The Poetry of John Donne: Literature, History and Ideology

  • William Zunder
Part of the Insights book series


Donne was part of the second generation of Elizabethan writers: the generation that included Shakespeare and Jonson, and which reached maturity in the 1590s and the first decade of the seventeenth century. Typically of this generation, he was born into the urban middle class. He was born in 1572, the son of a London ironmonger. Less typically, he was born into a family that was also Catholic. Donne’s early career was a characteristic example of sixteenth-century social rising. From a prosperous bourgeois household he went, first, to university, probably to both Oxford and Cambridge; then, between 1591 and 1594, perhaps longer, to the Inns of Court in London, to study law. In 1596 and 1597 he took service with one of the great aristocrats of the time, the Earl of Essex, on the Cádiz and Islands expeditions against the Spanish. And in 1597 or 1598 he became secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper, a post at the heart of the Elizabethan government. In December 1601, however, he secretly married Egerton s niece, Ann More, without her father’s consent, and in the following year he was dismissed by Egerton because of it.


Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Urban Middle Class Human Love Reserved Judgement 
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    See R. C. Bald, John Donne: A Life (London: Oxford University Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    M. Dobb, Studies in the Development of Capitalism, rev. edn (London, 1963) p. 18.Google Scholar
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    All quotations from Donne’s poetry are taken from John Donne: The Complete English Poems, ed. A. J. Smith (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971).Google Scholar
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    F. R. Leavis, ‘Imagery and Movement’ (1945), in Leavis (ed.), A Selection from ‘Scrutiny’, vol. I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968) pp. 236–7.Google Scholar
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    Izaak Walton, The Lives of John Donne, Sir Henry Wotton, Richard Hooker, George Herbert and Robert Sanderson (1640–78; repr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927) p. 25.Google Scholar
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    Quotations from Shakespeare are taken from William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. P. A. Alexander (London: Collins, 1951).Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Terry Eagleton discusses the phenomenon of transference in Freudian psychotherapy in Literary Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983) pp. 159–60.Google Scholar
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    T. S. Eliot, ‘The Metaphysical Poets’ (1921), in Selected Essays, 3rd edn (London: Faber and Faber, 1951) pp. 281–91.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Zunder

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