Milton and Monotheism by Abraham Stoll (Medieval & Renaissance Literary Studies:Duquesne University Press) Although monotheism is at least as old as he Hebrew Bible, in the seventeenth century it received particular attention among philosophers and rational theologians. Within the writings of such figures as John Selden, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and Henry More, and amid emerging Socinian and deist thought, official religion in England was increasingly defined according to the notion of a single God. In this compelling study—illuminating reading for literary scholars and religious scholars alike—Abraham Stoll examines Milton's poetry in the context of these debates swirling around polytheism and monotheism.
While writing Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes with a keen awareness of monotheism, Milton is faced with serious issues for his narratives. From the classical, polytheistic conventions of the Greek epic tradition, Milton inherits divine councils, invocations, and a cosmic scope; but he is also attempting to represent a God who is omniscient and omnipotent, who resists images and personality, and who thus cannot fit the minimal requirements of plot. Negotiating these problems, Milton's monotheistic narratives must question the Trinity, depict polytheistic gods, and ultimately challenge the notion of revelation itself. Yet monotheism also describes how Milton pulls back from the extremes of rational religion to maintain the revealed God of the Bible, forging a unique version of Christianity.
As Stoll points out, poetry and theology are too often understood separately, which is especially damaging for the study of Milton, whose poems are retellings of biblical stories. Milton and Monotheism demonstrates the profound differences between doctrinal discourse and narrative poetry and how neither is, individually, able to fully represent Milton's monotheism—or, as Stoll says, "a God of flickering subjectivity."
This book's title alludes to Freud's Moses and Monotheism, which may be surprising. Paradise Lost would not seem to have much in common with the thoroughgoing atheism that informs Freud's text. But while Moses and Monotheism is the furthest thing from theodicy, it does offer a version of God, and this version will introduce, in magnified terms, the problems that confront Milton as he attempts to narrate God and his ways.
Following history and his own mythological constructions, Freud asserts that there were not one but two different men named Moses, and not one but two different gods for the Hebrews. The first Moses is a nobleman from the Egyptian court and a priest of the purely abstract and universal god, Aton. The second Moses is the son-in-law of the Midianite priest Jethro, and mediator to the Hebrews of a volcano god, Jahve. In their wandering in the desert, Freud supposes, the two men and the two gods each became one (MM 43). Central to Freud's myth is the way in which the single God of received monotheism splinters into two: Freud uncovers a fundamental "duality" behind monotheism. Explicitly transferring the language and structures of psychoanalysis onto historical process, Freud finds that in monotheism, like the recurrence of a traumatic memory, duality insistently breaks in upon singleness.
The monotheistic God splinters over the problem of abstraction. Freud's Aton is pure abstraction and absolute value: "a single God who embraces the whole world, one as all-loving as he was all-powerful, who, averse to all ceremonial and magic, set humanity as its highest aim a life of truth and justice" (MM 61). But his Jahve, the demon and volcano god, is neither abstract nor ideal, and is therefore not purely monotheistic:
A rude, narrow-minded local god, violent and blood-thirsty, he had promised his adherents to give them "a land flowing with milk and honey" and he encouraged them to rid the country of its present inhabitants "with the edge of the sword." ... It is not even sure that his religion was a true monotheism, that it denied the character of God to other divinities. It probably sufficed that one's own god was more powerful than all strange gods. (MM 61)
Freud rewrites the foundational myth of monotheism, the exodus from Egypt, to embody the insight that the monotheistic God must simultaneously contain both of these contradictory gods. Aton, in his perfect abstraction, is associated with spiritual and intellectual progress, the subordination of the senses to abstract thinking, and with pure monotheism. He is the pure oneness promised by the concept. But Aton alone cannot win the race for survival: first his monotheism fails in Egypt, and then it fails in the desert. Freud describes Aton and the first Moses as "uncompromising," and makes the remarkable assertion that the Hebrews killed Moses as a tyrant (MM 28, 43). The biblical trace of this conflict is the story of the golden calf, where the Hebrews demand of Moses a god that can be seen—the kind of god, like Freud's Jahve, that is not entirely abstract. For it is the ban on images, the impossibility of representing Aton, that Moses' people find so unsatisfactory. There is a psychological need for the concrete, and the monotheistic God only survives by encompassing the limited, material, and potentially polytheistic qualities of Jahve. The monotheistic God's survival depends upon the ability to simultaneously, and paradoxically, be both the abstract Aton and the representable Jahve.
This tension between pure abstraction and the need for concrete divinity is the central disruption felt in monotheistic narrative. The absolute transcendence implied by the concept of the single God, embodied by Freud's Aton, resists representation. So the second commandment, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image" is often read, both grammatically and logically, as a necessary part of the first, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." The abstraction of the monotheistic God, however, is not only threatened by images, but also by concrete language and its tendency to anthropomorphize or limit God. So Maimonides, who is often held up as an exemplar of pure monotheism, devotes the first 40 chapters of The Guide for the Perplexed to refuting literal readings of biblical passages that portray God as corporeal. The inability of human language to adequately portray God leads Maimonides to insist that we cannot assign positive, especially human, attributes to God. The demanding conception of God's unity splinters in language: "Those who believe that God is One, and that He has many attributes, declare the unity with their lips, and assume plurality in their thoughts." As Aryeh Botwinick explains, this negative theology quickly becomes a linguistic matter, as monotheism "emphasizes on both religious and philosophical grounds how none of the adjectives, adverbs, and verbs monotheistic theological texts ascribe to God can be construed literally."
The abstract godhead of monotheism, then, represents an ideal that cannot be realized in language. As Raphael explains, "Immediate are the acts of God, more swift / Than time or motion, but to human ears / Cannot without process of speech be told" (7.176-78). The failure of language to express the godhead, when expanded into an entire story world, becomes a failure in narrative. A figure that resists embodiment in language will also resist the spatial and temporal limitations of a plot, denying the godhead the ability to be present in the narrative. The foundation of these problems is the representation of God. But narrative problems extend also to God's omniscience and omnipotence; the presence in the story world of polytheistic gods; the ontology and actions of angels and the Son; and the possibility of supernatural events such as miracles and revelations. In all of these is found a fundamental disjunction between the monotheistic God and narrative.
However, if monotheism resists narrative, it is also dependent upon it—the Judeo-Christian revelation, after all, is scriptural. The abstraction of monotheism threatens to make God utterly absent from narrative, but such an absence would stifle the narrative's ability to assert monotheism. A purely monotheistic narrative would be utterly silent, and monotheism would have no means of reproduction. In order to tell itself, therefore, monotheism must admit, for the sake of the narrative, that which it excludes doctrinally. Structurally, monotheism tends toward an extreme aniconism, or a position utterly denying the represent-ability of the divine economy. But the abstraction of the monotheistic God is an ideal that cannot survive in the praxis of narrative: monotheism must compromise its tendency toward abstraction in order to make narrative possible. Such compromises are negotiations of what I describe in this study as the narrative problems of monotheism.
In Freud's analysis, the tension between Aton and Jahve is legible in the complexities and contradictions of the narrative. Freud associates the unification of Aton and Jahve with the unification of biblical narrative from its various sources, the Jahwist, the Elohist, and so on (MM 50-54). Attending to source criticism, Freud notices exactly the narratological characteristics that critics such as Erich Auerbach and Robert Alter, also thoughtful about modern biblical criticism, emphasize: "Thus almost everywhere there can be found striking omissions, disturbing repetitions, palpable contradictions, signs of things the communication of which was never intended" (MM 52). The distorted fabric of biblical narrative, sometimes depicting God as utterly abstract, and sometimes, in direct contradiction, depicting him as a volcano god, is precisely what reveals the violence of unification, and the construction of monotheism. Similarly, Auerbach argues that the abstraction of the monotheistic God inflects biblical narrative with "background." When God's disembodied voice calls to Abraham during the binding of Isaac, Auerbach says,
Even this opening startles us when we come to it from Homer. Where are the two speakers? We are not told. The reader, however, knows that they are not normally to be found together in one place on earth, that one of them, God, in order to speak to Abraham, must come from somewhere, must enter the earthly realm from some unknown heights or depths. Whence does he come, whence does he call to Abraham? We are not told. He does not come, like Zeus or Poseidon, from Aethiopians, where he has been enjoying a sacrificial feast. Nor are we told anything of his reasons for tempting Abraham so terribly. He has not, like Zeus, discussed them in set speeches with other gods gathered in council.
Zeus can announce his intentions in council, just as the motives of Athena as she micromanages Odysseus's life are made crystal clear by Homer's foregrounding. But the monotheistic God is so abstract that he cannot participate in council, cannot be present, or foregrounded,`in narrative. The resulting gaps and contradictions, which are noticed by Freud, Auerbach, and Alter, can be read as the markers of the Bible's monotheistic narrative.
Monotheistic narrative, however, cannot be pure background: to have only the elisions and the sense of absence that the abstract godhead creates would be to have no narrative at all. Even a back-grounded narrative needs a certain amount of foreground, as Auerbach's definition of background concedes: "the externalization of only so much of the phenomena as is necessary for the purpose of the narrative." Narrative's minimal requirements— some form of characters, some form of a story world, and some form of plot—call for a foregrounding that the monotheistic godhead, in its abstraction, must resist. Just as Freud's Israelites call for a volcano god instead of the pure abstraction of Aton, narrative demands a God that can be present and concrete.
Monotheistic narrative is not identifiable, therefore, because it adheres strictly to the aniconic demands of the second commandment, but because it visibly negotiates the disjunction between narrative and monotheism. In Milton, such negotiation takes place most compactly in the kind of narrative aporia that Stanley Fish emphasizes. So, for example, Milton describes Adam and Eve's bower by comparing it to the pastoral settings of classical literature:
In shady bower
More sacred and sequestered, though but feigned,
Pan or Silvanus never slept, nor nymph
Nor Faunus haunted. (PL 4.705-08)
The moods and literary associations— the foreground— that gather around these bowers are vast, and Milton takes advantage of them for the sake of his poetry and narrative. But these bowers also have lurking in them polytheistic gods, and these must simultaneously be rejected: "though but feigned" precedes Pan and Silvanus as if to mark them off from the bowers, as if to put them in the background. The repeated "nor" then seems to shift the implication of the phrase from a positive statement about bowers to a denial of polytheistic gods, as if the imperative to reject polytheism finally must outweigh the attractions of the bower. Importantly, Milton does not ignore Pan and the rest. The gods have a presence in the narrative. But they do not have an unchallenged presence, as the poet lands upon the contradictory solution of both allowing and disallowing the polytheism. To be purely monotheistic would be to have little or no narrative at all—without the polytheistic associations, the bower would fade out of the poetry. So Milton negotiates the problem by first allowing the narrative to become polytheistic, and then returning to the doctrinal demands of monotheism. He garners the rich foreground of the gods, and then contains their religious implications by rejecting them as false.
