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Emblem and Icon in John Donne's Poetry and Prose

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Clayton G. MacKenzie

Few literary lives have navigated the perimeters of success and misfortune as boldly as did that of John Donne. The tensions within his work are sometimes viewed as the outcomes of shifting directions in his personal circumstances and beliefs. In addressing Donne’s supposedly radical idiosyncrasies, commentators have often either omitted or underplayed discussion of the ambiguities inherent in the art and literature of early modern culture itself. The tensile, even contradictory, qualities of Donne’s writing may have reflected as much the ambiguous texture of the artistic society around him as they did the tumult of his own psyche. This book explores the correspondences between the iconic and emblematic currents of the age and Donne’s poetry and prose. Through close readings of Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Carolean signs and sign systems, coupled with a cogent attention to historical context, Clayton G. MacKenzie seeks to demonstrate the quality and intention of some of Donne’s literary designs.