In his Holy Sonnets, the English Renaissance poet and divine John Donne (1572–1631) gives voice to powerful emotional outbursts. Previous critics have mostly been concerned with the religious context and theological positions of the sonnets. This study rather attempts to isolate the psychological context of the poems by relating them to the early modern discourse on the passions. In order to grasp the pathos of Donne's Holy Sonnets, we need to consider the advice on how to handle violent emotion in such treatises as Thomas Wright's The Passions of the Minde in Generall (1604) and Edward Reynolds's A Treatise of the Passions and Faculties of the Soule of Man (1640).

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