University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Mentor: Dr. Rachel Trubowitz, Department of English
Women in Donne's Poetry
The Elizabethan era in England was marked by a powerful female monarch and a widespread interest in gender politics. It is into this scene that John Donne entered when he began writing love poetry. His witty, satirical verse – occasionally sentimental, often shocking, and always insightful – represents his contribution to a contentious discussion of gender. His writing is marked by cynicism about women that can make him seem like an upholder of patriarchy. Recent critics, however, have argued that Donne's poetry is not what it seems. These scholars theorize that Donne is an objective and astute observer of his society, a satirist aiming at a complex and pluralistic view of gender that includes many voices.
While his portraits of women can be highly critical, Donne also gives an implied voice to female characters, a technique that deviates from tradition and shows his dedication to producing an accurate portrait of society. His work employs a cast of female characters that encompasses a spectrum of personalities, from foolish and wanton to witty and logical. Through suggested dialogue and actions, he makes their questions, feelings, and responses critical to the scenarios he creates. He allots them power through the politics of love and sex. In his often satirical verse, he uses observations of women's – and men's – behavior to make statements about mankind in general
The goal of my research will be to analyze Donne's place in his era as a social satirist similar to Ovid. Viewing him through this lens will allow me to add a new dimension of understanding to the critical discussion of Donne's love poetry. I anticipate that my research will help to better situate Donne in his context as a critic of Elizabethan society, and enhance my understanding of his attitudes toward women.