2015 Feminisms and Rhetorics

Take on You the Defense of This Booke”: Margaret Asham’s Preface to The Scholemaster

In 1570, Roger Ascham’s The Scholemaster marked a significant moment in early modern pedagogical thought, offering a humanist curriculum that presented Elizabeth Tudor as a preeminent example of an educated individual. While The Scholemaster was republished frequently for centuries, another act of authorship was preserved with it. Ascham’s wife, Margaret, composed a dedicatory preface directed to William Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief advisor. Vicki Collins examines John Wesley’s preface to Hester Ann Rogers’ work as an example of rhetorical accretion and a man’s effort to authenticate the authority of a female author through re-shaping her identity. Conversely, Margaret Ascham’s preface, added after Roger’s death, is a unique paratextual artifact; it constitutes a rare example of an early modern female-authored preface framing a male-authored text. When considering the early modern preface as a historically situated genre, such a unique example allows us to consider gendered strategies for establishing ethos and motivations for addressing a public audience.

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