Marotti 1986

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Donne and the Conditions of Coterie Verse

"Beyond the uncertain circulation system involving loose papers, 'quires' of poems and large manuscripts of individual poets' work, two related practices, in particular, throw light on the system of manuscript literary transmission: the keeping of manuscript commonplace books of poetry (or of poetry and prose) and the related, markedly Elizabethan, phenomenon of the published poetical miscellany. The first is a holdover, albeit a socially respected one, from a pre-Gutenberg era, and is a custom that persisted well into the seventeenth century. Standing midway between manuscript-circulated verse and professional publications like The Works of Beniamin Jonson (1616), the second is part of the cultural transformation of the literature of social occasion into the (more aesthetically isolated) literature of a book culture." (5)
"there is a continuum from, rather than a sharp boundary between, the commonplace-book anthologies and those printed volumes that disseminated coterie literature to a wider readership" (7)
"Although published miscellanies clearly came into being as products of the information explosion caused by the invention of movable type, they actually presented themselves as a kind of compromise beween two coexistent systems of 'publication,' the circulation of literature in manuscript to restricted audiences and the printing of individual authors' works for different (narrow or wide) readerships." (7-8)
"We can see from both manuscript and printed evidence that poems, for example, were enclosed in letters, handed to people personally, read orally before select groups, given as gifts at times such as New Year's day, passed to women as complimentary trifles (like Ralegh's poem put into Lady Laiton's pocket), composed at the request of a mistress or at the challenge of a compeitor, written on set themes agreed upon by both authors and audiences, and designed as response or answer poems to other lyrics." (9)
"Most poems written by gentlemen-amateurs were ocasional in nature, their production and reception strongly involved with their biographical and social contexts. Whatever tis conventional literary features, such verse was attuned to the personal circumstances of the authors and to the social, economic, and political milieus they shared with their chosen audiences. Inevitably, contextual particularity was lost when such work passed to a wider audience both within and beyond the writers' own times." (10)

poems "as a kind of social currency" (12)

"Despite all this, the texts in manuscript and printed miscellanies lost touch with their original contexts, as the very act of anthologizing dislodged poems from their place in a system of transactions within polite or educated social circles and put them in the more fundamentally 'literary' environment of the handwritten or typographic-volume." (12-13)
"Authorship and original contexts both disappear in the 'new' text written, in effect, by the compiler. Such literary recontextualization, however, occurs in any formalist or ahistorical literary reading." (13)

in the manuscripts that include Donne's poetry, his poems are "frequently found in the company of that of other poets, many of whom were socially connected with him in some way" (17)

shared styles do not just show Donne's influence but "the sharing of certain styles of communication -- a fact underscored by the games of exchange and answer poetry in which Donne and his friends participated" (19)

"virtually all of the basic features of Donne's poetic art are related to its coterie character" (19)
"This negation or absence of discursive meaning is that condition toward which all Donne's writing moves -- not only his poems, but also his prose, especially his Sermons." (22)
"Donne's dream of communication was one in which the reader or audience or congregation repeated, or mirrored in their responses, the thoughts and feelings of the author who made the text. In the letters, as in the poetry, persona psychological struggles were used as a medium of communication with a sympathetic reader." (22)
"Donne's poems were products less of the study than of a series of social relationships spread over a number of years.

Donne as an Inns-of-Court Author

Bacon's 1597 Essays "can be looked on a a success manual for Elizabethan gentlemen, particularly for Bacon's Inns-of-Court colleagues" (29)

"While at Lincoln's INn and during that period before his employment with Sir Thoas Egerton, when he lived as a London gentleman and aspiring courtier, Donne tried his hand at various traditional and revived literary genres, viewing this writing as part of his social life, intending it for an audience of friends and acquaintances whose literary and sociocultural competence resembled his own. He composed epigrams, verse letters, formal satires, love elegies and libertine lyrics, and prose paradoxes -- all genres fostered by the social circumstances of the Inns and that male social group that developed out of this environment into those courtly and professional circles with which Donne was later connected." (35)
"In this context, Donne expected his audience to have the ltierary and social sophistication enabling them to contribute cocreatively to the dramatic and rhetorical realization of his poetic texts." (58)
"In his dramatic elegies, as well as in his lyrics, Donne, like Sidney, left much to the imagination, believing that his reader had the social literary, intellectual, an psychological sophistication necessary to fill out, from very few signals, the emotional drama of particular poems, an activity that was an essential preliminary to the perception of their ironies. Although we tend to regard such skills as part of the literary competence of readers generally, they were looked on in the Renaissance as the accomplishments of educated (courtly or satellite-courtly) gentlemen. Donne's chosen audience for his dramatic elegies and lyrics is only one example of a larger cultural phenomenon." (58-9)
"Difficulty, even magnificently unnecessary difficulty, was a valued commodity in the Inns-of-Court encironment, the opportunity to exercise an intellectual mastery that somewhat compensated for political and social vulnerability." (70)
"In their self-conscious fusion of genres and modes, their deliberate difficulty and complexity, their wittily problematical character, Donne's lyrics are often 'self-consuming artifacts' -- works that undo their own deceptive lines of development as they become virtual meta-poems, that is lyrics that are about the nature and process of writing certain kinds of verse and about the communicative relationship of poet and reader." (71)

