A reading by HL Maire nic Shiobhan, of the first half of Isabella Whitney’s poem.
This poem directly follows the title work “The Copy of A Letter,” where Isabella Whitney discusses her lover leaving her and marrying another woman. “The Admonition”, continues on the theme that Isbella, having lived through betrayal, is in the position to advise other women on the pitfalls of love; in this case the takeaway is that you shouldn’t trust men before having “tried” them.
There are several uses of pointed language in this piece, directly referencing sex, and playing off of the biblical proverb, “try before you trust.” She also declares men to be full of false flattery, and willing to use deceit such as “wetting their cheeks” to get their way. Patricia Main points out that Isabella is making complaints many male authors have made about the actions of women in order to sway the hearts of their love interests; and by this Isabella is arguing that men and women should have equal footing in relationships.
Throughout the poem, and many of her works, Isabella Whitney references classical works that would be well known by readers. These references are used by her to help illustrate her point but also to give an air of respectability to the poem. Without the multiple classical references to women who were betrayed after trusting a man too quickly, the poem would almost be pornographic (read stanzas 1-10, 23-32; the fish on a hook metaphor can take several meanings).
Below are brief summaries of the classic tragedies referenced by Isabella Whitney, which will help in your enjoyment of the poem.
Scilla betrayal of her father King Nisus
King Nisus had a purple lock of hair which guaranteed him health and the continued rule of the Kingdom of Megara. His daughter Scilla, falls in love with King Minos of Crete (either he seduced her or she fell in love at first site) Scilla cut off her father’s purple hair and as a gift to Minos, who then abandons Scilla. Scilla is drowned chasing after Minos and eventually turned into a bird, who is pursued by a bird that her father had transferred into after his death.
Paris and Oenone
Oenone was a nymph of Mt. Ida and the first wife of Paris. She bore him a son, Corythus. Paris famously falls in love with Helen, and abandons his wife.
Demophoon and Phillis
Demophoon married or promised to marry Phillis. He returned home to Athens and forgot about Phillis, who becomes despondent and kills herself.
Hero and Leander
Hero was a priestess of Aphrodite, who fell in love with Leander who swam across the Hellespont nightly to be with her, following the light of her torch. One night the wind blew out her torch and Leander drowned trying to reach Hero.