UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Mannerist elements in the songs and sonnets of John Donne Holmes, Richard Arthur


For a long time Mannerism has been a critical term peculiar to the Fine Arts. In the last twenty years it has attracted the attention of literary critics who have sought to clarify its relation to literature in both theory and practice. This thesis draws on the conclusions of such writers and applies them to the Songs and Sonnets of John Donne in an attempt to understand him within the Mannerist context—that is, as a poet expressing characteristics of style, sensibility and culture that are originally typified by a group of sixteenth-century Italian artists. The mode of criticism proceeds on the basis that it is possible to abstract distinctive features from a given style in one art form and apply them, by analogy, to another: thus, discontinuous lines in painting may be seen as analogous to broken sentences in language, or the effect of distorted perspective may be likened to the effect of structural irregularity in a poem. The process may be further supported by reference to cultural, personal or theoretical circumstances that are common to the artist/poets concerned. In this thesis, the views of certain scholars as to the nature of Mannerism have been applied to Donne. Thus his wit, his dramatic techniques, his use of convention and his ambiguity have all been examined in the light of Mannerist principles, and have been further exemplified by reference to the fine and plastic arts. The conclusions reached are that, first, it is possible to approach Donne from a Mannerist viewpoint, that in so doing insights into the nature and organisation of the poetry follow, and that by setting Donne in a European artistic context, something of the insularity and arbitrariness of 'metaphysical' may yield to the broader frame of reference that Mannerism provides.

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