Exploration of modern themes in Gaspara Stampa’s "The Rimes"
Addison explores how Gaspara Stampa, an Italian poet, challenges the gender and mental health conventions of her time through her writing.
Throughout the first 100 poems of Stampa’s Rimes, the author utilizes the discussion of
her strained relationship with her husband to explore several modern themes, including mental
health, and the value of female friendships. In doing so, she challenges the gender and mental
health conventions of her time.
The Count’s (the husband of the main character) cruelty and emotional distance, while they drive the author’s turbulent emotions, also serve as reinforcement to the bars containing Stampa in her gilded cage. In an indication of the cultures embedded in Italian Renaissance society, the author laments her
inability to end her emotional torment, in telling herself, “you’re not your own, you are your lord’s; since the day you gave yourself to him as plunder, body and soul, life and death belong to him alone, and he alone can take them. So to bring about your own departure without his command or his consent would be too unjust -- and much too bold,” (Poem85). This lament is interesting for several reasons. First, while she clearly views herself as her husband’s physical property, her emotional writing about him makes clear that she does not truly feel like she is his wife at all -- the emotional distance he places between them serves as the torment from which Stampa cannot escape thanks to the gilded cage of their marriage. Another interesting facet of this line of Poem 85 is that Stampa refers to herself as “plunder,” indicating
that her husband obtained her hand in marriage, or her love, without her consent. Given the
tormented love she expresses for him throughout her Rimes, one can assume that Stampa means
the latter, that he obtained her love without her consent, that he literally ‘stole her heart.’ In
Poem 9, she addresses Cupid himself about this condition: “If someday [you] return me to
myself and release me from that heartless lord ... you’ll invoke my boundless faith ... and my
love.” These lines illustrate for readers that Stampa feels as though Love surrendered her to her
husband without her consent -- the indication that she is not herself tells us that she was taken
from herself, and presumably given to her husband. However, as becomes evident through her
writing, Stampa’s devotion to her husband goes unnoticed, and even ridiculed by him. Thus,
towards the end of the first 100 poems, she finds herself turning to her female friends and readers
for companionship and comfort, as she reconciles with the idea that the love of her friends is
most likely the only love she can rely on.
In doing so, the author concedes that she will not win her husband’s affections no matter
her efforts. In a venture to find solace in the friendship of her female readers, Stampa seems to
accept that their affection and kindness are the only kind attentions she will find solace in, at
least for the time being. The author turns to her readers and addresses them directly: “Ladies,
weep, and since my death moves not my lord who’s cruel and far away, then you, who possess
hearts that are sweet and humane, at least out of pity open your gates. Weep with me ... call the
hand that wounded me dispassionate ... May one of you [be] inspired by sparks from my flame,”
(Poem 86). This earnest plea for recognition and sympathy from her female readers, an appeal to
their “sweet and humane” nature, illuminates Stampa’s stark loneliness for us; such an emotional
plea to readers indicates just how little recognition she gets from her beloved, and the very fact
that Stampa is making such a plea to readers encourages our empathy for her. After her plea for
recognition and friendship, Stampa acknowledges her readers’ own potential heartache, likening
their situation to hers: “You, dear ladies, who perhaps as I do travel on this harsh and amorous
path ... have seen and known how many hardships that cruel archer, Love, can bring,” (Poem
90). After establishing empathy and a sense of emotional alliance with her readers, Stampa
extends an olive branch of goodwill to them, wishing them, “May Love grant you a truce from
time to time, while this harsh separation forces him to unleash in me ... his fury,” (Poem 90).
This indication that Stampa would suffer exacerbated emotional torment from Love if it meant
that one of her likewise-tormented readers could see at least a temporary relief from such
feelings continues to expand on her desperation for friendship and companionship of any sort.
Through these appeals to her female readers, Stampa builds on the illustration of her solitude for
us, ultimately crafting a detailed, moving picture of her emotional state, to which many of her
readers can relate.
In her emotional, impressive, and illuminating Rimes, Gaspara Stampa utilizes the
discussion of her strained relationship with her husband to explore several modern themes,
including mental health, and the value of female friendships. In doing so, she explores and
challenges the mental health conventions of her time. Being a female poet in Renaissance Italy,
her often charged and impious poetry certainly won her a fair number of critics; however, the
raw emotion and anguished impiety she conveys through her Rimes served to immortalize her as
one of the most notable poets in literary history.