John Donne’s Satires and the Precariousness of Masculine Self-Control
This chapter engages the central criterion of patriarchal masculinity. Criticism has often discussed Donne’s satires as depicting apparent struggle with a moderate via media between extremes. Yet this moderation cannot be easily described in terms of patriarchal or anti-patriarchal values. Donne’s satires arguably express doubt in the efficacy of masculine self-control to achieve advancement—a contrast to works that emphasised how decorum and restraint were thought to be socially advantageous virtues. Indeed, the five satires show that self-control is ultimately beyond reach for both the satirist and his targets, whether in the street or at court. On the other hand, such misgivings hardly amount to a systematic critique of patriarchal standards. Rather, Donne’s descriptions of uncontrolled men can be seen as ‘anti-patriarchal’ only in the limited sense that they waive any belief in moderate masculinity to achieve ulterior goals—career, social attachment and so on. Even when Stoic imperturbability is invoked, it is ironically undermined and revealed to be a mere device to reinforce the speaker’s sense of indignation. Thus, self-control is ultimately exposed as a hollow gesture in the face of adversity.