This passage represents in miniature a pattern of transgression and recovery that structures much of Milton's late poetry. The narratives are not monotheistic despite the transgressive moments of polytheism, but rather because of them. For example, Milton surprisingly begins Paradise Lost with rich and detailed descriptions of the gods, pushing the poetry toward the polytheism of epic council. But, as chapter 1 argues, the narrative simultaneously recovers a doctrinal conformity to monotheism by developing the comparative and historical perspectives of the discourse of monotheism, in particular Selden's De diis. The important work done by this flirtation with the gods in book 1 is the demarcation of the border between polytheism and monotheism. Forcing the reader into making an ontological distinction between gods and angels and between truth and falsehood, the infernal council puts at the center of the poem's concerns the question of where monotheism leaves off and polytheism begins.
Such a concern with sorting out ontologies is fundamental to the concept of monotheism itself. Monotheism cannot abide a second God, or a representation of God that is not sufficiently abstract. Confronted with a potentially divine being, therefore, it necessarily launches into ontological calculation. In the face not only of the gods, but also angels, exalted men, representations of God, idols, and even allegorical figures, monotheism's claims for a single God depend upon the rejection of their divinity. The wrong answer in each case leads to the same place as the wrong sense of Milton's "gods": to polytheism. Monotheism, therefore, must be jealous of deity, and must forever patrol its borders— against all forms of the supernatural— to keep polytheism out.
The Egyptologist Jan Assmann gives a name to monotheism's border: the "Mosaic distinction." In Moses the Egyptian, Assmann emphasizes the Mosaic distinction as the essential characteristic of monotheism, and describes it as the foundation of all truth statements: "the distinction between true and false in religion that underlies more specific distinctions such as Jews and gentiles, Christians and pagans, Muslims and unbelievers." Transgression, and the notion of true religion itself, depends upon the Mosaic distinction. And so too does the definition of monotheism, for monotheism is a "counter-religion" that asserts itself only through the repeated dismissing of idols and gods. The skeptical rejection of false or transgressive forms of deity becomes a positive theological statement of monotheism.
In narrative, the dynamic of the counter-religion takes the form of a contradictory inclusion and rejection of polytheism — a pattern of transgression and recovery. Existing always in the process of calculation, which the pattern calls forth, monotheism dwells in a destabilized space, a world that demands skepticism but also faith. And so monotheistic narrative is similarly unstable: vexed by the disjunction between monotheism and narrative, it unfolds through the often contradictory negotiations of that disjunction. Reading Milton's monotheistic narratives, these pages uncover some of the complex ways in which the poet maneuvers between polytheism and monotheism. These often transgressive and contradictory moves are themselves what make his poetry monotheistic, for they work to define the borders of monotheism, and they place the narrative's gaze on the Mosaic distinction.
The discourse of monotheism is of historical importance not because it asserts the concept of a single God for the first time, but rather because it represents a moment when English theologians and philosophers studied the concept with deep attention and care. The nascent comparative perspective that informs such concern with monotheism per se tempers the more ideological pursuit of doctrinal truth. As a result, polytheism gains some toleration, or at least a greater degree of intellectual respectability. In these conditions, the one God cannot be a matter of course, and so undergoes redefinition, for example in debates over the Trinity. Belief in the monotheistic God and monotheistic religion is set off against the comparative construction of polytheism, and the border between polytheism and monotheism increasingly goes up for grabs. In this way, the discourse conceives of monotheism by means of an active engagement with what Assmann calls the Mosaic distinction. This focus on the Mosaic distinction is the conceptual point of contact between the discourse of monotheism and the concerns I outline within monotheistic narrative. The ontological calculations that Milton initiates with the word "gods," and his poetry's further negotiation of the narrative problems of monotheism, become a main expression of Milton's engagement with the discourse of monotheism.
And yet philosophy and poetry do tend to treat monotheism differently. The transgressive quality in monotheistic narrative is not often noticed by the philosophers or theologians who theorize about monotheism. Monotheism conceived in abstraction, rather than in the praxis of narrative, can maintain the abstract godhead, and can therefore distinguish clearly between monotheism and polytheism without the former threatening to slip into the latter. The Mosaic distinction, as Assmann describes its history, is entirely abstract and geometrical: "'Draw a distinction. Call it the first distinction. Call the space in which it is drawn the space severed or cloven by the distinction.' It seems as if George Spencer Brown's 'first law of construction' does not apply solely to the space of logical and mathematical construction. It also applies surprisingly well to the space of cultural constructions and distinction." For the philosophers and theologians considering monotheism, a distinction drawn as cleanly as a line in geometry makes a remarkably precise tool for inquiry. But such disciplines tend not to ask how narrative, unlike a philosophical or theological tract, must have recourse to the other side of the Mosaic distinction. They ignore the problem of representation. Drawn in ink or lead, any line must fall short of geometric perfection. When the Mosaic distinction is carved out in language—in the histories and arguments of theologians as well as the stories of the Bible or Milton's poetry—it becomes particularly jagged. The Mosaic distinction is recognizable in narrative not as a simple dismissal of polytheism, but as a complex negotiation between polytheism and monotheism that continually crosses and recrosses the idealized line of the Mosaic distinction. As the zigs`and zags become smaller they approach a geometrically perfect line—but never arrive at it.
Another recent theorist of monotheism, the philosopher Lenn Evan Goodman, explicitly finds no use for narrative:
I am convinced that it is not because we are incapable of thinking conceptually that the true God eludes our grosser attempts to capture, bottle (or purvey!)—Him, for we think conceptually quite regularly in mathematics and even occasionally in the physical sciences. Rather, I suspect, we are unused to applying conceptual thought in the sphere of religion. The God we miss was the God of Sunday school and Bible tales, and we have not often enough aroused the mind to ponder theology beyond the level of Sunday school images or to study the Bible as other than a collection of tales.
Goodman's work provides brilliant insight into monotheism, and this study especially owes him, and Jan Assmann, a deep intellectual debt. But Goodman, like many philosophers dating back to the deists, marginalizes the telling of tales as mere Sunday school packaging, and so emphasizes idealized categories within monotheism, such as doctrine and belief. Literary critics tend to make the same mistake in reverse, paying attention to the literary qualities of the Bible without enough emphasis on the effects of religious belief. Meir Sternberg registers this complaint against literary readers of the Bible, suggesting that they are "children of the New Criticism," in that they read the Bible as they would any other fictional text, emphasizing a direct encounter with the literary aspects of the text to the exclusion of the text's professions of religious faith. Sternberg instead studies narratological elements that link aesthetics and faith, combining formal poetics with religious belief, as in his suggestive argument for the omniscient narrator of the Bible as a necessary part of the text's monotheism. The concept of monotheistic narrative will, I hope, connect aesthetics and belief in a similar way. Attention to the many demands that narrative makes on our conceptions of God will enable us to steer clear of purely philosophical approaches to monotheism that too often fail to recognize the power of stories. At the same time, monotheism implies a set of intensely felt beliefs that must have an effect on how we tell and interpret religious stories. Monotheism offers a way to describe how religious belief is itself a structuring principal of religious narrative.
Freud uncovers how the most complex workings of monotheism take place precisely in the movement from concept (Atop) to representation (Jahve), and by building on Freud to focus on the role of narrative in constituting monotheism I hope to contribute to what is an increasingly active discussion about monotheism today. Monotheistic narrative, with its potential to combine aesthetics and belief, also seems to be a valuable approach to Milton's late poetry. By rewriting biblical stories, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes bring the reader to the difficult place where religious belief and doctrine intersect with poetics and narrative. Miltonists often read to one side of this place or the other, pursuing Milton's religious beliefs separate from his poetic imagination. This split is felt especially in the longstanding debate about whether De doctrina Christiana should be read as a gloss on Paradise Lost. Monotheistic narrative offers a means of answering this in the affirmative, and adding that Paradise Lost can in turn gloss De doctrina.
Monotheistic narrative, however, places Milton in a uniquely subversive position, for even the most monotheistic of texts struggles over, rather than simply draws, the Mosaic distinction. Indeed, Milton draws the Mosaic distinction by transgressing it, which may suggest why Freud lists Paradise Lost as one of his favorite books. Milton attempts theodicy and Freud something opposite (Assmann calls Freud "the most outspoken destroyer of the Mosaic distinction" ). But even as Milton ultimately does demarcate true monotheistic religion, he and Freud resemble each other in that both cross and recross, both hover around, the Mosaic distinction. While it may be understood as necessary to both monotheism and narrative, Milton's tendency to transgress the Mosaic distinction nevertheless brings him very near to Freud, as well as to the radical subversion of Christianity that emerges with English deism and the Enlightenment. Chapter 4 describes how Paradise Lost was often received as a deist text by the early eighteenth century, while chapters 6 and 7 read Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes as bound up in the Antitrinitarian debates over the divinity of the Son, and in the deist debates over the efficacy of revelation. These later chapters describe the poet as deeply engaged with the issues that matter most to the rational religion of Socinians and deists. They locate Milton within the larger clash between skepticism and faith, and in this way Milton and Monotheism contributes to the current critical effort to understand Milton's eclectic, often heretical religious views. But it should be stressed that Milton's proximity to deism does not imply conclusive agreement: on the contrary, Milton crosses the Mosaic distinction but always returns to the side of Christian truth as revealed in Scripture; his moments of subversion are ultimately contained.
Nevertheless, "monotheism" serves as a name for a set of dynamic positions between skepticism and faith. Botwinick, in a comparison of Maimonides and Hobbes, suggests that skepticism "has at least two 'runs' in Western intellectual history: first as monotheism and then, more explicitly, and self-consciously, as skepticism. The discourse of monotheism may be seen as a subset of the larger and more familiar "run" associated with Descartes and Hobbes, a discourse in which the critical methods of seventeenth century skepticism are applied to theology and the problem of one God." Milton's self-conscious articulation of monotheism invests his narratives with such skepticism. With Milton caught in these forces, we might find Botwinick's description of a Maimonides torn between skepticism and faith to be a fitting description of Milton as well: "I think it makes the most sense to see Maimonides not as an atheist or rejecter of religion, but as someone who desperately wants to believe, who wants to preserve the autonomy and distinctness of revelation in contrast to philosophy, and who in all honesty needs to affirm that philosophy achieves a nearly total overtaking of revelation." This struggle between philosophy and revelation in Maimonides is paradigmatic monotheism. It is precisely such a struggle that Samuel Johnson noticed in Milton.
