Donne’s Holy Sonnet ‘This is my Playes last Scene’ opens with an allusion to the stage, the ‘last scene’ of the play that is the speaker’s life in the theatrum mundi. The perspective of life as a stage is merged with the inner stages on which the separate parts of the speaker appear in a manner reminiscent of medieval allegorical plays. The speaker reflects on death and the separation of body and soul – but adds a third element to his self and this separation: his sins. All will go to their place of origin eventually, which allows the speaker to hope for his redemption. The chapter also shows how, in the final couplet, Donne avoids making a denominational statement about the imputation to righteousness that can be unequivocally attributed to Catholicism or Protestantism but rather uses ambiguity to reflect on the dependence of human beings on the grace of God. He thus prepares the happy ending of the speaker’s play in a double discourse: by talking about the event of death and what happens after dying, the speaker links religious and dogmatic terms with reflections on drama.
This chapter pinpoints 27 December 1601 as the date of the first performance
of Twelfth Night – and demonstrates that Shakespeare wrote his play for two
audiences, one at Elizabeth’s Court, the other at the Inns of Court.