Petrarchan Reform and Reform of Petrarch in Early Modern England
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AbstractDiscussions of Petrarchism in early modern English studies often focus on its influence on secular love lyrics, but Petrarch’s Canzoniere also has a religious undertone. Petrarch’s speaker in the in-vita section of Canzoniere focuses on the image of Laura, where he fluctuates between committing to God and committing to the image of Laura. After Laura’s death, Petrarch’s speaker gradually goes through despair in the in-morte section of Canzoniere to learn of his mistake and eventually commit to God. John Calvin, in his Institutes of Christian Religion, points out that a supplicant never definitively knows the state of his election. This uncertainty creates within the speaker a fluctuation between the state of hope for his soul’s salvation and a state of despair at the prospect of the damnation of his soul. Calvin, in his “Sermons on Ezekiel” and in some commentaries on Psalms, points out that God often induces a state of despair within his elects to draw them closer to Him. This dissertation identifies this state of fluctuation between two positions and the necessity of despair as two tropes that Calvinism and Petrarchism share.This dissertation also studies how early modern English poets Anne Lok, Sir Philip Sidney, and John Donne can be perceived simultaneously as Calvinists and Petrarchans. Although Lok’s “Meditations of a Penitent Sinner” apparently appears to have nothing in common with Petrarchism, her sonnet sequence is Petrarchan in nature because it displays the necessity of despair before one commits to God, as well as the fluctuating supplicant. In addition, Donne’s “La Corona” uses the poetic form of rosary poems, which was primarily associated with Roman Catholicism, to display his speaker’s commitment to the reformed doctrines. Furthermore, Sidney’s An Apology for Poetry fails in his endeavor to adapt the poetics that he inherited from medieval Roman Catholic Europe to display the undertones of Calvinist doctrines. Nevertheless, he argues that a poet should inspire virtue among his readers through his poetry. If Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella is read according to this directive, then the only reading of Astrophil and Stella that makes sense is to read Astrophil as a reprobate. Donne’s speaker in his “Holy Sonnets” is both Petrarchan and Calvinist because the speaker fluctuates between the positions of hope and dejection in his spiritual journey and must experience despair to eventually commit to God.