Writing new rites: John Donne's and John Milton's elegies as mourning ritual
In this study, I read John Donne's The Anniversaries and John Milton's Lycidas in the context of the changing funeral and mourning ritual since the Reformation and England's turn to Protestantism, approximately begun in the 1540s. In Donne's Anniversaries, I find that he is exploring how the body can sign spiritual health or sickness, as well as negotiating how the dead (body and spirit) might be exemplum for the living. I argue that this negotiation is particularly Protestant in that the body, despite conventional notions about Protestantism's tendency to privilege the soul, is still important in divining the quality of the soul. In Lycidas, the speaker's concern for the dead body of Lycidas is striking, although as an imagined absence/presence, rather than as a spokesperson for the soul. I argue that Milton's Lycidas, although attempting new Protestant mourning rites, also exhibits reluctant continuity with some of the funeral and mourning rituals that were practiced before the Reformation in England, such as the obit, a ceremony where funeral services were repeated on the anniversary of death (or burial), including an empty casket. This thesis works to challenge typical periodization, as it is possible to see funeral and mourning rituals continue in these early modern elegies.
Duran, Purdue University.
British and Irish literature
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