some of Songs and Sonnets appear to have been "art songs" (88)

Donne as Young Man of Fashion, Gentleman-Volunteer, and Courtly Servant

"The rhetoric of some pieces assumes the context of a performance not simply for a sympathetic group of male peers but also for sophisticated women who could appreciate their wit and manner." (96)
"One finds in the verse and prose letters of the late nineties an extended exploration of disillusionment, set against the background of Donne's growing courtly involvement, both before and after his employment by Egerton." (113)
"At a time of uncertainty about his future, Donne looked back on the previous few years he spent as an Inns-of-Court gallant who occasionally wrote poetry as a period of a sinful waste of his talents. ... Especially in the verse letters to such friends as Christopher Brooke, Henry Wotton, and Rowland Woodward, he shared with coterie readers some of the conflicted feelings with which he acted on his ambitions in a world whose realities he and his audience clearly perceived." (114)

spent four years as one of Sir Thomas Egerton's secretaries (116)

"Poetic discussion of the merits and demerits of life in the Court, City, and Country was, thus, more than mere literary imitation or the recitation of intellectual commonplaces; it was, in its immediate context, the expression of individual responses to Elizabethan sociocultural codes. Donne and Wotton composed their poems from the point of view of educated, cultivated, ambitious courtly aspirants, as men who regarded the Country as a desert or region of exile, the City as a place for meaner pleasures and crass business dealings, and the Court, however dangerous or corrupt, as the social and political center of attraction. Both men were impatient and frustrated in their search for preferment." (120)
"As in the case of the earlier satires, the thematic center of the work is not the bad moral condition of the world or of the Court, but the shared political dissatisfaction of poet and audience." (130)
"What I would suggest is that, in the case of many of these poems, Ann was the intended primary audience and the lyrics were, therefore, one means of polite, but finally serious, social intercourse between lovers. In such pieces Donne extended his manner of plainspeaking honesty and affectionate intimacy from the all-male circumstances of much of his earlier verse to the context of an actual love relationship. ... I believe Donne never lost touch with his male coterie readership, even when he wrote lyrics for the woman he loved. It makes sense, therefore, to regard the poems of mutual love either as double-audience performances (for Ann and male friends) or as exclusively male-audience work -- the latter certainly the situation of 'The Extasie' and 'The Dissolution'." (139)

Donne as Social Exile and Jacobean Courtier

"These separation poems express affection in the context of a (rationalized) act of disengagement for which Donne made emotional reparation. Their witty ingenuity, manifested, for example, in the conceits of 'A Valediction: forbidding Mourning,' suggests that Donne was less comfortable in addressing his own wife than his intellectually elite male audience, a coterie readership with whom he established closer social contact shortly after his return from his travels." (178)

after James, tremendous increase in dedications; that level remained high; dramatic increase in dedications to the king for religious and controversial works, instead of literary and historical volumes ("historical works virtually disappear") (180)

"As I have argued elsewhere, the marked decline in love poetry and the increase in religious verse that took place with the accession of a new monarch was a general feature of the movement from the Elizabethan to the Jacobean period and Donne was, at least partly, responding to these altered circumstances in composing sacred poems. Similarly, in his encomiastic verse epistles as well as in his Anniversaries, he adopted an ideologically encoded philosophical and religious language that was characteristically Jacobean -- found, for example, in the masques performed for James and his Court. The witty coterie pieces in verse and prose -- works like the Problems, Bianthanatos, and the competition or literary-exchange poetry -- were also markedly Jacobean literary exercises: one has only to note the contemporary vogue of the essay, the character, and of other forms of witty literature to perceive how well these sophisticated iconoclastic pieces were attuned to their specific sociocultural milieu." (181)
"Donne was simply neither the social and intellectual rebel nor the flattering importunate courtier: he contradictorialy assumed both roles and his complex behavior changed according to circumstances." (182)

publicly, Done is "learned, rational, responsible, and properly deferential aspirant to government service"; privately, he "remained the skeptical, iconoclastic, socially rebellious individual who wished to exercise his personal autonomy, sometimes by satirizing and criticizing his social superiors and the established order" (183)

