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Coscus, Queen Elizabeth, and Law in John Donne’s “Satyre II”

Gregory Kneidel
Renaissance Quarterly
Vol. 61, No. 1 (Spring 2008), pp. 92-121
DOI: 10.1353/ren.2008.0085
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1353/ren.2008.0085
Page Count: 30
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Coscus, Queen Elizabeth, and Law in John Donne’s
“Satyre II”
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Abstract

This essay argues that John Donne’s “Satyre II” (ca. 1595) has a greater topical relevance to the emergence of the Anglo-American common-law tradition than literary and legal scholars have previously recognized. It makes the case that the villain of Donne’s poem, the poet-turned-lawyer Coscus, may be Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634) and that two female figures in the poem may be Queen Elizabeth (r. 1558–1603). Donne attacks Coke and Elizabeth for their complicity in deploying an antiquated and backward-looking feudal ideal in order to lend prestige to the common law, to enrich the crown and its officers, and to frustrate the dynastic prospects of landholding gentry.

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