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Letteratura inglese - John Donne Appunti scolastici Premium

Appunti di Letteratura inglese sulla biografia di John Donne per il corso della professoressa Innocenti. Gli argomenti trattati sono i seguenti: biografia di John Donne, Donne became a priest of the Anglican Church in 1615, Donne's prose, John Donne is remembered for the wit and poignancy of his poetry.

Esame di Letteratura inglese 2 docente Prof. L. Innocenti



John Donne

John Donne was born to a prosperous London ironmonger (also

named John Donne), in 1572. The Donne's were Catholic, and

young John was educated by Jesuits. His father died when he was

young, and he was raised by his mother, Elizabeth.

At the age of 11, John Donne went to Hart Hall at Oxford

University, where he studied for 3 years, and then proceeded to

Cambridge University for another 3 years. Donne did not take a

degree at either university, because as a Catholic he could not take

the required Oath of Supremacy at graduation.

After Cambridge, Donne studied law at Lincoln's Inn in London.

His faith was badly shaken when his younger brother Henry died

in prison, where he had been sent for sheltering a Catholic priest.

Donne's first literary work, Satires, was written during this period.

This was followed by Songs and Sonnets. a collection of love

poems that enjoyed considerable success through private


Donne gained a comfortable inheiritance, which he proceeded to

spend in profligate fashion on "wine, women, and song". He

joined the Earl of Essex's raid on Cadiz in 1596, and an expedition

to the Azores the following year.

On his return Donne became private secretary toi Sir Thomas

Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. His chances of career

advancement were destroyed when he secretly married Anne

More, daughter of Sir George More. Anne's enraged father had

Donne thrown into Fleet Prison for several weeks, and Egerton

dismissed him from his post.

Donne's marriage was a happy one, despite constant financial

worries. With typical wry wit, Donne described his life with Anne

as "John Donne, Anne Donne, Undone". Finally, in 1609, George

More was induced to relent and pay his daughter's dowry. In the

meantime Donne worked as a lawyer, and produced Divine Poems

(1607). 3

Donne's final break with his Catholic past came with the

publication of Pseudo-Martyr (1610) and Ignatius his Conclave.

These works won him the favour of King James, who pressured

him to take Anglican orders. Donne reluctantly agreed, and in

1615 he was appointed Royal Chaplain, and the following year he

gained the post of Reader in Divinity at Lincoln's Inn. There his

fierce wit and learning made Donne one of the popular preachers

of his day.

Then in 1617 Anne Donne died in giving birth to the couple's 12th

child. Her death affected Donne greatly, though he continued to

write, notably Holy Sonnets (1618).

In 1621 Donne was appointed Dean of St. Paul's, a post he held

for the remainder of his life. In his final years Donne's poems

reflect an obsession with his own death, which came on March 31,


John Donne is remembered for the wit and poignancy of his

poetry, though in his own time he was known as much for his

mesmerizing sermons and preaching style.

As an aside, Donne's memorial in St. Paul's Cathedral was the

only one to survive the Great Fire that destroyed the old cathedral

in 1666. It can be seen today in the new St. Paul's. 4

John Donne was born in Bread Street, London

in 1572 to a prosperous Roman Catholic family

- a precarious thing at a time when anti-

Catholic sentiment was rife in England. His

father, John Donne, was a well-to-do

ironmonger and citizen of London. Donne's

father died suddenly in 1576, and left the three

children to be raised by their mother, Elizabeth,

who was the daughter of epigrammatist and playwright John

Heywood and a relative of Sir Thomas More. [Family tree.]

Donne's first teachers were Jesuits. At the age of 11, Donne and

his younger brother Henry were entered at Hart Hall, University of

Oxford, where Donne studied for three years. He spent the next

three years at the University of Cambridge, but took no degree at

either university because he would not take the Oath of

Supremacy required at graduation. He was admitted to study law

as a member of Thavies Inn (1591) and Lincoln's Inn (1592), and

it seemed natural that Donne should embark upon a legal or

diplomatic career.

In 1593, Donne's brother Henry died of a fever in prison after

being arrested for giving sanctuary to a proscribed Catholic priest.

This made Donne begin to question his faith. His first book of

poems, Satires, written during this period of residence in London,

is considered one of Donne's most important literary efforts.

