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Single Imperfection

Milton, Marriage, and Friendship

By Thomas H. Luxon

Publication Year: 2005

This book takes a fresh look at John Milton’s major poems—Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes, and Paradise Regained—and a few of the minor ones in light of a new analysis of Milton’s famous tracts on divorce. Luxon contends that Milton’s work is best understood as part of a major cultural project in which Milton assumed a leading role—the redefinition of Protestant marriage as a heteroerotic version of classical friendship, originally a homoerotic cultural practice. Schooled in the humanist notion that man was created as a godlike being, Milton also believed that what marked man as different from God is loneliness. Milton’s reading of Genesis—“it is not good for man to be alone”—prescribes a wife as the remedy for this “single imperfection,” but Milton thought marriage had fallen to such a degraded state that it required a reformation. As a humanist, Milton looked to classical culture, especially to Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, for a more dignified model of human relations—friendship. Milton reimagined marriage as a classical friendship, without explicitly conceptualizing the issues of gender construction. Nor did he allow the chief tenet of classical friendship, equality, to claim a place in reformed marriage. Single Imperfection traces the path of friendship theory through Milton’s epistolary friendship with Charles Diodati, his elegies, divorce pamphlets, and major poems. The book will prompt even more reinterpretations of Milton’s poetry in an age that is anxiously redefining marriage once again.

Published by: Duquesne University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xiii

It has long been recognized that Renaissance humanists and Protestant reformers changed forever the way Westerners think about marriage and its societal role. The literature on the early modern marriage and family, especially in England, is extensive and growing. This literature makes much of reformation doctrine and...

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pp. xv-xvi

This book owes many debts. I can acknowledge here only those I can remember; I know there are others I have forgotten or of which I have yet to become aware. Barbara K. Lewalski introduced me to Milton studies quite a long time ago, and since then I have wanted to write a book on Milton. I am certain that she will not endorse...

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pp. 1-21

Protestant Christianity, especially the brand we now call puritanism, both absorbed and reacted against the new humanism of the Renaissance. The same humanist principle that resurrected Plato’s Symposium — return ad fontes — led Protestants to insist that according to Genesis the first human pair was a man and a...

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1. Classical Friendship and Humanist Marriage

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pp. 23-55

The doctrine of civil marriage that Justice Marshall articulates in the passage above has its intellectual roots in Renaissance and Reformation humanism. It has taken a long time to emerge and is still far from universally accepted. Justice Marshall spelled...

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2. The Sage and Serious Doctrine of Conversation

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pp. 57-93

“Conversation” is a term and concept central to Milton’s attacks on the canon laws regarding divorce and to his efforts to redefine marriage in the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Despite its common use as a euphemism for sex, especially adulterous sex, Milton tries to use the word to redefine...

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3. “Single Imperfection” and Adam’s Manly Self

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pp. 95-121

Milton announced on several occasions that he learned most about true love from Plato and Xenophon, especially, as I will later consider, from Plato’s Symposium and its remarkable teaching on enlightened pederasty. Socrates wanted to bring mutuality and equality to the Athenian pederastic practices and so...

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4. Milton’s Wedded Love

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pp. 123-156

This chapter will try to correct a widely accepted misconception about what John Milton meant by “wedded Love.” Some of the best recent commentaries on this topic too easily equate “wedded Love” with what we today call sexuality.¹ James Grantham Turner, one of the most learned and otherwise careful authorities...

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5. Heroic Divorce and Heroic Solitude

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pp. 157-192

In the treatment of Samson Agonistes that follows, I want to focus on two things. Milton chose a Hebrew hero for this strictly neoclassical tragic poem, and, even though it required taking significant liberties with his biblical source, he made that hero a married man. Hebrew heroes were not unheard of in Renaissance...


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pp. 193-210


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pp. 211-215

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705156
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820703732
Print-ISBN-10: 0820703737

Page Count: 231
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 607843243
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Single Imperfection

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Subject Headings

  • Milton, John, 1608-1674 -- Knowledge -- Manners and customs.
  • Marriage in literature.
  • Milton, John, -- 1608-1674 -- Political and social views.
  • Literature and society -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • Marriage -- History of doctrines -- 17th century.
  • Friendship -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Divorce -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Friendship in literature.
  • Divorce in literature.
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