Study Guide

The Prologue Setting

By Anne Bradstreet


We can't see that there are any hints about where this poem is taking place. There's not a single reference to an actual physical space, either inside or outside—no rocks, no trees, no tables, no chairs. What we get instead is a kind of debate, and historically that debate did have a very real setting.

What we mean is that Bradstreet's poem came out in colonial America—not exactly a hotbed of feminism. The poem's setting—in the broader sense of the culture in which the poem takes place—is one in which our speaker stands alone, accused of being… a female poet. Gasp! She's not going down easily, though. She stands up and offers this poem in her defense. And by that token, she's not just talking about women and poetry, she is defending female creativity and demanding respect: "Preeminence in all and each is yours;/ Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours" (41-42).

This links to a bigger point, which is that women were, sometimes quite literally, on trial in colonial New England. This poem was published not too long after the trial of Anne Hutchinson, who was expelled from Massachusetts for her vocal challenges to religious authority. Anne Bradstreet was not in any such danger, and she was connected with some of the most powerful and prominent families in the colony (her father and her husband were both governors of Massachusetts Bay). Still the fact that even she so clearly felt under attack is a really good reminder of how challenging it was to be a woman and a writer in the historical setting of the early years of settlement in New England.

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