Date of Completion


Embargo Period



literature, Renaissance, medieval, Tristan, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Donne, semantics

Major Advisor

Robert Hasenfratz

Associate Advisor

Fiona Somerset

Associate Advisor

Thomas Recchio

Associate Advisor

Jean Marsden

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


This dissertation argues that important modes of self-definition in the Renaissance draw on the linguistic uncertainty in medieval literary constructions of lovers. Just as in Renaissance texts, medieval lovers such as Tristan and Isolde fashion themselves as a “misticall union”: a conglomerate self that shares one mind and erases all distinctions between sender and receiver as well as grammatical subject and object. This unity expresses itself in the lovers’ inexplicable ability to interpret correctly the most arbitrary of messages from one another while misleading those around them. Considering Shakespearean lovers in this context suggests how deeply this model of self-definition and self-abnegation – as well as its foundation in language – penetrated into Elizabethan England and eventually into the work of John Donne. This dissertation explores the social and theological roots of the idea of mystical connections between lovers, as well as the generic conventions that stem from these roots.