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DEREK N.C. WOOD 'Exil'd from Light': The Darkened Moral Consciousness of Milton's Hero of Faith Disagreements are still liable to arise over the heroic status of Satan in Paradise Lost, but perhaps the most serious division of opinion among readers of Milton for some time to come will be over another questionable heroic figure, his Samson. Most readers still consider that Samson is a tragic hero intended to command admiration and respect, and that Milton presents him as a model for Christian imitation. However, the questions and doubts are increasing. When Anthony Low pictured Samson as a gloriously triumphant Christian hero, 'the image and example of the champion of God' (Low, 117), he dismissed objections to Samson's violence by turning to Milton's prose where force seems to be justified if it is used by the Christian magistrate against God's enemies. Mary Ann Radzinowicz concluded that the destruction of the temple is 'a human imaging of God's might ... an exemplary act which teaches how God gives freedom' (346). Many scholars have turned to typological hermeneutics to explain Samson's behaviour. In typological exegesis, the Old Testament is seen as prefiguring the New Testament, although darkly. There is similitude in dissimilitude. Old Testament heroes such as Adam and Judas Maccabeus are types of Christ, the antitype, although the type can never be quite the same as the perfect antitype. So Samson delivering the Jews from subjection to the Philistines is for Scott-Craig a type of Christ the redeemer, while for Barbara Lewalski the terrible judgment Samson visits on the Philistines typifies Christ in final apocalyptic judgment. Yet Carey, reading the same text, finds in Samson 'no spiritual development, only ... resentment, which has been gnawing inwardly' (139). Readers who find it impossible to accept that Samson is an exemplary Christian have recently received powerful support from J.W. Wittreich, who insists that 'Milton's "martyrplay" is ... less a celebration than a censure of its hero' (326). He draws support from a vein of contemporary Renaissance allusion 'that exhibits a tarnished Samson - a Samson who, nurtured in blood, delights in vengeance and whose enterprise entails the wretched interchange of wrong for wrong' (245). Those who reject the image of a saintly Samson tend to agree in condemning the ugly morality of violence celebrated in the catastrophic destruction ofthe temple. Indeed, their engagement with the text in those places which present a hero who appears to be presumptuous, untruthUNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 58, NUMBER 2, WINTER 1988/9 MILTON'S HERO OF FAITH 245 ful, and brutal is generally more convincing than those who find in it a Christian saint. To dismiss them as sentimental modern liberals or revisionists is to evade the fact of the text Milton wrote. On the other hand, the suggestion sometimes made that Samson is satanic or demonic or fallen itself does violence to the textual evidence of Samson's unremitting and agonized commitment to doing the will of God. There can be no doubt that Samson is a hero of faith in both the text of Milton's play and that of the Letter to Hebrews. The reading I will suggest is something of a compromise. It should satisfy those who have serious reservations about treating Samson's ethic as ideal or exemplary and who cannot reconcile it with that taught to Adam by Michael. It should also be acceptable to those who believe that Samson is as good a man as he can possibly be, for the text does not, I am convinced, present a 'hero' who is satanic or a sinner. In essence, I suggest that the play dramatizes a fictional Old Testament consciousness in all its personages. This is different, even in a morally committed individual, from the consciousness made possible by the full revelation of the Gospel and by the instructive example of Christ's incarnate life in time. W.O. Madsen pointed out years ago that Milton 'is concerned with measuring the distance between the various levels of awareness ... possible to those living under the old dispensation and the level of awareness revealed by Christ in Paradise Regained' (198). The implications of this statement have...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 244-262
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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