Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The purpose of this study is to show that some aspects of Browning's satire clarify his use of tradition by indicating his readiness to appropriate and adapt satiric forms of ancient origin to his own poetic purposes. A main focus on religious, aesthetic, and satiric elements in Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day leads to a comparison of this poem with the Satyres of John Donne that were written in the tradition of formal verse satire. Similarly, the later poem With Bernard de Mandeville is compared to Mandeville's The Fable of the Bees and the tradition of Menippean satire. These comparisons reveal common factors related to structural design and patterns of though that suggest Browning's close identification with both Mandeville and Donne, and his reliance upon the satiric methods they employ in their works.;The study considers the classical background of the formal verse satire of the Renaissance to show that its typical semi-dramatic form and harsher sort of satire is a legacy of two traditions--the ancient Roman satura, and the Greek "satyr" play. Donne retains the methods of the ancients, but creates his own version of Christian satire by depicting a speaker whose role of satirist is transformed by his growing awareness of an existential reality that demands an arduous struggle toward Truth. Formal verse satire lost favour among eighteenth-century poets who were striving for harmony in numbers, a trend well illustrated by Pope's versifications of two of the Satyres; nor was the tradition revived in the nineteenth century when critics maintained that the high status of poetry should not be impaired by invective. Yet a review of Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day suggests that Browning is looking back to the Satyres in his portrayal of a narrator whose process of religious experience is dependent upon his response to God's occult ways as much as to events in the natural world.;The Menippean satiric tradition, as reflected in The Fable of the Bees, offers Browning the means of rejecting a philosophus glorious figure, or the intellectual pedant who recognizes man's finite nature before God, but lacks the imaginative capacity to retain faith in a divine order where evil is coexistent with good. With Bernard de Mandeville confirms Browning's adherence to a theory of poetics based upon the idea that "Art may tell a truth obliquely," and it also gives assent to a concept of progression through time that allows for the changes and growth that are essential to the development of the individual soul, as well as to the cultural advancement of mankind.



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