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Home > Research > Publications & Outputs > ‘The art of salvation is but the art of memory’
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‘The art of salvation is but the art of memory’: soul-agency, remembrance and expression in Donne and Shakespeare

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Published

  • Kathleen Mary O'Leary
Publication date2007
Number of pages386
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisor(s)/Advisor
Date of Award31/01/2007
Place of publicationLancaster
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This thesis examines how the dislocation of old beliefs in post-Reformation England affected perceptions of the soul in the work of Donne and Shakespeare. The introduction, using Augustinian discourses on the tri-partite soul, explores how the soul is imagined in post-Reformation England. Current debates on interiority, the climate of anxiety that surrounds religious upheaval, historical readings of the composition of the soul and the problems of its actual representation on the page and stage are discussed. The patterning of Augustine‟s tri-partite model of Reason, Will and Memory is examined, and the regenerative power of concordant Memory that can bind together a harmonic trinity is offered as a solution to the fractured soul.
The first part of the thesis concentrates on writings that represent Donne‟s anxieties over the fate of the soul as he contemplates conversion from Catholicism to the new religious order. Chapter One is an enquiry into his unpublished works from 1601 to 1611 and examines the idea of the wandering soul, from The Progresse of the Soule, to the Divine Poems and finally to the redeemed soul seen in the form of Elizabeth Drury in the Anniversaries. In this chapter, I argue that Donne is searching for an alternative Marian aesthetic as he leaves behind his Catholic past, a new image of divine intercession for the Protestant world that might offer him comfort and a route to salvation.
Chapter Two explores his very public sermons after he enters the ministry until his death. Here, a pattern of redemption is argued through the salvic properties of the living Word of the sermon that is relayed through the performative power of the preacher. The preacher‟s working space and the power of the Word to viscerally transform the congregation are central here to the soul‟s salvation.
The second part examines how Shakespeare explores the „journey‟ of the soul through a selection of his plays, but where the limits of genre impose restrictions on Shakespeare‟s development of an image of redemption. Chapter Three examines the wandering soul in The Merchant of Venice and Othello. Through the trope of marriage, the fate of the souls of Jessica and Othello are explored as they find themselves marginalized in an inhospitable Venice, while their pasts have been forgotten in the attempt to convert to Christianity. Chapter Four explores the use of the female character as an image of Memory that can generate hope, reading Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Cordelia in King Lear as “soul agents”, whose beneficence can bring about redemptive change. However, the thesis argues that the genre of tragedy examined here limits the soul agent.
Chapter Five argues for an alternative genre that opens up the possibilities for the successful portrayal of the soul agent. In the romance plays, the representation of the soul can be seen working successfully to a redemptive conclusion. Romance dramas foreground their slippages in plot and take us into dreamscapes at the centre of which is an essential female influence. Marina in Pericles, Perdita in The Winter‟s Tale, Innogen in Cymbeline and Ariel/Miranda in The Tempest provide a link with Donne‟s presentation of the soul as female in the Anniversaries.
Both Donne and Shakespeare suggest the idea of the female in literature as a redemptive figure, away from earlier discourses on the soul that finds itself at the mercy of epistemological wrangling. Donne and Shakespeare re-instate that sacredness and place it within art as an image of Memory, a vital component of Augustine‟s tri-partite soul, but also as an active and vibrant image of possibility