Catalogus librorum aulicorum, "a Rabelaisian mock-catalog of books"

letters as "the most explicitly metacommunicative of Donne's coterie works" (193)

in the 8 years before his ordination, Donne sought patronage; "One can distinguish these readers as a type of coterie audience different from the male acquaintances for whom Donne wrote most of his earlier and much of his contemporary work" (202)

most of patronage poems written for Lucy, Countess of Bedford

Donne's encomiastic verse as more subversive/ambiguous in tone (207)

"Donne's social, political, and economic needs were at the heart of his relationship with the Countess; and so too were the ambivalent feelings generated by his uncomfortably subservient position." (208)
"Temperamentally aggressive, Donne found it difficult to accept the necessary self-effacement required by the patronage relationship with the Countess and by the conventions of complimentary verse that expressed it ritually." (217)

double audience - socially superior mistress and socially equal friends (222)

"Encomiastic epistles, like prayers, are phatic utterances, ways of keeping open a channel of communication and thus maintaining favorable circumstances for continued transactions between speaker and addressee. In his complimentary verse letters, however, Donne's repeated metapoetic digressions had the contradictory effect of both confirming the patronage relationship in which he was involved and undermining it." (228)

"A Nocturnall" -- one of his finest poems, also one of the most difficult to relate to a clear social context (232)

"The Anniversaries are about loss and the need for recovery: the modes Donne chose to render these themes are those of (satiric) scorn and (spiritual) idealization, stances suitable to one responding strongly to narcissistic injury." (236)
"The Anniversaries had both a coterie readership and a public audience reached through the medium of print. As patronage works that succeeded in winning Donne some limited economic benefits, they were addressed to Sir Robert Drury and were shared with a (former) Drury client, Joseph Hall, who obligingly wrote commendatory poems to introduce each of the two Anniversaries in their published form. Beyond this fairly restricted readership, the poems reached, in either manuscript or printed form, Donne's circle of friends and acquaintances, men like Garrard and Goodyer, with whom the poet communicated by letter while he was on the Continent." (244)
"Donne's religious poems, particularly those pieces he composed in the decade preceding his ordination, were fundamentally coterie literature. He gave sacred verse to such friends as Sir Henry Goodyer, George Garrad, and Magdalen Herbert. The appareance of religiosu poems in Rowland Woodward's manuscript collection suggests that such work went through processes of transmission similar to those of hte Elegies and Satires." (245)
"The context of the religious verse was not only that of Donne's personal desires and private relationships with friends, patrons, and patronesses; it was also the more general one of Jacobean culture. Under the new monarch religious literature took on greater importance that it had in the Elizabethan era for a number of reasons including the King's own interests as wella s the increasingly headed national and international polemical admosphere. In both Tudor and early Stuart times religious poetry served as a way for courtier-careerists to express slight or serious political disappointment" (246)

Elizabethan literature, "religious verse was the recourse of courtly losers and an indirect form of social protest by recusant authors"; Jacobean, "it was more assuredly establishment literature" (247) -- King himself wrote religious verse

no dramatic change in Donne accounts for his religious poetry; when he wrote it, he "wa no saint and his energies and desires were directed toward worldly success" (251)

"the coterie transmission of the La Corona sonnets to Magdalen Herbert exemplifies the social uses of religious verse" (252)
"Taking the verse into her 'protection' involved strengthening her social bond with the poet. In the case of a patroness and friend like Mrs. Herbert, religious language could serve as a medium of social intimacy." (252)
"The rhetoric of the religious poems, particularly these Holy sonnets, operates in interesting ways. Donne utilizes the 'symbolic I' of Protestant meditation and preaching as a way of forging a bond with an audience by means of which personal religious experience and insight, communal piety and general truths, can be joined. In contrast to most of his earlier verse, in which the reader was often overtly treated as an antagonist, the divine poems emphasize the collective 'we' and the representativeness of the speaker to affirm an emotional-intellectual bond between speaker and listener, poet and reader." (260)
"In style and manner, then, Donne expressed his basic conflict between assertion and submission, alternately sharing deep spiritual experience with his readers and assaulting them aesthetically by various means." (260)

Epilogue: Donne's Last Poems

Latin poem to George Herbert, written on the day of his ordination (277)

still wrote encomiastic offerings, but kept them more private, limited circulation -- since not appropriate for a religious or older man

sermon written at the behst of the Virginia Company, published (286)