Sermons, poems, letters and Devotions

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.

Stages of the soul in early modern English poetry

This study analyses concepts and representations of the soul in the poetry of William Shakespeare and John Donne. During the early modern period, the soul is often presented as an actor on the stage of the poem, and the soul often becomes a stage by itself when conflicts within it are being enacted, in the tradition of psychomachia. The soul thus becomes a linking element between the genres of poetry and drama; at the same time, poetry becomes dramatic whenever the soul is at its focus. This double movement can be observed in the poems by Shakespeare and Donne that are concerned with the fate of the soul and represent inner states and processes: in The Rape of Lucrece the inner drama of the soul is being enacted; the Holy Sonnets are soliloquies by and about the soul. Here, the connection between interiority and performance, psychology and religious self-care can be found which is central to the understanding of early modern drama and its characteristic development of the soliloquy. The study thus offers a new reading of the poems by Shakespeare and Donne by analysing them, in different ways, as staged dialogues within the soul. It furthermore contributes to research on the soliloquy as much as on concepts of inwardness during the early modern period; it shows how the reflection on the soul and religious care for salvation develops in interaction with inwardness and theatrical exposure. It is aimed at readers interested in early modern literature and culture.

Introduction – Beginning Donne Good wee must love, and must hate ill, For ill is ill, and good good still, But there are things indifferent, Which wee may neither hate, nor love, But one, and then another prove, As wee shall finde our fancy bent. (‘Communitie’, ll. 1–6) Since 1921, the year of T. S. Eliot’s review of Grierson’s Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century, John Donne’s poetry has been of central interest for a large ‘Communitie’ of critics. That Donne’s writing is ‘good’ and should thus be loved, has rarely been disputed – when it

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The speaker, his soul, and the poem as stage

John Donne was deeply influenced by the theatre. 1 In his youth, according to his contemporary Richard Baker (156; see also Bentley 50; Cruttwell 42), he had been ‘a great frequenter of plays’, 2 and, later in his career, when he was Dean of St. Paul’s, he let his knowledge and experience come to fruition in the seriousness of his performance as a man of God and a preacher. 3 Even his biographical background shows links to

in William Shakespeare and John Donne

, interests. But the general thrust of my argument actually does make a statement on Donne’s religious identity: a theory of performativity goes hand in hand with a particular conception of language and identity that also has consequences for religious discourse and personal faith. Religion, as, for example, my interpretation of Donne’s ‘Holy Sonnets’ has suggested, is a matter of performance. By this I do not mean to imply that religious faith is pretentious or illusory; 272 John Donne’s Performances my intention has been to emphasise that personal and religious

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on 78 John Donne’s Performances utterances which bring about a situational change for one or more persons, like the utterance ‘I hereby pronounce you husband and wife’. While words first helped to effect a transformation, words also indicate that a shift has actually taken place: the two individuals in question are no longer (only) man and woman but husband and wife. Donne’s poem does not merely mention ‘The Canonization’, a passage from profane to sacred, nor simply anticipate it as an event that is to take place in the future. Instead, the above lines make up

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all yours shall meet 226 John Donne’s Performances Your poor friend, and affectionate servant J. Donne’ (Letters 186) – a prospect which includes the addressee’s and the writer’s (comm)union with God and with each other. The most famous passage of Devotions refers less to the individual’s union with God than to the interrelatedness of all people: ‘No Man is an Iland, intire of it selfe [. . .] therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee’ (Devotions 87). As in Donne’s letters, there is encouragement to identify, coincide and commune

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’ (Barthes, 1979: 3). Just as it would have been insufficient for Donne’s sermons simply to retell the Biblical word, Barthes’s text works ‘not by description but by 140 John Donne’s Performances simulation, by writing in the first person’ (Belsey, 1994: 18). A Lover’s Discourse confronts us with ‘someone speaking within himself, amorously, confronting the other (the loved object), who does not speak’ (Barthes, 1979: 3). Just as world, truth and self, so is love also dependent on its performative production in Donne’s poetry. The majority of his erotic speakers enjoy

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letter writing (Müller, 1980: 144). 186 John Donne’s Performances Erasmus’s On the Writing of Letters (1536) and Angel Day’s The English Secretary (1599) exerted considerable influence on early modern letter writing. Day draws strongly on his predecessor, but the two tracts differ in the extent to which they emphasise the relevance of epistolary convention over the writer’s individuality. Erasmus’s treatise originated from its author’s dissatisfaction with contemporary epistolary theory. Although he does not discard long-established conventions altogether (Sowards

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corresponds to that between preacher and listener. The divisio of Donne’s sermon on this text announces how 26 John Donne’s Performances its focus will be on the preacher as God’s intermediary: ‘our parts will be three: Our Office towards you; yours towards us; and the Negotiation it self, Reconciliation to God [. . .] for, in the two first (besides the matter) there are two kinds of persons, we and you, The Priest and the People (we pray you.) And in the last there are two kinds of persons too, you and God; Be ye reconciled to God’ (X, 5, 120).1 The sermon constitutes a

in John Donne’s Performances