The Emergence of the Rakish Character in Seventeenth-Century English Literature


Julia Bowen

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 1-1-2004


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Albert C. Labriola

Committee Member

Joseph J. Keenan

Committee Member

Susan K. Howard


John Donne, John Milton, libertine personae, libertines, metaphysical poetry, rakes, rakish characters, Restoration drama


This dissertation charts the transformation of the libertine persona into the dramatic rakish character throughout the Seventeenth Century. Existing theories that seek to explain the genealogy of the rakish character are incomplete. For they do not take into account the importance of two major events: the closing of the theaters (1642-1660) and, immediately thereafter, the simultaneous emergence of biographical rakes and rakish literary characters. The importance of lyric poetry becomes more apparent when certain limitations are set aside: assuming that "real-life" rakes inspired the character type, looking for the literary precursors of the rakish character in the dramatic genre alone, and dividing the Seventeenth Century into the Early Seventeenth Century and Restoration. A close examination of libertine lyrics in the first half of the Seventeenth Century reveals that the dramatic nature of the Metaphysical libertine lyrics created by John Donne have a strong connection with Restoration drama. Because he originated the characteristics of Metaphysical poetry that result in poems with unique dramatic intensity, the personae in Donne's libertine lyrics anticipate the later rakish characters not only because they are libertines but also because they are engaged in dynamic seduction scenarios with silent but responsive female counterparts. John Donne's libertine personae correlate to the rakish characters in Restoration drama, including Horner in William Wycherley's The Country Wife (1674), Dorimant in George Etherege's Man of Mode (1676), and Willmore in Aphra Behn's The Rover (1677). Likewise, his libertine lyrics anticipate the active and participatory role of the female counterpart to the rakish character in Restoration drama. John Milton created the bridge between poetry and drama in the Seventeenth Century by transposing the persona onto the stage. In A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle (1634), Milton creates a work that is poised between the two genres and thus a character, namely Comus, that is poised between the libertine persona and the rakish character. The development and transposition of the libertine poetic persona to the dramatic rakish character and type become significant cultural and literary phenomena of the Seventeenth Century.





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