Holy Ambition: Rhetoric, Courtship, and Devotion in the Sermons of John Donne

By Brent Nelson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Courtship and the Dispositio of Form

For every thing is made, and governed to an end, and Art is
the rule of the making and governing of things to their end.

— Alexander Richardson316

COURTSHIP PROVIDES DONNE WITH A RICH STRUCTURE for both inventio and dispositio. We have seen that Donne frequendy visits courtship structures for finding and developing the matter of his sermon. Courtship is also frequently an informing principle in his arrangement of his matter, either in the actual disposing of the elements of his sermon, or in his ordering of his audience's values and thoughts regarding the issue at hand.317 With respect to matters of courtship, these two offices of rhetoric are not easily distinguished, since courtship is itself a topos that is characterized by a particular principle of arrangement: hierarchy. Furthermore, this topos achieves its effect largely at the level of dispositio — not only in Donne's arrangement of his sermon's material, but also in his elocutio and in the discursive and emotive patterns his material evokes. Donne uses these same structures to arrange his sermonic matter, both conceptually and materially, so as to lead his congregation to a right orientation toward their proper object of desire.

316 Richardson, The Logicians School-Master. 2nd. ed. (London, 1657), 25, C5.

317 In his article on the dynamic function of Cicero's topics, Donovan Ochs argues that “since the rela-
tionship is the key component, Cicero's loci are capable of providing the architectural structure for
the entire confirmatio or refutatio as parts of an oration” (“Cicero's Topica,” 112). The relational
nature of the courtship topos makes it equally important to both the larger and smaller units of a
sermon's structure.

-117-

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