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John Donne and Renaissance London


  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 6)
  • Convenor: Professor Sue Wiseman
  • Assessment: a 1500-word essay (35%) and a 3000-word essay (65%)

Module description

In this module we explore the compelling, challenging and important poetry and prose of John Donne. We’ll think about the intellectual and literary conventions and traditions Donne responds to, and also his mid-seventeenth-century social and political contexts. We will also consider some of the poets who responded to his poetic and ideological innovations.

What function does writing acquire under the Tudors and Stuarts when the court, church and London itself are all changing? For all that Donne’s poetry and prose sometimes strikes a pose of melancholic isolation, he knew many of the other writers, statesmen, churchmen, patrons and power-brokers of his day and engaged fully in London life and ideas. We will explore the poetry in the contexts of Elizabethan erotic and love poetry, the court, the Inns of Court (where lawyers congregated) and the ‘new philosophy’, as well as examining the Donne’s complex relationship between Donne and female poets and female patrons.

Ben Jonson wrote of him as 'the first poet in the world in some things', but his poetry was neglected for many years before a spectacular resurrection in the modern period.

We will be reading:

  • John Donne: The Major Works, ed. John Carey