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"Look on Me": Theater, Gender, and Poetic Identity Formation in Milton's Maske

From: Studies in Philology
Volume 110, Number 4, Fall 2013
pp. 812-850 | 10.1353/sip.2013.0032



Scholarly approaches to Milton's interest in drama have missed how theater represents for Milton the ethical challenge of negotiating poetic identity with a reading and viewing public. This article locates Milton's Lady within complementary discursive contexts that efface female agency through either virulent anti-feminism associated with theater or dualistic idealizations that elevate the soul while denigrating the agential body. The Maske's staging of an emergent woman imperiled by the visual and discursive field is in part a test case for a public poetry. By way of the "Maske of Cupid" in Faerie Queene 3, Milton constructs Sabrina's paradoxical function as "uncontrouled worth" enabling the paralyzed Lady by offering a spectacle of an inviolably chaste body that can enter social circulation and work to reform it while evading its distorting power. Nonetheless, Sabrina's ghostly ephemerality and the evident constraints on the Lady's agency suggest why public drama for Milton henceforth would be indefinitely deferred but never staged.