This book investigates a surprising textual and spiritual phemen - the huge number of versions of the Song of Songs produced in England in the century and a half after the Reformation. The Biblical book as interpreted by Calvinist commentators is seen to encode metaphorically many of the key Reformation doctrines. The love affair which is the book's main focus is interpreted allegorically (and sometimes absurdly) to advocate a particularly close relationship between the believer and Christ. This way of reading the text became controversial as the seventeenth century proceeded: however, it sustained a Puritan constituency in the religiously-driven warfare and rebellions that took place in England. The widespread nature of the metaphor of the Bride for the holy soul, especially as she was the author of much of the poetry of the Song, encouraged women to pick up the pen in an age when authorship was thought of as male.
ELIZABETH CLARKE is Reader in English at Warwick University, UK, where she leads the Perdita Project investigating women's manuscript writing in the Early Modern period.