The Development of Milton's Thought: Law, Government, and Religion by John T. Shawcross (Duquesne University Press) Shawcross's presentation of a Milton whose thought does actually develop and change—albeit with an unbending belief that faith and God supervene—is an essential contribution to Milton scholarship. In addition to its relevance to Milton scholars, the text will be of interest to cultural and church historians, theologians, and students of the seventeenth century.
With this pioneering book, John T. Shawcross debunks a common assumption about what we see in Milton's work: that Milton's views remained unchanged over time. Shawcross systematically analyzes this belief in light of Milton's vocation, social life, politics, and religion, and presents us with a Milton who, indeed, changes his mind.
As Shawcross demonstrates, Milton was a poet, political writer, and theologian whose views developed over a career that lasted almost 50 years. Indeed, one might argue that Milton lived during a transitional period in history and thus exhibits a watershed position as we read his various works.
The one constant in Milton's writing and thought is that of faith in God, but the theology that underlies this unchanging faith—such as his views on the Trinity and God's providence—develops through reflection and adverse experience, often yielding more defined ideas. Shawcross also traces the development of Milton's concepts about political thought, attitudes toward the church, financial matters, the "people," and gender, some of which result in complicated (and often unresolved) issues.
Criticism has frequently viewed John Milton as having a mind that never changed, not over time, not according to any subject, not for any reason. Unrealistic as that view is, it quite often underlies the reading of both his poetry and his prose, as well as whatever biographical correlation might arise. In this study I look at the pertinence of that idea in personal matters, political ideas, religious and theological worlds and beliefs. While some change occurs, a more accurate term for the differences that Milton's mind entertains over time is "development," in this case "conceptual development." I do not find an unchanged mind except and only in his always-present, never-rejected faith in God. There may be some questioning of why life turns as it does, why failures happen and unjustified oppositions succeed, but all things continue for Milton "as ever in [his] great task-maisters eye." God has so provided for humankind—rescuing the faithful even in the height of greatest cataclysm— that all God's ways can be justified. Providence lies in the Son, in the Christ, whose whole being is charity, love, agape. This belief emerges in Milton's earliest days and never subsides; it may, with reflection, with adverse experience, with the rise of unrighteousness in the world, be challenged, but it endures and through such crises becomes stronger, indeed thus "develops." In other venues the development is such that thought and attitudes and externals are changed, yielding different life experiences, other and more definitely defined political thought, attitudes toward the visible church and its administrators, and even basic beliefs in a theology that drives his unchanging faith.
This study follows upon three previous volumes: John Milton: The Self and the World (1993: University Press of Kentucky) offers a wealth of insights into Milton's works. Not attempting to supersede William Riley Parker's two-volume Milton: A Biography as the standard life, Shawcross delves into some of the less explored areas of the poet's career, such as his relationship with Charles Diodati and the liberating effect of the death of Milton's mother. He makes a good case against those who regard Milton as a misogynist and defends the often neglected, sometimes maligned prose writings. When the study examines Milton's psyche, the results are less happy: any careful writer may be viewed as having an anal personality, and the case for homoeroticism remains unproved. Still, except for occasional lapses into Jungian jargon, the book reads well.
"The Arms of the Family": The Significance of John Milton's Relatives and
Associates (2004: University Press of Kentucky) This study looks at two
opposite problems that face literary criticism. Scholarship of the past has
frequently been iterated in the present without analyzing or corroborating
interpretations or supposed "facts." Scholarship of the present may, therefore,
rest on an unacceptable or erroneous basis. On the other hand, scholarship of
the past has often been unknown in the present or just ignored, even though
present-day criticism may be enhanced or developed or achieve greater cogency by
knowledge of past critical evidence. Such matters are pursued here as they
impinge in certain areas of the life and work of John Milton.
is an essential work of scholarship for those who seek a greater understanding of Milton, his family, and his social and political world. The Arms of the Family employs extensive new archival research to scrutinize several misunderstood elements of Milton’s life, including his first marriage and his relationship with his brother, brother-in-law and nephews. Shawcross examines Milton’s numerous royalist connections, complicating the conventional view of Milton as eminent Puritan and raising questions about the role his connections played in his relatively mild punishment after the Restoration.
Unique in its methodology, The Arms of the Family is required reading not
only for students of Milton but also for students of biography in general.
Entire chapters dedicated to Milton’s brother Christopher, his brother-in-law
Thomas Agar, and his nephews Edward and John Phillips, illuminate the domestic
forces that helped shape Milton’s point of view. The final chapters reconsider
Milton’s political and sociological ideology in the light of these domestic
forces and in the religious context of his three major poetic works: Paradise
Lost, Paradise Regain’d, and Samson Agonistes. The Arms of the Family is a
seminal work by a preeminent Miltonist, marking a major advance in Milton
studies and serving as a model for those engaged in family history, social
history, and the early modern period.
Rethinking Milton Studies: Time Present and Time Past (2005: University of Delaware Press), as well as three books devoted individually to the three major poems. I try to present Milton and his thought and attitudes: I do not present my own. I fully recognize that Milton's prose is usually polemic (even his De doctrina Christiana, which should be devoid of real argumentation as an investigation into Christian doctrine drawn from Scripture alone is not entirely without such disputation), and that his poetry, especially Paradise Lost, is fiction. Unfortunately, much criticism of his prose seems to ignore audience and occasion in its argumentation, thus deriving most explicitly what is alleged as Milton's belief. His depiction of God the Father, particularly within the dramatic plot of the epic, seems to represent Milton's theological belief without the least hint of the fictionality of the character, who becomes a kind of allegoric figure. Sin and Death, too, are allegories, and obviously then Satan, as part of his daughter and son's allegory, must also be allegoric. Milton appears to believe in the existence of Satan, adversary to God, but the figure and his actions in the poem are made up, drawn from references in the Bible but still in fictionalized narrative and psychology to explain what human beings experience in life and the world, and why. The Milton that emerges may not always be the model, complete thinker, totally admirable person that centuries of readers have deemed him to be. But I must risk the hostility of my reader and present the less-than-perfect person—rather, the human person—whom I find.
Sadly, it is evident that some readers need to be reminded that translations of the Bible are not always the words and therefore not the meanings of the Bible that they believe were communicated by God. The Hebraic, Aramaic, and such language forms that are the Old Testament and the Greek that is the New Testament do not always appear in the translations—and these erroneous forms often appear in a number of significant places. The same problem occurs with translations of Milton's Latin (and some Greek and Hebrew) in De doctrina Christiana; translations even alter his quotations of the Bible, although such quotations are themselves Latin translations of the original texts. The Jtranslations are not what Milton wrote. In addition, we must remember that the Bible had many transcribers, underwent recessions at different historical times (for example, Isaiah), and at times had words supplied by later writers where disjunctions (omissions) exist in the original received texts (for example, in Luke 10:21, 23:17; John 7:54-8:11).
Milton's theological position in both De doctrina and Paradise Lost is unorthodox; it has some likenesses to various sectarian beliefs, but it is not the same as these beliefs on significant points. It is only logical and accurate, therefore, not to assign Milton a label that is inaccurate for his thinking (for example, Arminian, Arian, Socinian, and even Calvinist). Examined objectively, his theological position can be classified only as individual—though reflecting some Calvinistic, Arminian, Socinian, and what is inaccurately called Arian ideas—and at the same time confused. Is God only God the Father? Does Godhead include the Son? While an orthodox Trinity is denied, does the Holy Spirit enjoy a triunal relationship with the Father and the Son? And if so, what is the full understanding of the Godhead for him? Topics taken up in this study interface frequently, creating, therefore, repetitions of citation and statement. This arises in fitting, as briefly as possible, Milton's work and concepts into those advanced by others during, prior to, and after his own human existence. Again, I am trying to present Milton's beliefs—which show confusion at times—not my own and not any specific theism or deistic principle.
An epitome of what occurred during the seventeenth century, including the change in thinking and attitudes of Milton, with results seen in his two epics, is Debora Shuger's statement: "And it is this shift from social radicalism to interiority that subsequently becomes the governing narrative of the modern epic. Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained thus both reject Milton's earlier revolutionary idealism and subsequent discovery of the saving imagination." What Michael Wilding has seen as Milton's development in Paradise Regain'd that we have observed in chapter 8 is related to this epitome. The development that the mind has undergone is clear from this view: it is a development in political (governmental) thought but also in religious thought. The external world, and its changes or its more incisive understanding, has determined the internal world, leaving faith and leaving imagination with its ultimate pre-view of hope. But that hope is realistically recognized to be a potential failure for the external world, and can be realized only in the individual. Paradise Lost ends with the human couple now embarking on their life's journey, "with wandering steps and slow." The reader—with Milton—should ponder whether the Providence of God that accompanies them will prevail or whether the implication of Satan's presence will frequently dominate. We know from books 11 and 12, at least, that both will occur. In looking over the history of the world as depicted in the Bible—and Milton's full subject in his epic makes books 11 and 12 necessary and basic, certainly no "untransmuted lump of futurity"—Milton had to be discouraged by the Nimrods that will emerge: hope can lie only with the Abrahams or Joshuas. The hope that humankind will follow the example of Jesus, reacting to all the temptations of the world, needs more than imitation: it needs an inculcation of the virtues that are Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man; it needs "deeds / Above heroic," even "though in secret done" (PR 1.14-15). It is not simply obedience that is counseled: it is the achievement of independence of personal worth, an essentiality in one's being. The irony of hope, as Samson Agonistes exemplifies, is that people wait for the deus absconditus to appear and act for them or at least to show them the way (as Samson is interpreted as being shown and doing when he proceeds to the feast of Dagon, "For some important cause"). Yet his act brings no change, and the people continue to await God's not hiding his face and unexpectedly to return. But the renovated Samson has joined the saints: he has done nothing external of true consequence; he has grown internally and essentially. His external act of collapsing the Philistine temple has set up the possible fulfillment of what could be a hope of the people of Dan: escape from Philistine yoke. But to no avail. Has any hope of escape passed their minds? In her interrogation of hope Mary C. Fenton confirms that "hope is bound to both the internal and external, the spiritual and the material. Milton's attention to interiority centers on the individual's hope for the renovating promise of Christian salvation, and yet Milton insists that this hope guides individuals toward exteriority, toward the life lived, toward the actively disciplined and virtuous life." Ironically the Chorus merely waits for the deus absconditus to appear.
