Dissertation Index

Author: Kim, Jung-Jin

Title: A Barthesian Analysis of Britten's The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Op. 35

Institution: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Completed: December 1996


In this dissertation I examine the narrative of Britten's The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Op. 35, applying the techniques of textual analysis explicated in Roland Barthes's S/Z. Of the five narrative codes in S/Z (hermeneutic, semiotic, symbolic, proairetic, and referential), I apply only two: proairetic and hermeneutic. The proairetic code is associated with action(s) that form a narrative sequence, while the hermeneutic code explicates enigmas comprising the expectation and desire for the solution of these enigmas.

Traditionally, text has been seen as a message, coded by the writer and decoded by the reader. For Barthes, it is the reader who "codes" the text and who writes it using codes. That is, according to Barthes, the reader is no longer a consumer, but a producer of text. Barthesian textual reading can be considered "atemporal" in that he uses step-by-step, moment-by-moment, lexia-by-lexia reading. In this way, the Barthesian method applies multiple meanings of the text within each lexia. I utilize this method to analyze Donne's sonnets: however, I focus mostly on the linear narrativity of the cycle.

This linearity can best be examined using the two codes noted above. I find two actions in the proairetic code in Donne's spiritual journey as viewed by Britten: captivity and regeneration. In each lexia I find not only various combinations of these two codes but also ten hermeneutic morphemes. These ten morphemes are thematization, proposal, formulation of the enigma, promise of an answer, partial answer, snare, equivocation, jamming, suspended answer, and disclosure.

Donne's Holy Sonnets does not have an authentic ordering. In fact, Britten posits his own ordering and narrative of Donne's nine sonnets. Through his reordering of the nine sonnets in his song cycle Britten establishes a large-scale emotional pattern of spiritual process, creating a sequence from sickness and alienation to union with God and the final conquering of death.

Even though some scholars have demonstrated the application of Barthesian codes to music, to date none has touched upon twentieth-century music. This dissertation, for the first time, demonstrates the application of Barthesian codes to contemporary music.

Keywords: Roland Barthes, Benjamin Britten, John Donne, Holy Sonnets, Narrativity, Narrative Code, Hermeneutic Morpheme, Lexia, Textual Analysis, Song Cycle


Chapter I: The Hermeneutic Code

Chapter II: Fear and Hope: Songs Nos. 1-2

No.1 ("Oh my blacke Soule")
No.2 ("Batter my Heart")

Chapter III: Self-Examination: Songs Nos. 3-5

No.3 ("O might those Sighes and Teares")
No.4 ("Oh, to vex me")
No.5 ("What if this present")

Chapter IV: Seeking Grace: Songs Nos. 6-9

No.6 ("Since she whom I loved")
No.7 ("At the round Earth's imagined corners")
No.8 ("Thou hast made me")
No.9 ("Death, be not proud")

Chapter V. Conclusion



Jung-Jin Kim
#398-19 Hwagok dong, Kangseo ku
Seoul, Korea (157-018)

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