Brani di Donne, Milton, Congreve



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John Donne: A Valediction: forbidding mourning
The poem is one of Donne’s love lyrics which were first published in 1633. According to one of his biographers, the poet wrote this poem for his wife before leaving for France.
The poet’s ideas and feelings are developed and confirmed through a series of figure of speech.
In stanzas 3-5 the poet makes use of an analogy to illustrate the parting of true lovers, he explains its effects referring to the movement of the spheres, without establishing a direct comparison between the two.
The final smile draws a striking parallel between objects and situations which at first glance seem to have nothing in common. This extravagant and unexpected comparison is called conceit.
The conceit is a figure of speech, a sort of metaphor that is very complex and elaborate. Is a comparison and it draws inspiration from all field of knowledge. The aim of conceit is to surprise and also to shock the readers.
Donne compares the compass to his love and to himself and his wife. The two legs are as the couple of Donne and his wife.
His wife is compared to the fixed foot; wait in England for his return. He goes around the world but at the end he come back home and the two foot of the compass will be reunited. The circle composes by the compass represents the perfection of the life.
In this poem the field to which reference is made are: death, weather, religion, cosmology, metallurgy, geometry and maths.
John Donne: the Man and the Poet
John Donne was born in 1572. In the first phase his ambition was to embark on a political or diplomatic career and he became a law student in London.
In the second phase he was imprisoned, lost his job and had to face a long period of poverty and uncertainty. The crisis marked his transformation from love poet and courtier to eminent preacher.
Donne is the originator of the metaphysical school and to understand his poetry you have to be familiar with three terms: wit, conceit and metaphysical.
Like many literary terms wit has changed its meanings with time. Originally it meant mind and then intellect and mental faculties. In the 17th century it came to mean the capacity to relate unlike ideas and implied intellectual cleverness and ingenuity.
Poets could display their wit through the use if conceits – comparison between objects which at first glance seem to have nothing in common. It was a sign of wit to identify likeness between things apparently utterly unlike each other. The conceit is the hallmark of metaphysical poetry. The critical term “metaphysical” complained that Donne used the language of philosophical speculation (metaphysic) in contexts (love poetry) where it sounded inappropriate.
The outstanding characteristics of Donne’s poetry, especially of his love poetry are also those of the so-called metaphysical school.
- The first is the argumentative quality of his love poems.
- Then there is the dramatic quality of his poems
- Donne’s poems are constantly witty and abound in similes, metaphors, conceits, puns and paradoxes which are used to prove a point in a logical manner, to reason and draw conclusion.
- Donne draws his imagery from a wider range of subjects than the stock images of courtly love poets.
- His love poetry departs from the idealised views of love and woman typified by the Elizabethan courtly poetry.
Donne’s originality lies in his rejection of standard poetic forms and language and the attitudes of the courtly world. His tone is not tender or reverential, but often self- confident and sceptical, even cynical.
John Milton: Paradise Lost
Satan is speaking in this sort of soliloquy. Satan who was called Lucifer, repeals after the fall from heaven. He and the other fallen angles ribald against God and God, who is Sovran and who can command everything, has chosen to punished them. After the fall Satan, who’s name means enemy (of God) has recovering his energy and he is speaking. He greeting the new place, but he is shocked in seen the darkness of hell, the place where he is be thrown by God. This place is terrible but here Satan and the other fallen angels are the better. Infact in heaven they are equal to God in reason but God is superior to all the angels for strength, but Satan sees God as a titan, full of energy and strength. Satan tries to react the situation: he greets hell, the place is describe in more details. Is full of darkness, it don’t have light; here there are some antithesis/contrast between god and angels, heaven and hell, light and darkness.
The hell is the place farthest and profoundest. Satan asks hell to receive his new guest (Satan and the other fallen angels), which are person who has a beautiful mind (the same of God). Their mind cannot be change by the place or by the time where there are, so Satan can change heaven into hell and hell into heaven. The hell is a place so ugly and terrible that nobody wants stay here and God cannot sent away them from here and so in hell they can reign. Satan say that is better reign in hell that be servant in heaven; he tell to the other fallen angels to collect all their energy and look for the other fallen angels and share with them whatever there is in this place.
Satan try to recompose them into an army, into a new society to see what they can do in hell. Satan is not discourages but he shows a lot of courageous and recover all his energy. He wants to recreate a society in hell.
Satan has the typical features of an epic hero: has noble origin (is an angel); has great courage; great energy and reason; he does not give up and fight till the end; he also has a great passion, he is a lover of freedom and he reflects Milton himself because Milton love to be free too.
After Satan soliloquy another fallen angels called Beelzebub answers to Satan. He calls summon the other fallen angels who are frightened in hell. Satan’s firm voice is as a sign in battle for the other fallen angels; with Satan’s voice they will soon resume their courage and revive (came back to life) because now they are shocked, terrified and prostrated in hell, which is represented as a big lake of fire, because of the terrible fall (of 9 days and 9 nights).
John Milton: Sonnet XVII: On his blindness
Milton wrote twenty-three sonnets, five of which are in Italian. The date of composition of Sonnet XVII, is uncertain; it was probably written much earlier than its date of publication (1673).
