The sixteenth- and seventeenth-century flourishing of courtesy books and letter manuals in England testifies to a widespread preoccupation with how to style oneself in society. Different kinds of transaction took place under the guise of friendly courtly relations in which both patron and client had their share. This article explores how John Donne ambiguously participated in this cultural process of identity construction. It examines Donne’s subtle encoding of multiple messages in his verse epistles to his patronesses during the so-called Mitcham years (1607-1610), when he was trying to make up for his career failures by entering the widespread transactional system of patronage. His inventiveness in fabricating a double discourse of praises and requests discloses the nature of the social negotiation at work while secretly hinting at Donne’s own intolerance of it. The article shows how his expression of gratitude may be read as double-edged, by exploring Donne's rhetorical ingenuity in weaving his own restiveness into conventional pieces of compliment.
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