The controversial treatise

Graham Roebuck

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 controversial treatise

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)



This article discusses the controversial treatise during the lifetime of John Donne. Few inhabitants of Europe were unaffected by the confessional turbulence of Christendom. Popes, emperors, monarchs, religious orders, secular governments, legal institutions, scholars: these initiated, or were drawn into, both wars of words and of military engagement. It is appropriate that the opening sentence of Donne's dedication of Pseudo-Martyr to King James I introduces a martial simile: ‘As Temporall armies consist of Press'd men, and voluntaries, so doe they also in this warfare, in which your Majestie hath appear'd by your Bookes’. The controversial treatise, a serviceable genre, disputes any body of knowledge for which there exists a more or less acknowledged orthodoxy: scientific, philosophical, theological, and so on. This genre flourishes where competing bodies of belief confront each other. Its fundamental characteristics to demonstrate superior, corrective knowledge, or belief, and to denigrate flawed or misleading understanding.

Keywords: treatise; controversial treatise; orthodoxy; philosophical orthodoxy; theological orthodoxy; Christendom; corrective knowledge

Article.  7230 words. 

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

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