Themes of religion and sex in John Donne’s “The Flea”

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   In John Donne’s “The Flea”, he uses the idea of a flea to persuade a woman to have sex with him. The importance of the first two stanzas is seen in how Donne uses metaphysical poetry to touch upon the themes of sex and religion.

     In the first stanza Donne’s opens up with “Mark but this flea, and mark in this,/ How little that which thou deniest me is;/Me it  sucked first, and now sucks thee,” (Donne 1373). It is evident that Donne is trying to use the flea as an example to convey how the woman has denied him something so small similar to that of a flea. Donne’s persuasion becomes more clearer when he introduces the flea as a bond between the two because it has bitten them both “And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;” (Donne 1373). Here their bond is validated through Donne’s eyes because it has bitten them both, also this shows the metaphysical theme through the flea. Donne was known for his metaphysical poetry which takes something so small such as a flea, that seems so small and irrelevant to prove a point to the woman by saying “Thou know’st that this cannot be said/A sin, or shame, or loss of maidenhead,/Yet this enjoys before it woo.”(Donne 1373). To further explain, it is clear he is trying to seduce the woman into having physical relations, so much that he chooses the smallest irrelevant object to prove as an example. The flea here is presented so that his comparison of sex involving the two of theme mixing, in the same way that the flea mixes their blood. He goes on to validate his point with it cannot be said that the flea is a sin for doing that, and so it “swells with one blood made of two,/ And this alas, is more than we would do.” (Donne 1373), which clarifies how the flea’s ability to become pregnant exceeds what Donne is trying to do with the woman.  Donne uses the metaphysical idea of the flea as a bond between them to persuade the woman into having sex with him and to prove that the thing she has denied him could be as simple as a flea bite. As he continues on, he uses religion to validate why she should not kill the flea, that now represents their bond.

            The second stanza reiterates religious tones when he asks her to spare three lives in the lines “Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,” (Donne 1373). Here Donne’s language of three lives reiterates the idea of abortion because by killing the flea, she would now have killed the baby flea. This was a very creative way in restoring some religious views of abortion. Many of his religious tones are represented within this stanza, as he identifies the flea to represent their “marriage bed and marriage temple” and goes onto to explain that even “Though parents grudge, and you, we are met,/ And cloistered in these living walls of jet./” To further analyze, Donne explains how the woman and her family’s strong religious views shield her like that of a convent or monastery. Although the woman strong religious views “make you apt to kill me,” meaning deny him sexual gratification, Donne plays on the theme of religion. He says “Let not to that, self-murder added be,/ And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.” (Donne 1373). To explain further, the last two lines show how Donne plays on her strong religious practices religious where he explains how in killing the flea she would be committing three sins in killing herself, him, and the newly developed baby flea. This marks as Donne’s best line because here he uses religion as a way of persuasion to explain how she would be committing three major sins. At a time when religion was a serious matter, the idea of suicide, abortion, and murder tones help reiterate Donne clever ability to intertwine religion within a metaphysical idea of a flea.

   All in all, Donne’s metaphysical poetry in explaining the bond of the two within a flea goes to reiterate how he uses religion to persuade a woman into sex, and the importance of how he intertwines two major themes, religion and sex within the physicality of a flea.

Edmund’s soliloquy

 

In Act 1, Scene 2 Edmund’s soliloquy shows how he resents society’s treatment of him because of his status as an illegitimate son of the king. I think Shakespeare’s emphasis on the villain Edmund is similar to Richard III who chose to be the villain due to society’s treatment of him with his deformity, as well as status of lineage and hierarchy. In addition, similarities of Richard III and Edmund as this complex villain in which the audience is supposed to develop some type of pity or sympathy for him is ideally what Shakespeare conveys in his plays. What was very interesting was Shakespeare’s use of “natural” versus “man-made”, similar to the first scene in act one where they began talking about King Lear’s illegitimate son and how naughty it was. In Edmund’s lines “Thou, nature, art my goddess. To thy law/My services are bound.” (1.2.1-2).  Also, within Edmund’s soliloquy Edmund describes that he was conceived out of true love or rather “lust” and that constitutes him as far more worthy than his brother Edgar. The state of a child and the process of labeling if the child is worthy or not through conception is an underlined tone of Shakespeare to convey that not all bastards are evil, and that marriage does not constitute everything right. I think Shakespeare also captures such a conflicting moment for Edmund himself, due to the fact that others call him bastard and associate him with the term “low-life”.  It goes to show how society during that time ultimately believed in the institution of marriage or along the lines of it because having illegitimate children was not socially accepted. I think the inner conflict of r Edmund himself believes whether or not his father’s true love for him and how it becomes associated with power.