I have reviewed some religious problems in chapters 4, 5, and 6 in terms of internalities and externalities and developments in the concepts they induce. The externalities of chapters 2 and 3 have differing effects, for a kind of hypocritical overlay persists in matters of financial concern, in social and economic class stratification, and in meritocracy in government with even a theocratic dimension. While the religious world of belief seems to have changed in a rather full examination, one wonders whether a future would have led to further, similar refractions of doctrine. And what of the sphere of gender and marriage—male/ female, husband/wife? A comparison with most seventeenth century writers puts Milton well ahead in the concern for the status of woman domestically, economically. Yet we have no attention to franchise for women, to empowerment of women in church discipline. In home and personal relationships the alleged misogyny of Milton (seen in Pauline influences as well as in Raphael's inexperienced and thus irrelevant comments) continues to receive critical attention." Perhaps in this arena the positive statement for Milton is that his thinking did not proceed so far as it might have (not so far as some males—but not all males or even females—thinking today).
We have a Milton of frequently changed mind, as I trust this study has verified, and a Milton of unchanged mind where faith and God supervene. But I trust it has also been shown to be cogent that he did not pursue many obscure dilemmas that others have, partially because of his blinding faith, and that he, like all of us, could be (and was) delimited by his personal being and world, by life situations, and by faith. I have previously submitted as Milton's contribution to political theory (and I would add, his contribution to religious and social theory, despite what comes to be his own incomplete traversing of that road) the realization that it is the re-formation of the citizen, not the institution, that will achieve the most desirable world for humankind. We do perceive one of the early moderns, but we also confront one from the past whose "radicalism" has been tempered by the conservatism of religion and the inflexibility of the social status quo: Milton's changed mind, and yet Milton's unchanged mind.
Lady in the Labyrinth: Milton's Comus As Initiation by William Shullenberger (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press) Modern literary scholarship has traced the ways in which a distinctly modern sense of selfhood and subjectivity, and of the individualist liberal society in which such a self takes shapel emerges from the drama and poetry of the early seventeenth century. John Milton, writer of the greatest long poem in English, Paradise Lost, takes up the challenge of modern character and social formation from Shakespeare and Donne and their contemporaries. He begins this task in his own early maturity, some thirty years before the publication of his great epic, with A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, more commonly known as Comus.
There has not been a major book-length study of Milton's Maske in the past twenty years, so Lady in the Labyrinth fills a major gap in Milton and Renaissance criticism. It comprehensively surveys, evaluates, and integrates recent and traditional criticism of Comus in the context of Milton's other work, while developing new directions for study, focusing anthropological and psychological analysis on the poem's characters and mythological dimensions. Parallels between the ritual elements of the Maske and the rites of passage of non-European cultures will widen the horizons of both canonically based and multiculturally engaged scholars and writers. The book's study of Milton's identification with his female hero, and his advocacy of women's ethi cal, sexual, and political autonomy, gives a jolt to ongoing debates about Milton and feminism.
The first of Milton's heroes of Christian Liberty, the fifteen-year-old Lady who performs in his Maske is also the first of his characters to act out this transformation of human identity. Lady in the Labyrinth treats Comus, first performed in 1634, as a rite of passage for its Lady, and for the emerging culture whose hopes are invested in her. Displaying in song, argument, and dance such character qualities as interiority, self-consciousness, flexibility, and independence, the Lady gives vital form to modern selfhood in its very moment of emergence. The ritual ordeal of the Lady transforms her from a scared girl lost in the forest into a model of the free-thinking, conscience-governed citizen of English Puritan culture. The Lady's lyric power, prophetic argument, and ethical consistency prepare the way for women's participation in the emerging "public sphere" of modern society and in the reformation of largely patriarchal literary histories. The exemplary imaginative and social importance of the Lady thus makes the Maske a startling founding gesture of early modern feminism.
Excerpt: This translation—of Lady, society, cosmos, and the arts that represent them—has entailed the ritual recognition of and subjection to pain, to suffering, to the possibilities of tragedy. The fates of Echo, Philomela, Daphne, Proserpina, Canens, Orpheus, Oedipus, and Sabrina echo faintly, a final time, through the elegiac suggestion of the wounds of Hyacinth and Adonis, the implied wound of Celestial Cupid and the wandering labors of Psyche. In this wonderful moment, our contemplation of the fullness of paradisal love, including its pain, soars upward toward its final transfiguration and eternal fulfillment. The dragon, once menacingly present in the Trinity Manuscript's cancelled Prologue, has left the golden tree: we peer without guilt, with unguarded eyes, at the site where nature is embraced and transfigured by art, the site where what Blake would name Beulah, nature at its upper limit of erotic pleasure and perfection, becomes Eden, the blazing moment of imagination's embrace of nature in the act of love. This is not Sidney's golden world, in which art perfects nature, but a still green world in which art restores nature and heals it, the moment where, as we recollect from Philomela' s story, violated body becomes inviolable voice.
Perhaps the elegiac note of this passage is in part Milton's delicate way of simultaneously sobering and inspiring his audience and his readership for our own reunion with the daily world from which the enchanted liminal space of the Maske has temporarily and providentially withdrawn us. "I think / it must be the wound, the wound itself, / which lets us know and love," Galway Kinnell declares in his great The Book of Nightmares. "Moire blessé- / . . . -I am blessed / Wif dis wound, Ma Kilman," says Philoctéte in Derek Walcott's splendid epic Omeros. Love is a deep and irrevocable wounding; only through our wounds can we love; and so wounds, paradoxically, become blessings. Milton discloses this hard but saving wisdom at the end of his Lady's ordeal, in the gorgeous reworking of the generative human core of Spenser's Garden of Adonis: the purchase of true love in the world is dear, but always worth the cost. The tragedies to which our capacity for love leaves us vulnerable can become, through the discipline of chastity and the cultural and imaginative translation it makes possible, the precondition for beauty, for love, for poetry, and for regeneration, for the fullness of good that is suggestively figured in those "blissful twins," Youth and Joy (101011).
There are so many ways to try to tell the story of Milton's Maske, and I hope that this book has added some new ways, especially by paying attention to the ritual and imaginative experience of its central character, the Lady. The trajectory of desire in the Maske originates mythically with the tragic stories of Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, and Ovid, with the devastating yet promissory energies personified in Dionysus. This same trajectory originates historically with the emancipatory expectations of Puritan culture in prerevolutionary England, and biographically with the pressures of growth and change in the youths of the Egerton household, with the shadow of family scandal, and with John Egerton' s commission as Lord President to establish justice in England's western frontier. I have drawn from some modern models of psychological and cultural explication in order to account for Milton's dramatization of desire's possible translation into virtue, and of virtue's translation into bliss: Nietzsche to account for its tragic impetus, Lacan and Freud, Kristeva and Cixous to account for its psychological structures and processes, and Turner and Richards and other anthropologists to account for its ritual structure and character types, and for the cultural work that it does. Yet exegetically intriguing and powerful as these several models seem to me to be, they can only take us so far into an explanation of Milton, because of their shared skepticism about the problematics and possibilities of human freedom. Freedom, essential to Milton's invention of the human in the ethical example of his Lady, is severely constrained or illusory in these modern models, which variously describe the formation of the person in terms of subjection to various sorts of determinist imperatives and impersonal forces, whether metaphysical, social, or psychological.
Even as he anticipates these models, Milton transcends them by scripting for the Lady a ritual for the exercise of freedom that does not subject her to mythic, cultural, or psychological necessity, or to tragic pessimism. Lacan describes our initiation into the Symbolic order of language and the society it expresses and enforces as a process of alienation. In Lacan's map, desire alienated by its linguistic socialization follows an asymptotic pattern, in an infinite approach to an infinitely deferred and ultimately impossible completion: the dream of a fully self-present and coherent subject, and its phantom double, a fully realized object of desire. That sense of the asymptote pattern is an element of the Lady's initiation, but it is of a different sort from the ironic design of Lacan's tale of retrospective self-division. The Lady both is and is not yet Psyche. The path marked out for the Lady measures an ever-diminishing gap between the fully mobile, active, imaginative, morally creative and sensually alive subject, and her total fulfillment in the transcendental objective and future promise of the love of God. The aspiration toward that providential closure gives desire its positive impetus and disciplines its way of being in the world. The self fashioned by this career of desire is both centered and in motion, flexible and expansive, capable of a series of moments of self-transcendence of the sort the Lady has ritually experienced in the Maske, because it knows and rejoices that its destination and consummation is always beyond.
This expectation of eventual fulfillment allows the Lady as initiate not to succumb to the despair of ever finding satisfaction, however provisional and brief, in anything that the world has to offer. Rightly valued, everything that the world has to offer can become ingredients of virtue and opportunities for charity, which is chastity's way of facing the world: not only a habit of discipline, but the very form of pleasure. Edgar Wind observes of the Florentine Neoplatonists, "The more comprehensive the virtues and the pleasures become, the more largely they are bound to overlap; and when a pleasure or virtue becomes all-embracing—that is, when they reach a perfection achieved only in states of ecstasy—then goodness becomes indistinguishable from bliss." Having learned this, the Lady who as a girl freely, anxiously, yet firmly directed her "chaste footing" (146) into the liminal zone of the Maske dances forth from it toward the future, with the soul's wisdom and body's knowledge of a woman actively and ardently prepared to address the world's challenges, temptations, and opportunities with the questing yet disciplined, bliss-giving spirit of youth and joy. She need say nothing more. Loving virtue, she is free. She has arrived, and she, and her father's house, will never be the same. May the freedom and pleasure—the pleasure in freedom, the freedom in pleasure—that Milton scripted for Alice Egerton be so as well for our daughters and granddaughters.
Complete Poems and Major Prose by John Milton, Merritt Yerkes Hughes (Hackett Publishing Company) for nearly half a century the preferred student edition of Milton’s works. First published by Odyssey Press in 1957, this classic edition provides Milton’s poetry and major prose works, richly annotated, in a sturdy and affordable clothbound volume.
