The problem

Michael W. Price

in The Oxford Handbook of John Donne

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780199218608
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 The problem

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This article discusses the idea of problem in literature with special reference to John Donne. The generic history of the ‘problem’ began with ancient Greek problemata literature, including various collections descending from the school of Aristotle, to who traditionally are attributed books of problems: questions cum answers about health, physiognomy, and numerous other puzzlements, including moral and legal issues, possibly used as schoolbooks for medical and other kinds of education. Along with many Peripatetic traditions, including the related genre of the dialogue, this form of questions and answers was preserved through late antiquity and into the Christian era, mainly for education. Donne's nineteen Problems, written during the first Jacobean decade, are a satirical, subversive version of the genre, using irony and dissimulation, providing both entertainment and opportunities to collaborate. To conclude, Donne reinvented the genre of the Problem, crafting a double voiced message: superficially innocuous recreations of curious import.

Keywords: literature; problem in literature; Jacobean; Jacobean decade; generic history; Peripatetic traditions

Article.  3001 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800) ; Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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