, then there must be something wrong with you. He never precisely denies that he was unfaithful.

In this step, we find out more about William Herbert and his writing from Professor Mary Ellen Lamb, who is currently editing his poetry.

In addition to his Penshurst Mount poem, she discusses two more poems by Herbert ‘Muse Get Thee to A Cell’ and ‘Had I loved but at that rate’.

You can find and read both these poems in the downloads section below. The latter is as it is reproduced by Wroth in her prose romance “The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania’’.

Watch the interview, read the poems and consider how these change your impression of William Herbert

Post a comment on your response to William Herbert’s part in the poetic and romantic dialogue between the cousins.

Next week we will explore how Lady Mary Wroth’s play “Love’s Victory” adds another dimension to the complex layers of re-writing romance between the cousins.

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Penshurst Place and the Sidney Family of Writers

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