Others have suggested the Norton is the edition for college students. I disagree. The Hughes edition is definitely worth the money. The notes are the best -- in reading criticism on Milton, there's usually plenty of references to Mr. Hughes's notations themselves. This is the standard, accepted text. This is the complete poems, with his Latin and Italian poetry appearing adjacent to an English translation. There's a generous selection of Milton's prose, too.
This is still the most extensive, best-annotated, one-volume Milton set available. As the blurb above indicates, Hughes presents all the poems and prose in chronological sequence, so it is easy to trace the great poet's increasing facility, and later mastery, in both areas. We start with Milton, the fifteen-year-old student, translating Psalms from the Hebrew as well as passages from the love poems of Ovid and Properius. We then follow him to Cambridge, where he really starts assimilating all his classical studies, first fashioning imitative Latin elegies followed by his first poems of native genius, "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," "On Shakespeare," "L'Allegro and Il Penseroso."
Hughe's edition is invaluable as a tool for students, scholars, or general readers. The notes never get in the way of the text, but will lead the reader to relevant sources should he/she desire to learn more about a given allusion or want more background. If the reader is patient, and actually reads all the material that comes before "Paradise Lost", he/she will be rewarded with a richer understanding of Milton's magnum opus. Please be advised that if you have made it that far, don't stop there. "Paradise Regained" and "Sampson Agonistes" are powerful examples of epic poetry as well. I personally feel that "Paradise Regained" has had almost as large an impact on modern fiction in particular (Dostoevsky and Flaubert are prime examples) as has "Paradise Lost."
Blake said that Milton was of Satan's party without knowing it. Actually Milton's prose does open up some interesting possibilities in that sphere. In "Areopagitica" he advocates for the necessity of evil. He was, as history has amply recorded, hardly a defender of central authority. He was emphatic about individual liberty and wouldn't be dictated to by Pope or King.
There are several short early biographies of the poet at the end of the book. All paint a portrait of an idiosyncratic genius who suffered numerous setbacks both physical and political, particularly in his last decades. He was an extraordinarily brave man, who has taken some heat from Virginia Woolf and later feminists for his "ill use" of his daughters, who, the line goes, he kept in ignorance and near slavery so that they could aid him as ameneunses after he went blind. If such detractors had actually done any wide reading on the subject (Shawcrosse is an excellent source) they would not have made such charges. Though not what could be described as a "loving father," Milton certainly never inveighed against his daughters to remain "indentured" to him, nor did he subvert any marriage plans they arranged (none were forced into "arranged marriages" either, though the practice was still common in that era). He didn't tutor them in the Languages he asked them to transcribe, per se. But this begs the question, if they weren’t taught Latin, Greek and Hebrew, how would they have been able to act as scribes in those languages in the first place?
Paradise Lost, 1668-1968: Three Centuries of Commentary edited by Earl Roy Miner, co-edited by William Moeck, Steven Edward Jablonski (Bucknell University Press, Associated University Presses) This creative resource compiles and checks the best of previous commentarial scholarship on Paradise Lost. Over 15 years in the making, this volume should become the preferred companion for a close reading of the text.
This Commentary, the first book-length work of this kind on Paradise Lost since the Richardsons' in 1734, combines resources in lieu of a true variorum edition no longer possible. It includes the best commentary from "Annotations" like Patrick Hume's (1695), the first full-length commentary on any English author, as well as annotations to the variorum editions of Newton (1749) and Todd (1801–42) and the modern professional editions culminating in Alastair Fowler's (1968).
Other elements combined in this Commentary include an essay on the pre-annotative criticism from 1668, including that by Marvell, Dryden, and Dennis; copious use of the OED; numerous cross-references to Milton's other works and passages in Paradise Lost; fourteen excurses and other contributions by the present editors.
This Commentary uniquely presents biblical, classical, and vernacular citations in which every cited passage is quoted, and every quotation is in English. It is itself a research library for Paradise Lost, and only a text of the poem is required.
The Editor, Earl Miner, was Townsend Martin, Class of 1917, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton University. A scholar of inestimable breadth and quality, he distinguished himself in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century studies, in poetics, translation, and the Classical traditions in English literature, as well as in Japanese literature and comparative literature. After devoting fifteen years to this Commentary, he was preparing a study of intercultural poetics at his death in April 2004.
The Co-Editor, William Moeck, holds a Ph.D. from the City University of New York and teaches at Nassau Community College. After a dissertation on Milton and Spenser and this Commentary, he is proceeding to an interdisciplinary study of the relation between allegory and irony.
The Corresponding Editor, Steven Jablonski, received his Ph.D. from Princeton University. His essays on Milton have appeared in SEL,
Spokesperson Milton, and Arenas of Conflict. He is currently a librarian at the Skokie Public Library.
Literature and Dissent in Milton's England by Sharon Achinstein (Cambridge University Press) Neil Keeble's adventurous and now widely influential 1987 book, The Literary Culture of Nonconformity in Later Seventeenth-Century England (University of Georgia Press), sought to place nonconformist writing in the social, political, and, importantly, printing contexts of the Restoration and to recover for our view the interests and merits of writers who seemed marginal to the canon of polite, literary writing from the period. Sharon Achinstein's new book develops a more complicated map of the literary landscape of the 1660s through the 1680s. Two approaches feed into this map. First, Achinstein considers the community of dissent, itself riven by political and theological difference. It may be wrong to speak of this in terms of internal divides, as it is the hindsight of the historian or critic that enables her to posit the unity; but Achinstein looks both for the shared characteristics of dissenters, and the issues that divided them, and for various relations with the Anglican community. It is through the last that dissenters ultimately found what appeared to be a unity, a boundary that separated them from the polite, communicative norms that defined both Restoration society and much of its literary output. Yet, Achinstein takes pains to remind us, dissent and Anglicanism were not simple binary opposites, and to take them as such is ultimately to reinscribe the position of the conformist center in critical and historical analysis, to privilege the interests of the persecutors.
Secondly, Achinstein reconstructs the intellectual impulses and some of the aesthetics of dissenting writing. Here there are, again, two aspects to her analysis, the first concerning the relationship between writing and action, the second concerning poetics. Dissenting writing, insofar as it has been considered at all within the remits of traditional literary analysis, has been associated with defeat and internalization, a spiritual retreat into an interiority that provides consolation and justifies disengagement from a world that is hostile and unremitting. This is how Bunyan's aesthetic is positioned, how the increasingly quietist Quaker religion and writings are understood, and, at least until recently, the basis for reading Milton's late work. Paradise Lost is read as an allegory of loss that supports a long-distant promise of a paradise within in return for good works and spiritual perseverance, Paradise Regained as an account of spiritual action as resistance to temptation, and, perhaps, the resistance to action, display, even learning. Yet images of splendid violence and political terror inhabit much of this writing, not least Milton's Samson Agonistes, and the figure of the biblical judge Samson is a recurrent one in dissenting writing. Violence is the most spectacular form of resistance, and therefore represents an extreme form of action. How do the idea of violence and images of it relate, Achinstein asks, to the forms of writing that dissenters use to express their dissent? How does the register of violent action, of the Samson figure, stand within a mode of writing that frequently expressly disavows terror? Is it a return of the consciously suppressed or even a form of encoded threat? In the language of violence Achinstein finds a work of memory: it is an accounting for action that both looks back to the recent revolutionary past, finding even within the trauma of 1660 some limited signs of success, but also looks forward to the future. In these literary works of dissenters the energies of the revolutionary moment survive, and in them too dissenting writers endeavor to imagine a way out of the present moment. Memory marks the boundaries of communities, recalls deceased worthies, anticipates a transformed future. Samson Agonistes is just such a work of memory: more than an analysis of political oppression, it asserts that there is a future embedded in the readiness of those who wait for God's command. In Milton the account of liberty is one guaranteed less by liberal politics than by apocalyptic faith.
Literature and Dissent in Milton's England is held together by these recurrent themes: memory and action. Memory suggests one account of the coherence of dissenting writing, even that writing which seeks to orient the future. It celebrates individuals, recalls the identity and continuity of communities, and confronts the collective experience of defeat, perhaps even snatching from loss a renewed sense of purpose. We find this memory-work being undertaken in funerals, which combined ritual and reflective literary texts with the physical gesture of collectively gathering and bearing witness. Achinstein's sophisticated approach to literary form illuminates funerals and funeral sermons, both their literary coherence and the implicit political alignments of the mode. Funerals can be viewed, she demonstrates, as a dissenting literary genre in the 1660s. It is likewise with hymns, dull enough on the surface, but charged with meaning and with political significance because of their role in bringing together dissenting voices in worship and testifying to an ongoing community, rather than for gestures of resistance we might find in the words. Thus in funerals and in hymns, writing, memory, and action converge. This is important to Achinstein because it enables her to discover the survival of the energies of the revolution in dissenting writing. Writing becomes a deep repository, of memories and actions, of a dissenting culture that has been occluded by subsequent historical developments. Violence is important here, in part, because of what it says about the potential for human action. The liberal enlightenment which did so much to effect the disappearance of the dissenters' resistance eradicated Milton's apocalyptic account of human action. God was removed from the center of human agency at least as far as to allow another generation, John Locke among them, room to devise a new account of human voluntarism without this semantically charged, apocalyptic violence.
