Refiguring the donna angelica and rewriting Petrarch in Shakespeare's sonnets

A. D. Cousins*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Especially in one respect throughout his sonnets, Shakespeare's speaker imagines the Petrarchan discourse of love anew: by refiguring the topos of the donna angelica. In some of the initial 126 sonnets he portrays an aristocratic, transgendered male version of the donna angelica who precariously embodies grace, and whom we therefore discern to have an ambiguous relationship with the concept, at once moral and aesthetic, of grace deployed for example by Castiglione and Della Casa. In some of the so-called Dark Lady sonnets thereafter, Shakespeare's speaker more negatively reconstitutes the donna angelica toposimaging a desacralized female object of desire in terms of grace profaned, connecting her with concupiscence and with akrasia. He implies that the experience of love has exiled him from his normative understanding of who and what he should be, amplifying the power of sexual desire via allusion to the sovereignty of the Alexandrian Cupid.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-279
Number of pages25
JournalEnglish Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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