Although not immediately published, the volume had a fairly wide

readership through private circulation of the manuscript. Same

Songs and Sonnets, assumed to

was the case with his love poems, 5

be written at about the same time as the Satires.

Having inherited a considerable fortune, young "Jack Donne"

spent his money on womanizing, on books, at the theatre, and on

travels. He had also befriended Christopher Brooke, a poet and his

roommate at Lincoln's Inn, and Ben Jonson who was part of

Brooke's circle. In 1596, Donne joined the naval expedition that

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, led against Cádiz, Spain. In

1597, Donne joined an expedition to the Azores, where he wrote

"The Calm". Upon his return to England in 1598, Donne was

appointed private secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper

of the Great Seal, afterward Lord Ellesmere.

Donne was beginning a promising career. In 1601, Donne became

MP for Brackley, and sat in Queen Elizabeth's last Parliament. But

in the same year, he secretly married Lady Egerton's niece,

seventeen-year-old Anne More, daughter of Sir George More,

Lieutenant of the Tower, and effectively committed career suicide.

Donne wrote to the livid father, saying:

"Sir, I acknowledge my fault to be so great as I dare scarce offer

any other prayer to you in mine own behalf than this, to believe

that I neither had dishonest end nor means. But for her whom I

tender much more than my fortunes or life (else I would, I might

neither joy in this life nor enjoy the next) I humbly beg of you that


she may not, to her danger, feel the terror of your sudden anger."

Sir George had Donne thrown in Fleet Prison for some weeks,

along with his cohorts Samuel and Christopher Brooke who had

aided the couple's clandestine affair. Donne was dismissed from

his post, and for the next decade had to struggle near poverty to

support his growing family. Donne later summed up the

experience: "John Donne, Anne Donne, Undone." Anne's cousin

offered the couple refuge in Pyrford, Surrey, and the couple was

George Herbert's

helped by friends like Lady Magdalen Herbert,

mother, and Lucy, Countess of Bedford, women who also played a


prominent role in Donne's literary life. Though Donne still had

friends left, these were bitter years for a man who knew himself to

be the intellectual superior of most, knew he could have risen to

the highest posts, and yet found no preferment. It was not until

1609 that a reconciliation was effected between Donne and his

father-in-law, and Sir George More was finally induced to pay his

daughter's dowry.

In the intervening years, Donne practised law, but they were lean

years for the Donnes. Donne was employed by the religious

pamphleteer Thomas Morton, later Bishop of Durham. It is

possible that Donne co-wrote or ghost-wrote some of Morton's

pamphlets (1604-1607). To this period, before reconciliation with

his inlaws, belong Donne's Divine Poems (1607) and Biathanatos

(pub. 1644), a radical piece for its time, in which Donne argues

that suicide is not a sin in itself.

As Donne approached forty, he published two anti-Catholic

polemics Pseudo-Martyr (1610) and Ignatius his Conclave (1611).

They were final public testimony of Donne's renunciation of the

Catholic faith. Pseudo-Martyr, which held that English Catholics

could pledge an oath of allegiance to James I, King of England,

without compromising their religious loyalty to the Pope, won

Donne the favor of the King. In return for patronage from Sir

Robert Drury of Hawstead, he wrote A Funerall Elegie (1610), on

the death of Sir Robert's 15-year-old daughter Elizabeth. At this

time, the Donnes took residence on Drury Lane. The two

Anniversaries— An Anatomy of the World (1611) and Of the

Progress of the Soul (1612) continued the patronage. Sir Robert

encouraged the publication of the poems: The First Anniversary

was published with the original elegy in 1611, and both were

reissued with The Second Anniversary in 1612.

Donne had refused to take Anglican orders in 1607, but King

James persisted, finally announcing that Donne would receive no

post or preferment from the King, unless in the church. In 1615,


Donne reluctantly entered the ministry and was appointed a Royal

Chaplain later that year. In 1616, he was appointed Reader in

Divinity at Lincoln's Inn (Cambridge had conferred the degree of

Doctor of Divinity on him two years earlier). Donne's style, full of

elaborate metaphors and religious symbolism, his flair for drama,

his wide learning and his quick wit soon established him as one of

the greatest preachers of the era.

