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John Donne and the Art of Adaptation

Anne Faulkner Cothran

John Donne is often depicted as one who abandoned the Roman Catholicism of his youth to conform his faith and practice to emergent Anglicanism. However, recent revisionist scholarship demonstrates that the majority of the English populace did not conform or convert to the reformed Church of England. Rather, they gradually adapted to the evolving religious environment in which they found themselves. John Donne was one of those who adapted. He was not a reformer and he did not strictly conform, but he did adapt. This essay explores Donne's adaptation by concentrating on his poetry, in particular, the "Holy Sonnets," "The Litany," and "The Cross." In Donne's poetry, one can see evidence of the process by which Donne blended old habits and new practices and brought together Catholic beliefs and practices with their Protestant expression, thus creating his own way of being an English Christian.

 
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