Studies in Literature and Culture
“Something to act out on a stage”: Theatrum Mundi in John Donne’s Poetry
← 12 | 13 →Agnieszka Romanowska
In his seminal edition of Donne’s poetry Herbert Grierson wrote about “dramatic intensity” of the Elegies (1912, xlii) and, in his later comments on the love poems, observed their wide dramatic range and complexity of moods (1948, 145). J.B. Leishman appreciated Donne’s “unusual liking and capacity for what children call ‘dressing up’” and his “dramatisation of actual or imaginary experiences, situations, attitudes” (1951, 145-147). Helen Gardner, who underlined the impact of the late sixteenth-century development of dramatic writing on Donne, wrote about the Elegies and Songs and Sonnets that “they are dramatic in the sense that they are single and complete as a play is single and complete” (1965, xviii) and about the Divine Poems she contended: “This dramatic language has a magic that is unanalysable” (1952, xxxii). In her essay “The Metaphysical Poets” Gardner elaborated on the poet’s “strong dramatic imagination” and his “desire to make poems out of particular moments, made imaginatively present rather than remembered” (Keast 1962, 39-40). Patrick Cruttwell also attributed Donne’s dramatic quality to the flourishing of drama in the 1590s, while Frank J. Warnke perceived this feature of Donne’s poetry in a wider context of the age’s phenomenological scepticism:
The dramatic, indeed the theatrical, is perhaps the major constituent of the baroque imagination. […] [T]he baroque lyric is partly defined by its dramatic modus operandi; […] [f]or Donne, as for Shakespeare […] the venerable topos of the world as theater […] had an obsessive status – in life as well as in art.(1987, 10)...
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