Date of Thesis

Spring 2021


This thesis explores the different ways in which either dualistic or monistic points of view are represented in select works of William Shakespeare, John Donne, and John Milton. I am relying principally on the broad definition of dualism Ioan Couliano utilizes in his book The Tree of Gnosis. Per Couliano, dualism is not necessarily a discrete tenet of a systematized belief; rather, he means by the word to indicate an intellectual tendency toward splitting certain complex ideas—body and soul, God and man, evil and its opposite, etc.—into separate, sometimes opposing parts. This in contrast to monism, which brings into philosophical symbiosis the constituent parts that the dualist would subdivide. My cumulative argument is that an ages-old all-abiding religious monism became, in the early modern era, a scientism that would eventually equal in power and influence the church at its widest-spread and most energetic; scientistic monism, absent the mitigative presence of a considered dualism, has repeatedly led the world into catastrophe. I have chosen Shakespeawre, Donne and Milton as case studies because they are the most broadly recognizable and frequently read English language poets about whom one can meaningfully say one thing or another regarding the monism-dualism debate.

Shakespeare uses magic as a stand-in for dualism in The Tempest, at the end of which the character abjures dualistic thought in favor of a monism that will allow him to return to society. King Lear, on the other hand, is a play so riddled with misfortune that one may conclude that the material world itself is inherently evil; Shakespeare explores this idea to its ultimate conclusion, which is a sort of general nihility.

John Donne, on the other hand, was solidly a dualist. This position is clearest in his poems and longer prose pieces, and more complicated in his sermons.

Throughout Paradise Lost John Milton rehearses a revolutionary monism that encompasses a satire of dualistic themes. Milton’s revolutionism, expressed during an era of political calamity and waning church influence, was at that point the clearest-yet sign of an emerging monomyth—a monism—as all-encompassing as Western Christianity, but of a distinctly non-religious character.

We see, then, in moving from the exploratory Shakespeare through the conflicted Donne and into the confidently immanentist Milton, the shift from one kind of monism—that based on the hegemonic power of the Christian church—into another based on scientific induction, which essentially pastes over religious dogma with a faith-based scientism.


Shakespeare Donne Milton Dualism Hermeticism Renaissance

Access Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Fr. Paul Siewers

Second Advisor

Dr. Jean Peterson

Third Advisor

Dr. Peter Groff