The second dimension of the dissenting aesthetic analyzed here concerns poetics. How does, Achinstein asks, an allegedly anti-sensualist theology result in a poetics? She is explicitly ambivalent about the traditional literary merits of some of the texts about which she writes and is surprisingly reluctant to tease virtue out of some clumsy writings or to proselytize on behalf of some of her authors. Though she does not offer a sustained poetics, a number of themes recur. One is the popular plain-style, the "play-book" style, for which the prose opponents of Andrew Marvell condemned nonconformists. This is, no doubt, in part the language of the Dissenting Academies, not the idealized transparent language of the Royal Society, but a workmanlike, clear language, sometimes studiously unself-conscious, irregularly rhythmic, written and spoken with as little as possible recourse to Latin grammar. At the same time critics of nonconformists accused this same language of darkness and obscurity. This was because it emerged out of religious enthusiasm, betraying the zeal and impoliteness of its speaker. How the same language is both popularly plain and dark is unclear. The picture is further complicated by the role of prophetic speech. This was, Achinstein argues, exploited to assert individual inspiration and distinctness from Anglican orthodoxy, but it also created a dark code, a literary space from which the orthodox were at least partly excluded. It was therefore a space reserved for the zealous godly, a place of resistance, in which difference could be asserted and threats spoken. Such obscurity is somehow related to the homely Biblicism of the plain style: but it is not clear just how. Memory plays another intriguing role in the use of the lyric: Achinstein shows how important a presence George Herbert is in dissenting poetry, which constructed a devotional voice by reaching back to pre-civil war poetry, despite the theological and institutional tensions that such gestures might create. Finally, there is the sublime. The figure of elevation is tied to dissenters' lyric mode as well as to Milton's epic, and it recurs through Achinstein's book. It is the sublime, perhaps, that justifies dissenters seeking to articulate thoughts and feelings in the fleshy voice of poetry. At one point Achinstein suggests that the poetry of the Welsh Baptist Vavasor Powell eschews poetic affect in favor of artlessness; this is a measure of his directness in calling for action. Is this so very far from what Samuel Butler suggested in Hudibras, in representing dissent as a violent and confused, transparent and obscure, simple-minded and disingenuous? Achinstein's work suggests that in order to appreciate dissenting writing we might want to listen hard to the intricacies of Butler's calumnies. While not offering a comprehensive manual of dissenting poetics, Achinstein does navigate a path through the complex literary and political terrains of Restoration England, showing how dissenting religion and writing, and conforming religion and writing mutually defined themselves and each other. Sometimes suggesting that we need a more tolerant aesthetic, sometimes stating the merits of relatively obscure writings on traditional grounds, and consistently bringing a diversity of approaches to thought, action, and aesthetics, Literature and Dissent in Milton's England offers a new and more nuanced and complicated, if fragmentary, account of the value of dissenting literature. Reviewed by Joad Raymond for H-net.org
Theological Milton: Deity, Discourse And Heresy in the Miltonic Canon by Michael Lieb (Medieval & Renaissance Literary Studies Duquesne University Press) In lively, forceful, and at times witty language, Michael Lieb has written an illuminating study of the figure of God as a literary character in the writings of John Milton. Milton's God has always been a provocative and controversial figure, and Lieb offers a fresh way to look at the relationship between the language of theology and the language of poetry in Milton's works. He draws into the discussion previous authors on the subjectPatrides, Hunter, Kelley, Empson, Danielson, Rumrich and others—resulting in a dynamic debate about Milton's multifarious God.
By stressing God's multivalent qualities, Theological Milton offers an innovative perspective on the darker side of the divinity. Lieb allows us to see a Miltonic God of hate as well as a God of love, a God who is a destroyer as well as a creator. Lieb directly confronts the more troubling faces of God in a manner richly informed by Milton's own theology. Against the theoretical framework for the idea of addressing God as a distinctly literary figure, Lieb presents Milton in the historical milieu prior to and contemporaneous with his works.
Theological Milton also studies the character of the Son in Paradise Lost to highlight tensions between orthodox and heterodox views of the relationship of the divine persons, as well as Milton's involvement in such controversies. In doing so, Lieb reexamines the provenance of De Doctrina Christiana and enters the discussion concerning Milton's putative authorship of that theological treatise. More cogently than others, Lieb clarifies Milton's theology of the godhead and the various heresies, such as Socinianism and Arianism, that informed the religious controversies of the seventeenth century. He does so in a manner that exemplifies how literature and theology are inextricably intertwined.
Excerpt: It has been almost 40 years since the venerable dean of Milton Studies, C. A. Patrides, declared that the treatise known as Milton's De Doctrina Christiana is little more than a "theological labyrinth," whereas his epic Paradise Lost is "a window to the sun." In his castigation of the theological treatise, Patrides even went so far as to label De Doctrina Christiana "an abortive venture into theology." All this took place in an essay that sought to sensitize us to "the language of theology," that is, how theological discourse functions and the way in which it finds expression in poetic discourse.' I suppose the moral here is that one can have a deep knowledge of both theological discourse and poetic discourse and still fail to see how the one may overlap with the other. I wish to explore both forms of discourse, to understand how one shades into the next, and, in the process, reestablish the relationship between each. Such an enterprise is of necessity made more complex by the challenges to authorship and canonicity that the theological treatise has endured during the past decade and a half. Having expressed my views on the subject at length elsewhere, I consider the uncertainties of canonicity and authorship an opportunity to reestablish the relationships between De Doctrina and Milton's poetry. With these uncertainties in mind, I have adopted as my initial focus the conceptions of God that underlie De Doctrina Christiana, on the one hand, and Milton's major poetry, on the other. I do so not to suggest that the theological treatise can in any sense be construed as a "gloss" on the poetry but to demonstrate the extent to which the treatise generates its own conception of deity that offers a fitting context for interrogating the notion of deity that arises in the poetry. Having established the correspondences between the one and the other, I then move into the hotly contested and still unresolved area of the Miltonic conception of godhead, that is, the mystery through which deity assumes the form of a divine relationship in the so-called "persons" of Father and Son, primarily in the celestial realm.3 Here, one encounters the emergence of those affronts to institutional belief anathematized by the church as "heresy." The place Milton occupies in such matters is the subject of the final portion of my study, which focuses upon godhead, as well as upon God, within the framework of theological and poetic discourse.
To undertake the kind of project I describe here is challenging in the extreme, particularly given the complexities involved in arguing the relationships between the so-called "poetic" and "theological" modes of expression. The question is how one is to approach the language of theology and the language of poetry. At what point do these languages intersect, at what point diverge? Is the language of theology in any sense "poetic," and vice versa? In his reflections on the subject of how theologians reason, G. C. Stead addresses just this conundrum. Citing the Gospel accounts as instances in which the "language of religion" assumes the form at once of poetic enactment and of theological doctrine, Stead explores the cross-fertilization between the two modes of discourse in order to suggest their correspondences. Both, he says, make use of semeia (signs) in a way that causes the Gospels to interweave poetry and theology. As a result of that interweaving, the author of each gospel is able to capture the "elusive quality of poetry" at the very point that he is advancing the kerygma, or message, that underlies his narrative. According to Stead, occasions of this sort provide the opportunity to observe that, at its most sublime, "theologyas a form of human culture resembles art." Despite his energetic and fascinating foray into relationships between poetic and theological discourse, Stead acknowledges that there are certain individuals for whom theology fails at all junctures, with the result that the magic and mystery is lost in the theologian's "dusty prose."4 For such individuals, theology has no place in poetry and poetry no place in theology. Nonetheless, those sensitive to the multiplicity of meanings generated by the intersection of the two forms of discourse are able to discern crucial dimensions of meaning that help to define precisely what is implied by theological and poetic modes of expression.
The cross-fertilization that occurs when these modes intersect is especially meaningful to an understanding of the works of John Milton. Those willing to entertain the full implications of such discursive modes will be impressed by the extent to which the designation "theological Milton" applies as much to the poet of Paradise Lost as it does to the author of De Doctrina Christiana. Despite his denigration of De Doctrina, C. A. Patrides offers views concerning the relationship between the poetic and theological modes that are very much to the point. As a theological poem par excellence, Paradise Lost articulates its insights "not simply in poetic terms," Patrides observes, but "in poetic terms that are bound up inextricably with the whole vocabulary that goes to make up the language of theology." Although this language has been viewed as "odd," its alterity, according to Patrides, is right on target because it is "logically anomalous," that is, ultimately "paradoxical," and such language "is the staple of accounts of God's nature."' Applied to theological treatises such as De Doctrina Christiana, this outlook is very much in keeping with John Milbank's contention in The Word Made Strange that the theologian (like the artist or poet) performs the task of "redeeming estrangement." Thus, Milbank elaborates elsewhere, "Explication of Christian practice, the task of theology, tries to pinpoint the peculiarity, the difference, of this practice by 'making it strange,' finding a new language for this difference."6 The deployment of this "new language" becomes the means by which estrangement is redeemed. Within a Miltonic context, this redemption (which is tantamount to the creation of a work of art or a musical composition) assumes its own unique form in the poetry, on the one hand, and in the theological treatise, on the other. Like poetic documents that are by their nature "theological" in outlook, theological documents can in some sense be called "poetic." Like the language of poetic documents, the language of theological treatises can be the product of alterity. By designating De Doctrina Christiana "an abortive venture into theology," Patrides slights the inherent ability of this particular prose treatise to transcend its limits and move toward the production of the "poetic." As I shall attempt to demonstrate in the chapters that follow, the theological language that the treatise adopts, coupled with a methodology that fosters the interchange between doctrinal assertion and biblical proof-text, embodies a poetics of its own.' That poetics represents a distinguishing feature of the methodology employed by the author of Paradise Lost and De Doctrina Christiana.
A caveat: Any study that proposes to address matters of doctrine and expression in De Doctrina Christiana must confront the debate about authorship of the theological treatise. Let me declare at the outset that I am a firm believer in Miltonic authorship. I also believe, however, that before venturing such a declaration one must address the question of authorship itself and what it signifies in a work such as De Doctrina Christiana. With that vexed issue in mind, one must then attempt to come to grips with the realization that Milton's exact presence in the manuscript of the theological treatise is obscured by a host of factors. Having already explored the question of the authorship of De Doctrina Christiana in some depth, I shall not rehearse the arguments of that study here.' In keeping with the spirit of that study, I wish only to assert that my approach to Milton as a theologian is one of underscoring a sensibility that is the product not of the serenity that comes from a "calm of mind" but rather of a wisdom that comes from ongoing conflict. It is this very atmosphere of contention that governs my own "take" on the God of Milton's oeuvre. This approach not only acknowledges but embraces the uncertainties that surround the provenance of De Doctrina Christiana. Such a stance invites one to appreciate how profoundly rooted Milton's God is in the contentions that distinguish all those debates about who authored the treatise. It is the spirit of these contentions, I shall argue, that energizes the delineation of God in Milton's poetry and prose. Here, I profess a second credo: my Milton is born of conflict, raised of uncertainty, and forever fulfilling all that is meant by the term agonistes. For me, the theological Milton exhibits each of these disturbing qualities most admirably. If this Milton is the agonistic Milton, Milton's God is the agonistic God, the deus agonistes, the suffering God, the God who not only loves but also hates, the God who fears, the God who repents. Ultimately, he is the hidden God, the deus absconditus, the God who defies reason and logic. Milton might not have gone as far as Luther to brand reason the devil's whore, but the dark dimension of Milton's theology most certainly shares the aura of Lutheran angst.'
