Danger and discourse

Lynne Magnusson

in The Oxford Handbook of John Donne

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

Danger and discourse

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



Dangers of all kinds, and especially the dangers inherent in many different forms of discourse and communication, were rarely far from Donne's mind. Donne's elegies and satires not only abound in risk-taking language, but they also frequently intimate the danger of various situated forms of speech and writing. Donne's letters and other prose reflections provide considerable evidence of how often his thoughts turned to the dangers associated not only with linguistic interaction but also with the circulation of written texts. Donne is clearly fascinated by the exercise and effects of print censorship. Donne's strong tendency is to characterize communication as bound up with danger, but state and religious authorities are by no means the sole agents of threat in the risk-filled arena of linguistic interaction. Donne's word ‘misinterpretable’ is itself teasingly misinterpretable. However, seriously Donne took the dangers of ‘misinterpretable’ words; he also made them his chief poetic resource.

Keywords: discourse; danger; poetic resource; John Donne; risk-taking language; misinterpretable; linguistic interaction

Article.  5956 words. 

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

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