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John Donne's Verse Epistles

The thesis examines a set of John Donne's Verse Epistles dedicated and sent to the noblewomen who protected him. Although to some critics, such as Jonson, Grierson, Carey, Leishman and Thomson, such letters do not belong in the realm of literature due to their supposed blasphemous, trifling and subservient nature, this work highlights their literariness, agreeing with the thought of Gardner, Stapleton, Milgate and DeStefano, who in turn praise the donnian wit, the author's erudition and the dynamics of his imagery.
Firstly, the thesis focuses on the period of time between the first visit the Countess of Bedford paid to John Donne (1608) and King James I's suggestion about the poet entering the Church of England (1614): it also analyses the Verse Epistles written to the poet's patronesses in these years. Secondly, the literary genre of epistolography is described from the ancient times to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance with a section devoted to Donne's singularity in the canon, explained with quotations from his prose letters. Thirdly and finally, the relationship between Donne and the Countess of Bedford, the most important noblewoman in his life, is thrown light upon through Verse Epistles (Reason is our Soules left hand, You have refined mee, To the Countess of Bedford at New Year's Tide and Honour is so sublime perfection) as well as prose letters: from such close study what comes to the surface is a strong disapproval of the Countess and her promises of adavancement, which is of course well hidden among the omnipresent encomiastic discourse, constituted by praises, exaltations and images of the noblewoman as angel and goddess.

Mostra/Nascondi contenuto.
Introduction Donne's Verse Epistles have received many critiques but also praises since the time of their writing: the former have mostly focused on the social context of their composition, blaming them for being more the products of the custom of advancement than proper works of literature; the latter, instead, have stressed their labyrinthine wit and brilliant eulogies as testimonies of their sophisticated literariness. Many unfavourable comments may be found over the centuries: Ben Jonson himself charged them with blasphemy 1 , and in the twentieth century Grierson argued that in their "scholastic theology is made the instrument of courtly compliment and pious flirtation" 2 . Besides, Patricia Thomson and John Carey fail to acknowledge a purely aesthetic import in them: the former maintains that they are unctuous declarations of loyalty addressed to possible future patrons 3 , and the latter affirms that they are laudatory religious poems prompted by an anxiety for patronage 4 . J. B. Leishman's evaluation, instead, is mixed, as he traces a huge amount of Donne's "unserious wit, or serious trifling", and believes that such baroque compliments and obscure references mostly drawn from theology should not be considered as clues of Donne's genuine appreciation of theology itself. Yet his Verse Epistles have garnered also several positive interpretations. Gardner, for instance, recognizes beauty in many of them and is amused by the dynamics of Donne's thought 5 , while Stapleton considers them as a preparatory study for the Anniversaries 6 . On the contrary, Milgate perceives the "sheer wit and elaborate play of mind and fancy" of the Verse Epistles's encomiastic lines: he understands that according to Donne every trace of virtue on Earth is a clue of the existence of God, which leads to the notion that the commendations of his patrons' and patronesses' virtues, as profane as they may sound, contain a certain degree of sincerity. Therefore, he holds them to be true in "an other-world", the divine world, even though he finds them "courtly" and lacking in "solemnity" 7 . Finally, DeStefano judges them "Donne's most ambitious and 1 Even though Jonson uttered such words as regards to Donne's Anniversaries, stating that they were "profane and full of Blasphemies", "if they had been written of ye Virgin Marie it had been something" (cit. in Stubbs, The Reformed Soul, London, Penguin-Viking, 2006, p. 281), DeStefano goes as far as to applying it also to the Verse Epistles, because she reckons that "Ben Jonson's charge […] continues to underlie the criticism of Donne's extravagant complimentary verse": B. DeStefano, "Evolution and Extravagant Praise in Donne's Verse Epistles", in Studies in Philology, (Winter, 1984), p. 75. 2 H. Grierson, Donne's Poetical Works, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1912, p. xx, cit. in DeStefano, op. cit., p. 75. 3 P. Thomson, "The Literature of Patronage 1580-1630", in Essays in Criticism, 1952, II, (3), cit. in DeStefano, op. cit., p. 75. 4 J. Carey, John Donne: Life, Mind and Art, New York, Oxford University Press, 1981, cit. in DeStefano, op. cit., p. 75. 5 H. Gardner, "Notes on Donne's Verse Letters", in The Modern Language Review, V ol. 41, No. 3 (Jul. 1946), p. 318. 6 L. Stapleton, "The Theme of Virtue in Donne's Verse Epistles", in Studies in Philology, 55, (1958), p. 187. 7 According to Milgate, Donne's relationship with his patronesses is in no way sycophantic: he actually conjectures that "the ingenuity and lively fancy with with he pursues the basic analogy to the remotest paradox or the most refined abstraction, the resource of mind which summons all sorts of apparently unrelated but fascinating detail to 3

Tesi di Laurea Magistrale

Facoltà: Lingue e Letterature Straniere

Autore: Luca Zera Contatta »

Composta da 90 pagine.

 

Questa tesi ha raggiunto 18 click dal 11/07/2018.

Disponibile in PDF, la consultazione è esclusivamente in formato digitale.