Divine comedies

The speaker, his soul, and the poem as stage

in William Shakespeare and John Donne
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John Donne was deeply influenced by the theatre and, as the chapter elucidates, this also shows in his religious poetry. In the Holy Sonnets (~1609), he repeatedly has a speaker reflect on or address his soul as in a soliloquy. The poems thus become stages on which the soul goes through stages in life towards death. The soul itself may become the theatron, the place of dramatic action, and the speaker is often doubled in being an actor and an audience in the scene presented. The sonnet itself structurally shows similarities to drama in which the speaker finally arrives at a climax and a happy ending, which turns these poems into divine comedies. Drama in the sense of dramatic allusion, the stage and stages, the communicative situation of the soliloquy, provides a key to processes of recognition and anagnorisis within these texts. At the same time, these dramatic elements help to explain the popularity of the soliloquy in contemporary drama.

William Shakespeare and John Donne

Stages of the soul in early modern English poetry



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