This book focuses on performance construed in the largest sense, as the deployment of a personal style, as imagery of various kinds, and even as books, which in the early modern era often include strongly performative elements. The chapters in the book fall logically into four groups: on personal style and the construction of the self, on drama, on books, and on the visual arts. Personal style is performative in the simple sense that it is expressive and in the more complex sense that it thereby implies that there is something to express. The book takes a broad view of the question of performance through disguise. Disguises in Elizabethan drama are nearly always presumed to be impenetrable, effectively concealing the self, whereas costume is designed to adorn the self, to make the self more strikingly recognizable. The book considers the changing effects of disguise and costume both on concepts of the self and on assumptions about the kind of reality represented by theater. As a practice that makes performance visible as such, theater is characterized by an ongoing reflection on the very norms that make dramatic performance legible and indeed possible. Images are never more performative in and for a culture than when they offer a view onto the differences through which culture is made.
Ever since their rediscovery in the 1920s, John Donne's writings have been praised for their energy, vigour and drama – yet so far, no attempt has been made to approach and systematically define these major characteristics of his work. Drawing on J. L. Austin's speech act theory, this comparative reading of Donne's poetry and prose eschews questions of personal or religious sincerity, and instead recreates an image of Donne as a man of many performances. No matter if engaged in the writing of a sermon or a piece of erotic poetry, Donne placed enormous trust in what words could do. Questions as to how saying something may actually bring about that very thing, or how playing the part of someone else affects an actor's identity, are central to his oeuvre – and moreover, highly relevant in the cultural and theological contexts of the early modern period in general. Rather than his particular political or religious allegiances, Donne's preoccupation with linguistic performativity and theatrical efficaciousness is responsible for the dialogical involvedness of his sermons, the provocations of his worldly and divine poems, the aggressive patronage seeking of his letters, and the interpersonal engagement of his Devotions. In treating both canonical and lesser-known Donne texts, this book hopes to make a significant contribution not only to Donne criticism and research into early modern culture, but, by using concepts of performance and performativity as its major theoretical backdrop, it aims to establish an interdisciplinary link with the field of performance studies.
Patronage performances – Letters
(for our Letters are our selves) and in them absent friends meet)
Donne’s letters have aroused the interest of literary critics in so
far as they may shed some biographical light on their author.
Much as one may be wary of identifying the speaker of a literary
text with its author, this is commonly done in the case of letters.
The idea of the letter as a mirror of its writer’s soul had great currency during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England
(Müller, 1980; Jagodzinski, 1999: 76). Influenced by
Pulpit performances – Sermons
We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5.20)
This short verse epitomises the major purpose of Donne’s sermons.
Humankind’s reconciliation with God is their central concern.
There were two major channels through which such a conversion
might be achieved: the sermon and the Eucharist. Despite their
interrelatedness, homiletic and ritual elements of the early modern
English service did not readily coexist – which is why an analysis
of how Donne’s sermons combine homiletics with ritual starts off
Passionate performances – Poems
erotic and divine
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.
(‘Batter my heart’, ll. 12–14)
Whereas Donne’s erotic poems are much indebted to religious
metaphor, his nineteen ‘Holy Sonnets’ strongly rely on erotic
imagery. After an analysis of Donne’s religiously erotic poems,
these are now to be compared to his erotically religious poetry.
As it engages in a histrionics of love making, Donne’s erotic
poetry conceives of love as a matter of (artful) performance, hence
Promethean and protean
performances – Worldly poems
And by these hymnes, all shall approve
Us Canoniz’d for Love.
(‘The Canonization’, ll. 35–6)
Despite almost two hundred years of critical neglect, Donne is
nowadays thoroughly ‘Canoniz’d’. His popularity results from his
erotic and devotional poetry, but it is the interrelationship between
the two genres that makes for Donne’s idiosyncrasy. Hence
‘hymnes’ are to bring about ‘The Canonization’ of two not merely
spiritual lovers, who ‘dye and rise the same’ (l. 26). While this
may be read as a reference to
performances – Devotions
therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
This chapter centres on Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, a
work originating from an illness during which Donne considered
himself on the verge of death, and one of the few writings
he published. There are important points of contact between
epistolary and devotional modes: as the post-Reformation period
witnessed shifts in devotional practices and a new interest in
the self, these changes had consequences for early modern
This is a volume of essays on
performance construed in the largest sense, as theatre and pageantry, as
the deployment of a personal style, as imagery of various kinds, and
even as books, which in the early modern era often include strongly
performative elements. Most of the essays are recent, and five are
unpublished. They fall logically into four groups: on personal style and
scrutinised for traces of the writer’s precise religious allegiances
– and this holds not only for straightforwardly religious works,
like the sermons or Devotions, but also for his divine and erotic
poems (Martz, 1954; Lewalski, 1979; DiPasquale, 1999).
The present study is no exception. I, too, have shown a preference for some of Donne’s poems over others, and, although my
approach strives for greater comprehensiveness by focusing not
only on Donne’s Songs and Sonets but also on his divine poetry,
as well as his sermons, letters and Devotions, one cannot
Donne and to be done (Saunders, 2006: 3–4).
By approaching his writings as denominationally more or less
neutral performances, I have refrained from assigning Donne to
any particular religious confession. I have taken care to avoid
projecting on to him any of my own convictions, and creating
a Donne in the image of my own religious desires. Such evasion
is, of course, not a virtue in itself, and one may criticise my
reading precisely because it fails to take a stand with regard
to Donne’s religious allegiances – undoubtedly one of the most
relevant, if most contested