Just as Donne's fortunes seemed to be improving, Anne Donne

died, on 15 August, 1617, aged thirty-three, after giving birth to

their twelfth child, a stillborn. Seven of their children survived

their mother's death. Struck by grief, Donne wrote the seventeenth

Holy Sonnet, "Since she whom I lov'd hath paid her last debt."

According to Donne's friend and biographer, Izaak Walton, Donne

was thereafter 'crucified to the world'. Donne continued to write

poetry, notably his Holy Sonnets (1618), but the time for love

songs was over. In 1618, Donne went as chaplain with Viscount

Doncaster in his embassy to the German princes. His Hymn to

Christ at the Author's Last Going into Germany, written before the

journey, is laden with apprehension of death. Donne returned to

London in 1620, and was appointed Dean of Saint Paul's in 1621,

a post he held until his death. Donne excelled at his post, and was

at last financially secure. In 1623, Donne's eldest daughter,

Constance, married the actor Edward Alleyn, then 58.

Donne's private meditations, Devotions upon Emergent

Occasions, written while he was convalescing from a serious

illness, were published in 1624. The most famous of these is

undoubtedly Meditation 17, which includes the immortal lines

"No man is an island" and "never send to know for whom the bell

tolls; It tolls for thee." In 1624, Donne was made vicar of St

Dunstan's-in-the-West. On March 27, 1625, James I died, and

Donne preached his first sermon for Charles I. But for his ailing

health, (he had mouth sores and had experienced significant

weight loss) Donne almost certainly would have become a bishop

posed in a shroud

in 1630. Obsessed with the idea of death, Donne 8

- the painting was completed a few weeks before his death, and

later used to create an effigy. He also preached what was called

his own funeral sermon, Death's Duel, just a few weeks before he

died in London on March 31, 1631. The last thing Donne wrote

just before his death was Hymne to God, my God, In my

Sicknesse. Donne's monument, in his shroud, survived the Great

Fire of London and can still be seen today at St. Paul's. 9

Biography of John Donne


The metaphysical poet and clergyman John

Donne was one of the most influential poets

of the Renaissance. He was just as famous for

his witty cutting poetry as he was for his

enthralling sermons. John was born to a

prominent Roman Catholic family from

London in 1572. Not a healthy child, John

Donne would lead a life plagued with illness.

He received a strong religious upbringing until his enrollment at

the University of Oxford at the age of 11. After only three years at

Oxford it is believed that he transferred to the University of

Cambridge for another three years of study, never obtaining a

degree at either college. In 1590 John made a decision that would

shape his life: he converted to Anglicanism.

With his newfound faith to support him, John moved to London to

study law at Lincoln's Inn. With a promising legal career in front

of him, he joined the second Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, in a

naval expedition to Cadiz, Spain. Sometime during the return trip

in 1598, he was appointed to be the private secretary for Anne

More, niece of the Keeper of the Great Seal, Sir Thomas Egerton.

Donne excelled at caring for his charge - so well that in 1601 they

were secretly married. After Egerton relieved Donne of his

position he was imprisoned for his amorous actions. He later

wrote about his experience in poetry, "John Donne - Ann Donne -


John continued to live in London for the next few years working

as counsel for the anti-Catholic pamphleteer, Thomas Morton

from 1604 to 1607. It is also during this time that Donne began his

writing with Divine Poems in 1607 and Biathanatos in 1608, later

published after his death, in 1644.

In 1608 Donne made up with his father-in-law after a few

attempted suicides. Pseudo-Martyr, Donne's next work, published


in 1610, won him favor with the king. The prose work was a

treatise that said Catholics could swear allegiance to King James

the first without renouncing the pope. In 1615 John became a

priest of the Anglican church and began giving his now famous

sermons. Later that same year, he optioned the position of royal

chaplain. St. Paul's Cathedral appointed him Dean in 1621, a

position he held for ten years. In a final interesting note, our

esteemed Mr. Donne performed the eulogy for his own funeral

and even posted for a portrait in his death shroud shortly before

his death in 1631, of an unknown terminal illness. All of Donne's

now famous works were published after his death. 11




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Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea magistrale in lingue e letterature europee americane e postcoloniali
A.A.: 2009-2010

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher melody_gio di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Letteratura inglese 2 e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Ca' Foscari Venezia - Unive o del prof Innocenti Loretta.

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