Recent literary criticism has rescued from obscurity the religious-political writings of 17th-century sectarian women. In the millenarian atmosphere of the English Revolution, the adoption of a prophetic voice allowed non-aristocratic women, as well as “mechanick preachers”, to emerge for the first time in the sphere of public writing. This article focuses on the radical questioning of university knowledge and academic authority by social subjects such as women (particularly of the lower classes), traditionally excluded from it. Among the numerous texts produced mainly by Quaker and Fifthmonarchist “prophetesses”, some will be taken into consideration which openly address the authority of the established centres of learning, and oppose the assumption that only gentlemen educated in the classics might preach. In the 1640s and 50s, when revolutionary radicals considered Latin and Greek the languages of the Antichrist, because they were the languages of the three intellectual élites (the universities, law, medicine), some women defining themselves as prophets and ministers fiercely attacked the monopoly of the universities. On the basis of the “levelling” principle of the “priesthood of all believers” and of the Light within, these women, with a self-authorizing gesture, presented themselves as channels of God’s message and prophesied against “false” priests and university divines. The challenge of women, generally the most destitute of learning, to the social order and in particular to the most powerful and exclusively masculine centres of knowledge, emerge with a variety of textual strategies in works such as Hester Biddle’s incendiary prophecy to the cities of Oxford and Cambridge (1655), Priscilla Cotton’s and Mary Cole’s revolutionary pamphlet To the Priests and People of England (1655), Margaret Killin’s and Barbara Patison’s violent warning to the parish teachers of Plymouth (1655), and in the disputes of Katherine Evans and Sarah Cheevers with the Inquisition friars in Malta in A True Account (1663). These texts illustrate the unique phenomenon of 17th-century radical oppositional politics whereby divine authority embodied in women’s prophetic utterance triumphs over the false earthly authority of (masculine) academic knowledge.
|Titolo:||"Even Servants and Handmaids": Prophetic Authority versus University Learning in Seventeenth-Century Radical Women’s Writing|
|Data di pubblicazione:||2006|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||1.1 Articolo in rivista|