The last two
stanzas describe Judas’ sense of remorse and finally suicide. In the eventual
conclusion of the Crucifixion, lines 1265-1268 narrate Christ’s Crucifixion and
its saving grace remarkably well. The disruption of the world and the overthrow
of tyranny are the ‘gifts’ presented to the countess from lanyer as a poet. (Cerasano,
narrate the story of Jesus retiring with his disciples to the Garden of
Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives where he prayed in depth of human agony while
his disciples were overcome with sleep and unable to carry. Lines 481-632
narrated Judas and soldier’s arrival, the betrayal of Judas by Jesus, Peter’s
attack on a soldier, Jesus rebuking violence, and the dispersal of frightened
disciples. Lines 633-744 describe the soldiers taking Jesus to the high priest.
Caiaphas is keen to establish whether Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus responds in the
affirmative, albeit ambiguously. Caiaphas subsequently demands he be sent to
Pontius Pilate, the only authority to order an execution of Jesus for these
apparent crimes (Raphael 127).
This story begins
properly at line 330. The first action that Jesus does appears in line 333 when
he goes “to Mount olives though sore afraid.” (Whitney). During the Renaissance
period, the numerology 333 was a figure symbolizing the trinity of God and an
expression of number nine. It was considered to express God’s self-contained
perfection. While there is not much evidence that Lanyer worked in numerology,
some of her contemporaries such as Spenser who’s Epithalamion was published
in 1595, did. Pertinent questions thus arise as to why Lanyer chose to begin
the action at this line (Schleiner, & Stuart 56).
The nature of
passion that Lanyer describes closely follows Mathew 26.30, the only version
containing the warning to Pilate’s wife. Lanyer also borrows freely from other
gospels, referencing women wherever they appear. Lanyer’s version draws on
women throughout, recording female suffering and virtue as part of her strategy
to comfort and praise the Countess of Cumberland. In this given context,
however, the story is an imagined version of the primary events of the
Christian faith. The passion or the tribulations of Jesus Christ is the
narration that brings into clear focus the basic elements of Christian
theology. Lanyer recreated the powerful moments of Jesus’ last night and day,
expounding and meditating on the events from the point of view that distinctly
form a woman’s point of view.
Many of Lanyer’s
arguments are voiced by Pilate’s wife, who from referencing the Bible, warned
her husband to have “nothing to do with that just man” Jesus (Matt.27.19). She
expands on that brief warning, which is ignored by Pilate, into a lengthy
“apology” or explanations and defence, for Eve. She transitions seamlessly
between her argument and her narrative. Therefore, only a keen reader is able
to determine where Pilate’s wife voice ends and where the voice of the narrator
begins. Though she speaks from a female perspective, Lanyer adopts a general
point of view. Salve Deus starts with
a short tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth the first and continues into a
lengthy meditative work dedicated to the Countess Dowager of Cumberland. She
acknowledges that the poem is not, “Those praiseful lines of that delightful
place, /which you commanded me” (Whitney).
The poem includes
some biblical texts, arguing a protestant’s point of view on justification by
faith among other things. It, however, does not challenge the primacy of men.
In contrast, the “Salve Deus” begins
with a personal reference and has a powerful polemical thrust, attacking the
blindness and vanity of men. It justifies women’s right to be free of
subjugation of the male gender.
The title Poem “Salve Deus Rex Judæorum” which
means Hail God, King of the Jews, is a complex and subtle piece of about 1,840
lines in iambic-pentameter stanzas of ottava rima nature. In this era, it was
unusual for a woman to write authoritatively on such sacred matters. There had
been to precedent to Lanyer’s revision of over fourteen hundred years of
conventional commentary (Caroline & Jennifer 81).
Lanyer was a
middle-class woman with no fortune to her name. She nonetheless enjoyed the
attention of some of the Elizabeth family members– such as the Queen, the Countess
of Kent, Lord Hudson and the Countess of Cumberland. Entries from both the
Foreman’s diaries and Lanyer’s own poetry suggest that she was a spirited woman
of considerable intelligence.
One volume was
allegedly given by the Countess of Cumberland to Prince Henry, who was to
inherit the throne. Another was handed by Alphonso Lanyer to Thomas Jones, who
was Dublin’s Archbishop, with whom they has served together in Ireland.
Nevertheless, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum
never made Lanyer’s fortune. Following the death of Alphonso in 1613, Lanyer
found herself in constant legal battles with Alphonso’s relatives over earnings
from a hay-and-grain patent he had been bestowed by King James in 1604. In the
period between 1617 to 1619, she operated a school in the wealthy suburb in
London in the Fields of St. Giles, where she sought to “teach and educate
the children of diverse persons of worth and understanding”. Unfortunately, she lost the lease to
the building she was using, and there is no evidence that she made any more
efforts to teach again, nor is there any more information regarding what she
taught or who she taught (Caroline & Jennifer 82).