Despite Milton's reputation as the consummate poet of reason and logic, we must acknowledge his intimate ties to the world of the hidden and the perilous. Milton is as "dark" as any other poet (or theologian) that the early modern period produced. His God is the consummate embodiment not only of the light with which he is so often associated but of a darkness in which he is said to reside. To speak of Milton's God through a discourse of light and dark is already present in the angelic celebration of the Father in the third book of Paradise Lost. "Thron'd inaccessible," he is conceived as a "Fountain of Light," the "blaze" of which is so intense that his skirts appear "Dark with excessive bright" (372-82). In that description lies the mystery of a deity who encompasses the apophatic extremes of light beyond all seeing and darkness that at once hides and reveals. In this disjunction between the opposites of light and darkness, Milton might well have been responsive to the sensibility reflected in such treatises as Jacob Bauthumely's The Light and Dark Sides of God (London, 1650). There, the light side and the dark side represent contrary aspects of deity that are ultimately reconciled, in which, as Bauthumely declares, "light and darkness are all one." Belief in the possibility of such a reconciliation, however, would no doubt have been questioned by Milton as too easy, too automatic, rather too much like yin and yang. But the almost Blakean embrace of opposites engaged him no less, or at least prompted him to conceive a God whose disposition is (for lack of a better term) gnostic. Milton's God is also the God of the Other. To know him is to see him in his contraries. Rather than using the trope of "sides" to gain a sense of how Milton's God is conceived, I adopt the notion of "faces," which better suggests the idea that Milton's God appears in many guises, many masks, many selves. This idea underlies such books as Jack Miles's God: A Biography, which explores the roles of God as creator, liberator, lawgiver, and conqueror, but also God as destroyer, executioner and fiend. Essentially literary, Miles's approach sensitizes us to the way in which deity is a multivalent entity in Hebrew Scriptures. It is this multivalency that I find so attractive in Milton's God. Such a conception of deity is crucial not only to the poetry but to the prose, in particular to De Doctrina Christiana.
In keeping with this outlook, I begin with an analysis of the God of De Doctrina Christiana. Despite all that has been written about the God of Paradise Lost, precious little attention has been devoted to the construction of God in the theological treatise. In response to this oversight, I devote almost a third of my study to the way in which God is conceived at the very outset of the treatise. It hardly need be said that De Doctrina
Christiana represents the ideal starting point for an encounter with a God, the delineation of whom appears to be Miltonic but because of the questions regarding provenance challenges the reader at every point to question the identity of the true author. In the delineation of the God we encounter in the theological treatise, we are made to ask, "Whose God is this, anyway?" On the one hand, De Doctrina Christiana is a work that purports to explain God, indeed, to systematize God, to theologize God. On the other, it is a work that refuses at all points the luxury of knowing, of penetrating to the heart of the mystery. As much as one might hope to gain a foothold on the act of delineating God in Milton's prose treatises, especially De Doctrina, problems of text and transmission keep getting in the way. No matter: I begin with the determination to understand the theological systems Milton drew upon to construct his own treatise. In the assessment of the theology that emerges from this construction, we have the opportunity to explore the dialogic interchange between text and proof-text, an interchange that causes the proof-texts to assume a life of their own. God lives in the rich contexts of the proof-texts, and De Doctrina is unique in allowing them to enact such a crucial role. The proof-texts represent, in effect, a metatext that releases (one might almost say, "unleashes") new interpretive energies that the text at issue can only begin to imagine. In the dialogic and metatextual dimensions of the treatise a radical hermeneutic emerges.
This is a hermeneutic that explores the dark side of Milton's God. It is the side or "face" that you have always wanted to know about but were afraid to ask. At issue is a dimension of Milton's understanding of deity that prompts both poet and theologian to render God as a "being" wholly passible, indeed, fraught at times with emotional conflict, moved to act in a manner that might otherwise appear to be wholly contrary to our customary notions of how God is to behave. Such notions underlie Harold Bloom's observation that assuming the role
of one who is the "author of the author, or writing God, would be an impossible burden for even the strongest of our writers," and "sheer tact has kept them away from it." Like his God, Milton is not known for his tact. Perhaps it is for this reason that Bloom, like so many others, chastises the poet of Paradise Lost, "where God's failure as a literary character is the only blemish on an otherwise sublime work." However we might look upon Milton's authoring of the author in his epic, what results is surely not the good God of traditional theodicy. Nor is it the God who emerges in the theologies of those determined to conceive God as an aloof, benign, and fully impassible being. Rather, it is the God that Milton found in the Hebraic notion of deity as manifested in the books of the Old Testament. At the core of Milton's poetic rendering of God in Paradise Lost and elsewhere, this is a being who experiences not only anger but hatred. It is, in fact, a being who hates, and through whose example we are encouraged to hate as well. In order to be like God, I argue, one must hate like God.
Hate is only one of a number of emotions that God experiences in Milton's poetry. The whole issue of divine passibility is one that Milton undertakes to examine in what amounts to a theology of the passible in De Doctrina Christiana. There, he constructs a world of divinized emotion that reinforces the more frightening aspects of the deus absconditus so important to his idea of deity. But Milton goes even further than this to underscore the radical notion of divine passibility in his poetry. Paradoxically, Milton's view of deity is at its most radical when all sense of the passible or the impassible is obliterated. In Samson Agonistes God appears in the most disturbing of forms. He appears by not appearing, or, at least, by not appearing in anything like the way he appears in Paradise Lost or in Paradise Regained. In keeping with the idea of God as an overwhelming force, Milton fashions the God of Samson Agonistes in such a manner that he reveals himself as the embodiment of dread, as one, in fact, whose very name is "Dread." In thedramatic poem, one encounters all the forces and all the energies that underscore the disturbing and off-putting portrayal of God that emerges in Milton's epics. The difference is that the sudden manifestation of deity in the dramatic poem is much more terrifying at the visceral level than that which one discovers in the epics. That is because what I have termed the personality of God is totally subsumed within the remarkable force that he becomes in his transformation into a terrifying phenomenon. No longer are concerns such as the passible or impassible at issue. In the "wholly other" revelation of deity that the dramatic poem encodes, all that remains is power or the sudden breaking out of power that overwhelms everything and everyone that stands in its path. This is the true deus absconditus come out of hiding. How to interpret this deity becomes a key to the action of Samson Agonistes. By means of this clavis one is able to unlock the theological implications of the dramatic poem with a sense of renewed empowerment.
With all the focus on a passible God who hates as well as a God who is the very embodiment of dread, one might conclude that we have returned to the era of what might be called Milton's "bad God," who was the subject of the criticism promulgated by William Empson, among others. I am not about to argue with critics of this sort here. My argument as a whole may be construed as a response (either explicit or implicit) to those who have taken Milton to task for his conception of deity in Paradise Lost and elsewhere. To rehearse their indictments is hardly necessary; besides, defenses of Milton's God on several fronts have already undertaken the difficult task of correction and reclamation. As parties to these defenses, those responsive to Milton's conception of deity need no longer resort to the kind of logic implicit in C. S. Lewis's retort that those who don't like Milton's God, simply don't like God." By emphasizing the dark side of deity, I am, however, tacitly acknowledging critics who have not hesitated to grapple with Milton's God in order to understand his ways. These critics have unleashed certain energies that prompt us to consider the whole question of Milton's God anew. My study is an attempt to understand just how those energies work to render Milton's outlook as poet and as theologian so vital.
As already suggested in these remarks, my study encompasses three areas essential to an understanding of the theological Milton. The first area concerns De Doctrina Christiana as a text that not only provides insight into Milton as a theologian but addresses his concept of deity as at once sui generis to the doctrinal concerns of the treatise and at the same time crucial to an understanding of the precise theological maneuvers that distinguish his poetry. The second area, in turn, addresses the dimensions of Milton's poetry through which the poet defines himself in theological terms. Here, the primary emphasis is on the figure of God in Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes. Each of these poems embodies two radically different modes of discourse, the first represented by the diffuse epic poem, the second by the dramatic poem. Each becomes a conduit for the portrayal of deity. Needless to say, each portrayal is sui generis, a fact that suggests the extent to which Milton was prepared to reconceive God from one poem to the next. Moving from "God" as entity to the "godhead" as entity, the third part of the study explores the relationship between Fathers and Sons. In keeping with this focus, we shall consider two movements that are frequently associated with Milton: Socinianism and Arianism. These "heresies" underscore much recent scholarship on what might be termed the heterodox Milton. That heterodoxy derives its impetus from the complex treatment of hypostasis in De Doctrina Christiana. In its broadest terms, the subject bears at once upon the preincarnate and the postincarnate Messiah as he assumes a presence in both the diffuse epic and the brief epic, as well as in his other works. Those determined to categorize Milton as an adherent of X heresy, as opposed to Y heresy, have a large stake in maintaining the canonicity of the theological treatise. Because of the way in which the question of authorship is addressed in the present study, I am convinced that our treatment of Milton's understanding of godhead is finally more nearly balanced and judicious than the treatment accorded this crucial issue in the prevailing scholarship. At the very least, the final section on the heresies of godhead invites further study of how godhead is conceived in the theological treatise and in the poems.This study is as much a foray into the nature of theological discourse in Milton's works as it is an attempt to illuminate specific Miltonic texts. Discourse is the very soul of how those texts perform. In order to come to terms with De Doctrina Christiana, on the one hand, and the epic, on the other, one must be aware of the discursive practices they employ and the discursive traditions they draw upon. Accordingly, this book makes a point of providing a context for each of the works discussed, whether that context finds its source in the systematic theologies of the day or in the poetic milieu that proved a source of inspiration for the epics under consideration. The approach I have adopted here is as much historical as it is hermeneutical. If I have succeeded in generating further discussion of the thorny issues addressed here, then I shall consider my undertaking a success. I leave it to others to determine the extent to which my study is finally successful in having brought these issues to light.
The Satanic Epic by Neil Forsyth (Princeton University
The Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth (1987) is a learned account of the
transformations in the idea of an evil one in religious writings from the
Sumerian to modern monotheisms, and particularly how it develops into the
Christian notion of Satan, the fallen Lucifer. Forsyth's new book is a powerful
and dense interpretation of
Paradise Lost that pursues the implications of these earlier materials for
Milton's representation of Satan, while also engaging closely with Milton's
language and particularly his narrative forms.
