The essay

Jeffrey Johnson

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 essay

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



This article explores the literary genre of essay beginning with Michel de Montaigne's Essais. When Michel de Montaigne published Essais, he effectively established a new literary genre. The late Renaissance was not an era lacking literary ingenuity, nor one bereft of literary genres, and Montaigne's contemporaries realized that meaning is determined as much by style as by matter. So, the question that the appearance of Essais raises is this: why would Montaigne, in an age so genre-rich and genre-conscious, reject the established genres and instead create a new one? In addressing this question, we identify the defining characteristics of the essay and thus the criteria for evaluating John Donne's Essayes in Divinity. Far more is unknown about the circumstances surrounding Essayes in Divinity. Donne's essays make Christian religion the matter and the style, the object and the wit. It is a work of biblical hermeneutics, and this exegetical intention affects the subjectivity of the work.

Keywords: essay; Essais; Michel de Montaigne's; literary genre; Renaissance; biblical hermeneutics

Article.  4054 words. 

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

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