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John Donne was a writer of dazzling extremes. He was a notorious rake and eloquent preacher; he wrote poems of tender intimacy, and lyrics of gross misogyny. This book offers a comprehensive account of early modern life and culture as it relates to Donne's richly varied body of work. Short, lively, and accessible chapters written by leading experts in early modern studies shed light on Donne's literary career, language and works as well as exploring the social and intellectual contexts of his writing and its reception from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century. These chapters provide the depth of interpretation that Donne demands, and the range of knowledge that his prodigiously learned works elicit. Supported by a chronology of Donne's life and works and a comprehensive bibliography, this volume is a major new contribution to the study and criticism on the age of Donne and his writing.
Despite the sparkling verbal wit of his poetry, Andrew Marvell is a decidedly visual poet. Indeed, one of the distinguishing features of Marvell’s lyrics is their deep sensitivity to the visual, even painterly, elements of perception and representation. Regularly in his poetry, visual attributes mark ethical, psychological, or political stances. His poetry is distinguished by a remarkable responsiveness to the full range of the visual and plastic arts, from painting to sculpture and architecture. Architecture in particular seems to engross him because it allows him to explore the permutations of structure and design as he meditates on the formal aspects of his own poetic work. His poetry is obsessed by the ever-shifting distinction between the aesthetics implicit in nature, frequently articulated as if it were a self-conscious work of art, and the aesthetics of human creative effort. Marvell, moreover, is fascinated by the ways that art frames and enables apprehension. His profound insight into the contingent qualities of perception complicates any simple distinction between the products of nature and the artefacts of human design. The conventions of visual representation, he seems to say, are what enable us to see the design implicit in the order of the natural world. Most important, these conventions are also what enable us to imagine the world from perspectives other than our own. Tracking the various manifestations of the visual in Marvell’s poetry elucidates his singular accomplishments as a poet.
This chapter will focus on two very different poems, with hugely different perspectives on love. Both are part of larger collections, and both acquire some of their meaning through their specific contexts: A Lover's Complaint was printed in 1609 at the end of the Sonnets (although it is not mentioned on the title page of the volume), and “The Phoenix and Turtle” was published in 1601, in a collection of verses by various writers appended to a volume entitled Love's Martyr. “The Phoenix and Turtle” is an abstruse semi-philosophical work that uses the literary idea of a meeting of various species of birds to explore the paradoxical unity achieved by two separate beings through love. A Lover's Complaint is the grief-stricken lament of an abandoned female lover. Both poems show Shakespeare inhabiting and exploding inherited genres and modes. If “The Phoenix and Turtle” is Shakespeare sounding like John Donne at his best, A Lover's Complaint is Shakespeare sounding like Edmund Spenser on a good day (something he also does in Sonnet 106). One recent critic has judged A Lover's Complaint as unworthy of Shakespeare, and has argued vigorously that the poem is not by him. There have been fewer questions about the authorship of “The Phoenix and Turtle,” despite the fact that the circumstances of publication are similar. Perhaps this is because “The Phoenix and Turtle” is universally acknowledged as a small masterpiece; the poem has been aptly termed “the first great published metaphysical poem.”
Short of homicide, rape is the ultimate violation of self.
– Byron R. White
If Venus and Adonis features the gorgeous compulsions of pleasure, Lucrece turns its attentions to the destructive power of lust. The poem shows in sometimes lugubrious detail how uncontrolled desire destroys both its subject and its object. Fascinated by motive and consequence, the poem is deadly serious in its rigorous exploration of the connections between personal discipline and public government. The final word in the next-to-last line of the poem is “consent,” and the poem is designed to explore the connections between political and sexual consent. Political tyranny, the poem suggests, manifests itself most clearly in the predatory and willful action of rape. In fact, Shakespeare includes an “Argument” as an introduction to the poem, to be sure that the reader does not miss the larger trajectory of the story. At the end of the poem, indignation about the rape performed by a member of the royal family leads to the establishment of the Roman republic. As the Argument relates, Brutus offers “a bitter invective against the tyranny of the king: wherewith the people were so moved, that with one consent and a general acclamation the Tarquins were all exiled, and the state government changed from kings to consuls.” Rarely has the personal been so closely and overtly allied to the political.
Like Venus, the poem is dedicated to the earl of Southampton.