The sonnet has a classical language, elevated style, full of rhetorical expression and Enjambement. English Sonnet could have the turning point in different position while Petrarchan sonnet has the turning point in 8 and 9 lines. This is a Petrarchan one.
In this sonnet Milton is considering his situation: Milton is afraid because his blind don’t premise his gift to use his intelligence. Here there is a picture of a stern creator, seen as a king who has a lot of servant and who is demanding something by them. The theme of a demanding God is taken from “The authorized version of the Bible”.
William Congreve: the way of the world
The way of the world was the last comedy written by Congreve. It is very difficult to summarise the plot of the play because it is complex and full of intrigues. However, the main story line concerns Mirabell’s love for Millamant and his desire to marry her.
This extract consists of a private conversation between Millamant and Mirabell. If we divide the names of the two characters up, we will obtain words of Italian and Latin derivation which give us clues as to the personality and role of the characters themselves. Mill-Amant⇒ who have a thousand of lovers; Mira-Bell ⇒ who is very beautiful.
The two characters are talking about love and marriage in general and about their own future married life.
The civil war and the Restoration
The historical context
In 1625 throne passed to Charles I who shared his father’s conviction that he was king by divine right. During his reign, he ruled the country as an absolute monarch causing great hostility in Parliament.
This conflict between King and Parliament resulted in Civil War in 1642. During the conflict, the Catholics, the gentry and the aristocracy in general became Royalist while the professional and mercantile classes in urban areas sided with Parliament.
Cromwell was also the man responsible for the execution of Charles I in 1649. Monarchy was abolished and the English royal family went into exile. A republic was instituted in London with the name of the Commonwealth. Cromwell became its Lord Protector thanks to his military strength and remarkable personality. But on his death the Commonwealth collapsed and monarchy was restored.
King vs Parliament
The King had inherited from his father the theory of monarchy by divine right; he believed that the king was ordained by God to rule and was not responsible to any earthly power.
In 1625, Charles imposed taxation without parliamentary consent, which made him very unpopular. In 1628, Parliament presented the famous Petition of Rights, in which the two most important points were:
- No taxes should be levied without Parliament’s approval;
- No one should be imprisoned except on a formal and justifiable charge.
Charles I was a sincere Anglican, but he disliked persecution. Under the influence of the queen, a French Catholic princess, he did not enforce the penal laws against English Catholics. The Puritans in the House of Commons mistook his tolerance for compromise with the Catholics.
When it became apparent that the Commons meant to limit monarchic authority, the House of Lords sided with the king. In 1642 a Parliamentary Army was created and the Civil War broke out.
At the end of the war, Charles was tried but he refuses to answer the charges on the grounds that no court had the authority to try him. He was executed in January, 1649.
Monarchy was restored in 1660, but on the conditions imposed by Parliament. Charles II had to re-establish the supremacy of the Anglican Church and demand an oath of allegiance from Nonconformist and Catholics.
The social context
During the reign of Charles I, English society was strongly affected by religious differences. The Anglicans practised the religion of the Church of England. Nonconformist and Dissenters belonged to groups that had separated from Anglicanism, as had the Puritans. Catholics were very much distrusted and feared for their tendency to intrigue.
The Puritans had been elected to Parliament by landowners, by the emerging wealthy middle classes and by all those who dislike absolute monarchy. They became the leaders of the opposition to the Crown. During the Commonwealth, Cromwell, who was a Puritan squire, enforced a strict moral code. All kinds of innocent recreations as well as drunkenness and licentiousness were suppressed. The London playhouses were closed by Act of Parliament in 1642.
During the reign of Charles II, London was a large town of about 300000 inhabitants. In 1665 and 1666 two catastrophes, the plague and a fire, hit the city. The plague killed about a third of its inhabitants. It affected mainly the poor. After the pestilence a terrible fire destroyed most of the oldest section of London. This destruction proved to be a blessing in disguise. It razed to the ground the worst slums of the ancient city which was rebuilt.
Throughout the century emigrants went to the new world. Some groups of settlers were looking for religious freedom, like the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620. But the ordinary colonist was drawn overseas by the prospect of obtaining the land that he could not have at home as a consequence of enclosure. The new colonies, in New England, Virginia and Maryland soon began to develop their own characteristic and feel their isolation from the affairs of Europe.
The restoration Theatre
The London theatres, which had been closed down by the Puritan government in 1642, were officially opened again in 1660 when the monarchy was restored in England.
The restoration playhouse was quite different from the Elizabethan one. It was an indoor theatre lit with candles. The auditorium faced the stage; the actors played in front of the audience and were not surrounded on three sides as in Elizabethan playhouse. The audience sat in galleries and boxes as well as in the pit. The audience was a cross-section of contemporary society. All social classes watched the same performance nut sat in different areas of the theatre. Down in the pit sat a mixed crowd of different social background.
One important innovation of the Restoration theatre was the introduction of actresses to play female roles that in the past had always been played by boys or young men.
The actors are ordinary people not heroes. There are three type of actors: Gallant (who is the likely lover); Fop (who is the unlikely lover) and a Heroine (a common lady, belong to middle class, that has a meaningful name). The stile of acting is very naturalist and realistic. The restoration playhouse had a great influence from France dramatist who inspired the heroic place.