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Milton and the Rhetoric of Zeal

By Thomas Kranidas

Publication Year: 2005

Milton's radically aggressive English prose emerged from a dynamic rhetorical milieu. A rhetoric of radical excess developed among the Puritan wing of English Protestantism throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, scriptural injunctions to will the sword of the spirit against the enemies of the Lord. The most potent of these texts was the pronouncement from Revelation 3:16: “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” The tradition culminated in a politically virulent and highly effective “rhetoric of zeal,” which was deployed against the Church of England, and ultimately against the monarchy, during the 1630s and the 1640s. The first part of Kranidas’s study demonstrates the widespread acceptance of the attack on “lukewarmness” and the celebration of a passionate and immoderate commitment to action against the Laudian campaign for “Holy Decency,” the reform of ritual and discipline generally in the Church of England. The book then turns to an analysis of Milton’s antiprelatical tracts, with particular, but not exclusive, reference to the tradition of zeal. Kranidas demonstrates the broad range of Milton’s styles and the increasing confidence in his assumption of kerygmatic authority in the argument against prelaty, the arguments for freedom of conscience, and the evolving arguments for republicanism. The book ends with a brief coda that argues the similarities of radical Puritan rhetoric and the rhetoric of the radical American movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Published by: Duquesne University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-xvi

My first reading of Milton's prose came as an undergraduate at the University of Washington in the fall of 1948, in the midst of one of the first postwar witch hunts in an American state university. The anxiety and disappointed idealism that followed World War II were developing into the Cold War and were soon to spawn the venomous McCarthy Era of ...

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A Note on Texts

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pp. xvi-xvi

I have retained original spellings in most of my early texts,while regularizing i's, j's, u's, v's, and long s's. For background material in the first chapter, I have used modern editions where possible, including those for Bishop Hall, but in chapter 4 I use earlier editions for Hall, in order to retain the intensely...

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One. The Rhetoric of Zeal

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pp. 1-48

The English "Wars of Truth" were intoxicated with language. The exhilaration of print, with its capacities for a larger and more varied audience; the opportunities it offered for anonymity, for sustained display, for self-aggrandizement; the sharp edges of the contrasting positions it admitted to its colloquy; the almost infinite possibilities of ...

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Two. Of Reformation: The Politics of Vision

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pp. 49-71

In the carefully nurtured Puritan view of providential history, the year 1640–1641 joined 1588 and 1605 as another annus mirabilis.1 Like the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, the falls of Lord Protector Strafford and Archbishop William Laud were seen as direct interventions by a God who really did take sides. The old ...

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Three. Words, Words, Words and the Word: Of Prelatical Episcopacy

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pp. 72-87

Of Prelatical Episcopacy1 is the shortest of the anti-prelatical tracts, the most subdued in rhetorical spirit and, on the surface at least, in intellectual ambition. Yet even here there are passages of power and (more rarely) of beauty, usually in the condemnation of spurious authority or in the praise of Scripture. And there is an impression of success, of ...

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Four. Style and Rectitude: Hall, Smectymnuus and Milton's Animadversions1

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pp. 88-121

Milton's first plunge into controversy must have been effective. The "Postscript" to the Smectymnuan Answer elicited pointed remarks from Bishop Hall in A Defence of the Humble Remonstrance, including accusation of plagiarizing the well-known Puritan pamphlet Sions Plea. Did Milton contribute to the second Smectymnuan pamphlet, ...

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Five. "Sanctifi’d Bitterness": A Modest Confutation and An Apology Against a Pamphlet

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pp. 122-162

I have argued that the emphasis in these debates was largely on the rectitude of the writers involved. Milton's presence is assertive and almost palpable. Yet the argument against prelacy is the reason for his presence, and that presence must be both justified and ancillary to his purpose. Donne and Herbert had earlier recorded their perceptions, often anguished, ...

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Six. Kerygmatic Authority in The Reason of Church-Government

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pp. 163-203

The Reason of Church-Government Urg'd against Prelaty is the longest of the antiprelatical tracts, the first to be acknowledged by its author, and the most carefully read of Milton's early prose pieces. The autobiographical essay at the head of book 2, with its resplendent promises for the future, suggests a new stage of awareness of his career, a public...

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Coda. Rhetoric and Revolution: The Eccentrical Equation

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pp. 204-214

I joined the faculty at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in the summer of 1968. It was an exciting move for me and my family, from the beautiful and dignified campus of the University of Delaware to the raw, new community emerging from the mud of Long Island with enormous energy and stridency. At Newark, Delaware, I had felt like a radical...


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pp. 215-244


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pp. 245-255

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705378
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820703619
Print-ISBN-10: 0820703613

Page Count: 271
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 607605169
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Milton and the Rhetoric of Zeal

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Subject Headings

  • Milton, John, 1608-1674 -- Prose.
  • Christian literature, English -- History and criticism
  • Christianity and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • Milton, John, -- 1608-1674 -- Technique.
  • Politics and literature -- Great Britain -- History -- 17th century.
  • Radicalism -- Great Britain -- History -- 17th century.
  • English language -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- Rhetoric.
  • Puritans -- England -- Intellectual life.
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