Women's theoretical exclusion from the political sphere generated not silence but highly developed linguistic and figurative responses in seventeenth century England. This chapter analyses women's involvement in politics by examining the use of the example in seventeenth century texts. It concentrates on exemplarity because of its pervasive presence in early modern writing, because of the tensions it sometimes generated for readers, and because of the way it shows gender at work in the interpretative acts of readers and writers. Although the seventeenth century is often characterised as a time when exemplarity became synonymous with mere authority, it might be more accurate to say that the seventeenth century had its own debates on exemplarity. Rather than being ‘merely’ ornament, the examples in an early modern text gave the reader a route, but one which, by the seventeenth century at least, not only was uncertain but might be experienced as such.
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