Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Anna K. Nardo


John Donne's verse letters to Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford, are more than static hyperbolic praise to a patroness interchangeable with any other patroness. Rather, they are viable and personal means by which Donne creates and sustains a friendship. Through the five verse letters examined in this dissertation, "Reason is the soules left hand," "You have refin'd mee," "T'Have written then," "To the Countesse of Bedford At New-yeares Tide," and "Honour is so sublime perfection," Donne rhetorically demonstrates his understanding of and ability to function within the various contexts of Bedford's life. Using the accepted view of the epistolary form as a true representation and even extension of an essential self, Donne rhetorically inserts himself into Bedford's world through the verse letter. Then, empowered as author and "creator" of their relationship within the microcosm of the verse letter, Donne manipulates their relative positions within the letter, drawing Bedford closer to himself within this microcosm, and ideally, in the larger world of court. He demonstrates his ability to function within the Countess's courtly world by framing his verse letters to the concerns of his patroness's personal life and court career, utilizing methods expounded by Castiglione in his advice to the courtier. One such concern is the maintenance of the fiction of an idealized court society while dealing with the often sordid realities of court life. Donne explores these contradictory aspects of "being" and "seeming" in the Jacobean court in general and in that court. Because the subject of the letters is the growing relationship between Donne and his patroness, as well as the interdependence and relative worth of client and patron(ess) within the complex Jacobean patronage system, the letters serve as metacommunicative links between Donne and Bedford. Their intermediary form mirrors their subject, the necessity of intermediaries for court success. Even after Donne's relationship with the Countess cooled somewhat as Donne took Holy Orders and gave up his pursuit for courtly success, his search for patronage did not cease, but he continued to seek both secular and spiritual rewards.