The epithalamion

Camille Wells Slights

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 epithalamion

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



The wedding song, popularly known as epithalamion, is the focus of this article. Today Renaissance epithalamions or wedding songs appear distinctly odd and John Donne's odder than most. Although weddings are social events rather than purely private experiences, our culture valorizes weddings as individualized expressions of personal romantic love. By contrast, early modern wedding poems seem conventional and impersonal. While poetic or musical compositions produced for particular weddings are now relatively rare and almost invariably gifts from family or close friends, in early modern England most serious poets produced epithalamions for the weddings of social and economic superiors from whom they sought patronage. Although the tradition of wedding poetry reaches back to biblical and classical literature and flourished in sixteenth-century Italy and France, in his Epithalamions, Donne uses a fashionable genre to fulfil its traditional function of celebrating the intersection of the personal and the communal.

Keywords: wedding songs; epithalamion; Renaissance; culture; romantic love; classical literature

Article.  5063 words. 

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

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