Forsyth's argument has much in common with that put forward in William Empson's Milton's God (1961): Milton wrote a Satanic epic within his more orthodox one, the epic in which a heroic Satan takes arms against a God who is unreasonable, unattractive, unsympathetic, and ethically compromised. Milton criticism for decades has been inventing ways of disguising, denying, defying, or sterilizing this, trying to make the heterodox poet orthodox. So we have Stanley Fish's brilliant and massively influential account (in Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost by Stanley Eugene Fish, 1967, revised 1997) of how to read the poem, an interpretation that attributes heterodox readings (Satan is heroic) to the method of an ultimately orthodox poem (God is good) that elicits sympathy for the devil in order to correct and ultimately teach the reader the process of virtuous interpretation and decision making. This is wrong, says Forsyth. Milton knows he's unorthodox: listen to his narrator, whose voice is far distant from the objective commentator of classical epic who vocalizes his own poetic authority. Milton constructs a narrator who feels sympathy for the devil, while knowing he has to distance himself from Satan. Hence he gets involved, gets upset, unconsciously confuses pronouns, posits resemblances between Satan and the Son; and hence the epic similes that so often clash with or rub against their narrative context. Milton is not the narrator, Forsyth argues, and the distance he creates enables him to put into the epic a pro-Satan reading.
The pre-Christian materials of the earlier The Old Enemy suggest that there is a long history of ambivalence about Satan before Augustine pins him like a display butterfly. Milton's sensitivity to the development of ancient religions, to Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and other "heresies," perhaps to the Watcher Angel story as elaborated in the Book of Enoch, and to classical representations of villainy is always in evidence when he reads scripture. Finding this residual ambivalence inscribed in the history of Satan, Milton offers us an alternative version. He begins (as does the myth) with the heroic version of Satan in books 1 and 2: we see him first as a character, before he turns into the combat myth's personification of evil. Milton wants us to run with this Satan for a while, and to see his point of view, as the poet cannot be certain that Satan is completely and simply bad. So a Satanic version of events is wrapped up in a more orthodox one--this doubleness, multiple-referentiality, and ambiguity being characteristic of Paradise Lost--and this is Satan's and Milton's challenge to Christian orthodoxy.
Forsyth, like Empson, who mistook Milton for a Calvinist, believes the problem of the poem originates in the problem of Milton's God, and in how a decent and sane person deals with the existence of evil in a universe governed by a deity who is omnipotent, omniscient, and good. Intellectually Milton tackles it through an account of freedom, but one that occasionally gets entangled in a residual Calvinism. The Son is necessary to man's salvation, but it's hard to get away from the fact that God will know what will follow from Satan's action, and that he is therefore in some way responsible for it. Satan and the Son spring from the same apple: one as persecutor, the other as redeemer, roles which are interdependent. Time and again we find a doubling between the Son and the fallen angel. No Satan no Son. Yet Satan is the unknowing fall guy, while the Son only rises.
But Milton also deals with the problem another way, through narrative, in which lies the real theology of the poem. Narrative is paramount in the poem and its message. Paradise Lost describes the experience (as opposed to the doctrine) of Grace, and therefore of the opportunity to change direction. It is the story that enables us to make sense of this, and of Satan; and sympathy for his plight is necessary to this story. In De Doctrina, Milton's systematic theology which does not tell much of a story, Satan is scarcely mentioned. It is narrative that enables Milton to make sense of the Fall and the problem of evil. Empson, too, thought that Milton's narrative powers overcame his repugnant theology, and railed against the injustices of predestination (which Milton did not believe in). For Forsyth the honesty of narrative inheres in its ability to offer multiple accounts of that which is indeterminate, sympathetically to present other voices speaking on their own behalf, to allow the imagination to repudiate dogma.
The account of this sympathy is supported by a parallel argument about Satan's inner life. Satan is doubled, self-divided. We identify with Satan because he has a split self. According to Forsyth, Sin--born from Satan's head, resulting in narcissism and auto-eroticism--is the discovery of interiority. Satan is a projection of "our modern and divided selves" (p. 152). In this argument Forsyth dispenses with old-fashioned soteriology and theology in favor of modern identity-politics and reminders of our bourgeois condition (and of the bourgeois nature of the epic to which we relate). This is a recension of a very familiar modernization thesis. Instead of finding our own sinfulness in our identification with Satan, we find our divided selves. Welcome to modernity.
Forsyth writes very well, and he is a talented reader of Paradise Lost. The account of the dramatic tensions around the end of book 10 and the beginning of book 11, when Adam and Eve apparently freely repent while supported by prevenient grace, is excellent. He has an ear for classical allusion (too good for the coherence of his argument; some of the chapters read like consecutive issues of Notes & Queries). The account of the structure of the epic, and the revision from the ten-book 1667 version to the twelve-book structure of 1674, is strong, and ties in very well with his larger argument. Forsyth agrees with Arthur Barker that the earlier version suggests a tragic form (such as Milton had been planning in the 1630s), and that the move to the Virgilian twelve-book structure undercuts Satan's version of events; it contains him, and instead follows the divine plot. Twelve books also allow for greater permutations within and perspectives upon the epic structure. Nonetheless the two plots, divine and Satanic, are wound together; they are mirrors. We should stand full of doubt, and know, as Milton tells us in Areopagitica (1644), that it is hard to discern between Good and Evil, as it was for Psyche to separate the "confused seeds."
But we are meant to spit out the sour seeds. William Hazlitt was certainly right: dramatic poetry can operate through sympathy, and the sense of irreparable loss and unavailing regret we find reading Milton's Satan is perfect. But does this add up to sympathy for or with the devil, the kind of sympathy that seduces us and half-persuades us that his point of view is right? Forsyth is right that it is in the nature of narrative to present moral decisions and politics and theology in profoundly and disturbingly complex ways, but the narrative of Satan, his wonderful speeches and pathetic resistance to pain and logic, is not irreconcilable with the other narratives of the poem. Nor is it irreconcilable with seventeenth-century theology, which often (particularly if one considers sermons and practical theology as opposed to the systematic theology that structures De Doctrina) explores Satan's motivation, and responds to his near-presence and the invasive threat he poses to the believer, while remaining rather bland on the subject of God and angels. Paradise Lost is in many ways representative of early-modern religious writing.
But it is not conventional on theological grounds, and here Forsyth's rhetoric of orthodoxy and heterodoxy is misleading. What or who is orthodoxy? Adherence to the Apostles', Athanasian, and Nicene creeds? You will not find that in Paradise Lost unless you really want to. Reading Paradise Lost as pro-Satan cannot be defined as heterodox, any more than reading it as Anglican can be described as an orthodoxy. Judging by recent debates about the authorship of De Doctrina, it is more likely to be the other way around, though the terms risk confusion with seventeenth-century arguments about heresy. I suspect that most Miltonists want to be heterodox these days, even those who think Satan is a bad thing, one reason why some modern scholarship has been devoted to the complexities of Milton's peculiar theology. These suggest a further ground on which The Satanic Epic is unsatisfying. In accordance with the prevailing tendencies in Milton criticism (there are many references to the blunders of "most critics" in the book), Forsyth detects explicit political references within the poem, e.g. the war in heaven as the civil wars of Britain. Variously, however, he subordinates theology to politics, by identifying politics as the deciding factor between competing religious traditions and positions. The religious contexts offered are ancient; too often the contemporary contexts are simply and narrowly political. Forsyth does not account for the messiness of history, the state of seventeenth-century scholarship, confessional disputes and the spread of post-Reformation heresies, communities of belief, the way politics and religion are scarcely separable. Religion, for Forsyth, is always still embedded in its ancient origins; as a way of understanding the world it is largely separate from politics. Religion is old, politics is new; and when Forsyth sees conflict, what is at stake in a theological or exegetical disagreement is probably politics. Ironically, he may therefore understate the role of religion in Milton's imagination.
Heterodox Forsyth's reading may not be, though to my mind it is wrong. He does not have Empson's ability to wrongfoot the reader, and leave her, though doubtful, impressed at his form, but it is nonetheless a rich and intensely scholarly book. The reading is eloquently presented: precise, patient, witty. The conclusion brings home the complexity of the deployment of signs and portents, as metaphors and narrative elements, in the poem, and, provided one overlooks the denuded cultural context of superstition and faith in providence, it emphatically makes Forsyth's point about the double-narrative of Paradise Lost. Reviewed by Joad Raymond for H-net.org
Life of John Milton: A Critical Biography by Barbara
Lewalski (Blackwell Critical Biographies: Blackwell) This
is, indeed, the most exhaustive modern biography of John Milton. The renowned
critic Barbara Lewalski, as usual, offers the students and scholars of
Barbara Lewalski is William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of
English Literature and of History and Literature, and Director of Graduate
Studies in English at
Milton Studies by Albert C. Labriola (Milton Studies, Vol 39: University of Pittsburg Press, 2000) is a major resource for scholars and historians; Focuses Milton's major poems, in form and notably Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Essay subjects: the cultural and political circumstances that led to the republication of two of Milton's polemical tracts in post Restoration England; the political context in 1667 that resulted in a relaxation of censorship and the opportunity for Milton to publish his epic poem; variations of the biblical image of the Throne-Chariot in Renaissance humanistic and cabalistic thought, chiefly to establish a frame of reference for an intertextual analysis of the first and second editions of Paradise Lost; pictorial representations by women artists of Adam, Eve and the serpent as rendered by Milton in Paradise Lost; the cultural and political circumstances that promoted the republication of two of Milton's foremost polemical tracts in post Restoration England; Milton's India in Paradise Lost and the Bakhtinian texture of Paradise Regained.
Contents: KATE GARTNER FROST No Marchioness but a Queen: Milton's Epitaph for Jane Paulet JOSEPH G. MAYER Doubleness in Milton's Late Sonnets BRUCE BOEHRER Milton and the Reasoning of Animals: Variations on a Theme by Plutarch PHILLIP J. DONNELLY The Teloi of Genres: Paradise Lost and De Doctrina Christiana JOHN C. ULREICH "Substantially Express'd”: Milton's Doctrine of the Incarnation PAUL CEFALU Moral Pragmatism in the Theology of Milton and His Contemporaries, or Habitus Historicized ROBERT THOMAS FALLON A Second Defence: Milton's Critique of Cromwell? THOMAS M. GORMAN The Reach of Human Sense: Surplus and Absence in Samson Agonistes