To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
As communication theorists have repeatedly observed, each medium meta-communicatively defines the nature of the messages being transmitted as well as the relationship between their senders and receivers. It matters whether one encounters texts in oral, handwritten, printed or electronic forms. It also matters whether the texts are spoken or sung; recorded by amateur or professional scribes, either in inelegant or presentationally artful forms; published in ephemeral pamphlets, newspapers or magazines; printed in paperback or hardback books; experienced on radio, television, film, tape, records, CDs or DVDs; or found in various forms of casual or institutionally mediated emails and websites. Finally, the cultural context is crucial: the oral or written (scripted and/or printed) or electronic and visual modalities dominant in the world in which texts are transmitted shape the different kinds of relationships their originators and receivers have to them. Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that ‘the medium is the message’ was a provocative overstatement, but it is certainly true that messages are inseparable from the media through which they are transmitted, and the mediated message in its material, rather than ideal, form is the one that is experienced in particular ways. And so there is no culturally faithful history of a literary form such as the sonnet without considering the communicative channels through which such poetry flowed through the late medieval, early modern, modern and postmodern eras. This is true of the general history of the form as well as of that of the sonnet in the anglophone world.
John Donne preferred known readers for his writing and, at least initially, controlled its dissemination in the manuscript medium. Almost all of his poetry and a great deal of his prose were composed for restricted audiences in a series of social environments in which he functioned through his secular and ecclesiastical careers. These included the Inns of Court and London in the 1590s; the late-Elizabethan court and government during his service as a secretary to the Lord Keeper, Sir Thomas Egerton, from 1598 to 1602; the early Jacobean social circle surrounding his patroness Lucy, Countess of Bedford; the single-sex environment of politically active men associated with the meetings at the Mitre and Mermaid taverns; and the socially mixed environment of the Jacobean and Caroline courts. He circulated his work in manuscript both as single items and as groups of texts. For example, he sent individual verse epistles to friends and patronesses. He enclosed prose paradoxes or problems in some of his letters; in others sermons. He let his close friend Ben Jonson forward his five satires to the Countess of Bedford, and he himself gave some of his holy sonnets, along with a complimentary poem, to the Earl of Dorset. He allowed such friends as Henry Goodyer and Sir Robert Ker to see large collections of his poetry. Although Donne regularly showed his writing to individuals within the social circles to which he belonged, in the processes of manuscript transmission his poems only really reached a wider audience in the 1620s, eagerly received by students at both universities and by others compiling manuscript anthologies of verse.
In the English Renaissance, poetic texts were related to their social contexts both in their original conditions of production and in their subsequent history of reception through the media of manuscript and print. Since lyric poems, in particular, were primarily occasional, composed in specific circumstances for known audiences, factors of class, gender, patronage, kinship, friendship, political partisanship, and religious allegiance were inseparable from aesthetic issues in such works. Poets were acutely conscious of the social contexts of their work, and, especially when their poems were disseminated in manuscript, readers were able to appropriate poetic artefacts and adapt them to their individual needs. In the course of the seventeenth century lyrics were in the process of changing their status from that of ephemeral productions transmitted in manuscript within restricted social environments to that of durable artefacts widely distributed through the medium of print. While most lyric poetry first circulated in manuscript to family members, friends, colleagues, and patrons had specific social uses, print culture began to highlight the aesthetic features of poems, recontextualized their meanings, and preserved them for readerships beyond their original audiences.