Aemelia Lanyer was the “first” established Englishwoman to have asserted her identity as a poet through her single collection of poems. Eve’s Apologie by Lanyer is essentially a subversive text that questions dominant assumptions about the role of women in society. It delineates the idea that women should not be subordinated for the sin of Eve and compares faultless Eve to Pilate, who was well aware of Christ’s innocence. This was a radical idea in her time. Through this text, the poet uses logic to contest the validity of the dominant social hierarchy and show that men’s sin can be seen as being greater than that of women, who have been marginalized for the sins of Eve.
The narrator of this poem says that “faultesse Jesus”, who had committed no crime, is being made to suffer for no reason. She asks her husband to remove this cause of sorrow and let justice takes its own course; furthermore, she asks him to not go against his own conscience and stand silent as a crime is being committed. In these respects, she makes a very interesting remark:
Let not us Women glory in Mens fall,
Who had power given to over-rule us all.
In the above line she attempts to say that if this crime is truly commited, then men should not be able to hold any authority over women. As mentioned before, the idea that women should not be ruled by men is a radical one. She asks Pilates not to topple the power given to men.
According to her, till now men can be seen as justified over having asserted their sovereignty over women as women were paying for Eve’s fault, but if this crime is committed, that fault would appear very small compared to it. This is because what Eve did was out of love, and not malice, and she had no intention of committing a sin. The “subtile Serpant” had betrayed their sex, and hence they were condemned to live their lives in the fringes of the society.
In the following lines, she confronts the complacency of Adam in the act that condemned them.
But surely Adam can not be excused, Her fault though great, yet he was most to blame; What Weakness offered, Strength might have refused, Being Lord of all, the greater was his shame: Although the Serpent’s craft had her abused, God’s holy word ought all his actions frame, For he was Lord and King of all the earth, Before poore Eve had either life or breath.
These lines are a manifestation of the subversion by the poet, who says that Adam’s fault was greater as he was supposed to embody the strength that Eve did not have, and yet he still ate the fruit. Since he ruled the earth before Eve was even born, the fact that he succumbed to temptation makes him even more complicit in crime than Eve was.
Who being framed by God’s eternal hand, The perfectest man that ever breathed on earth; And from God’s mouth received that straight command, The breach whereof he knew was present death: Yea having power to rule both Sea and Land, Yet with one Apple won to loose that breath Which God had breathed in his beauteous face, Bringing us all in danger and disgrace.
In these lines, the poet almost seems to be using sarcasm to establish the identity of women. She says that Adam was the “perfectest man”, and received the command directly from God, and hence he was the one who had overtly disobeyed the command of God. According to the poet, the man who had the power to rule both Sea and Land had lost that power as h succumbed to the temptation of a mere fruit.
Not Eve, whose fault was only too much love, Which made her give this present to her Dear, That what she tasted, he likewise might prove, Whereby his knowledge might become more clear; He never sought her weakeness to reprove, With those sharp words, which he of God did hear: Yet Men will boast of Knowledge, which he took From Eve’s fair hand, as from a learned Book.
In these lines, the poet writes that Eve was just guilty of loving too much, as she had no malice in her heart when she presented the fruit to Adam. She wanted to give him all that was hers. She also finds it interesting that men boast of the knowledge that they have actually received from Eve’s hand. Hence, this poem is a fearless work of contestation of the dominant social power structure and a defense of women who have been marginalized in the name of religion.