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‘This subtile wreath’: the significance of hair in John Donne’s ‘The Relique’ and an example of seventeenth century hair lace by Amy Norton

This essay explores the significance of hair in John Donne’s ‘The Relique’ and an example of hair lace from the early seventeenth century. Whether given in courtship or threaded into a widower’s button, hair is an integral part of expressions of love and remembrance in the seventeenth century, depicted in verse and incorporated into sentimental tokens. While a lock of hair could be offered as a sign of eternal devotion, relics of the body and of human hair in burial rituals underwent censure, regarded as examples of superstitious idolatry along with intercessory prayers for the deceased. Donne’s ‘The Relique’ explores faith and doubt in a context of ‘misdevotion’. ‘The Relique’ and the lace bracelet’s use of human hair represent a desire to memorialise the body separate from institutionalised religious practices.

Date created: 
Monday, June 21, 2021
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‘This subtile wreath’: the significance of hair in John Donne’s ‘The Relique’ and an example of seventeenth century hair lace by Amy Norton, All rights reserved.
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