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A Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton

Volume 3 [Samson Agonistes]

By Stephen B. Dobranski; Introdiced by Archie Burnett; Edited by P. J. Klemp

Publication Year: 1970

Over a span of three centuries, scholarly work dedicated to Milton’s Samson Agonistes has gradually evolved, reflecting changing critical interpretations within historical contexts. This variorum edition of the poem, the first since 1809, gathers together all significant contributions to understanding Milton’s dramatic poem that were published between 1671 and 1970.

This Variorum Commentary is an indispensable reference tool and opens up fresh lines of inquiry. Simply the most comprehensive, detailed, and expansive exploration of Samson Agonistes' critical history, this book is an essential tool for anyone interested in Milton and one of his greatest poetic works.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

Abbreviations of Milton’s Writings

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi

A Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton has been a work in progress for more than half a century. The first step in bringing closure to that monumental work, this volume on Samson Agonistes is a tangible sign of the scholarly continuity that exists between a new generation of Miltonists and our esteemed predecessors. Commentary about Milton’s poems extends back to his own century, ...

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pp. xvii-19

William Riley Parker had begun composing a variorum commentary on Samson Agonistes when he passed away in 1968, and the hundreds of pages of notes and introductory material that he assembled served as this book’s foundation. My numerous citations to Parker’s unpublished annotations can only begin to suggest the debt I owe to his hard work and acumen. He identified many of the passages ...

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pp. 1-46

Samson Agonistes is probably John Milton’s most controversial poem. Virtually everything about it has been open to dispute: its composition date, how we are to regard the principal characters, whether Samson undergoes regeneration, and whether it is a work to be read politically or typologically. This introduction aims to give an outline of the principal critical debates, and, rather than merely summarize ...

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A Note on the Annotations

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pp. 47-48

All long annotations in the following commentary for Samson Agonistes (hereafter, SA) are organized topically, according to, for example, a passage’s versification, historical context, or autobiographical overtones. Within these broader categories, I have attempted to arrange chronologically individual authors who address related ideas. In some cases, however, the logic of pairing authors whose ideas are closely ...


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pp. 49-50

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The Title

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pp. 51-54

Parker adds, “this etymology supports — and may even have suggested — the theme of regeneration which runs through Milton’s version of the story. It may also have suggested elements of the plot: Samson, whose birth was twice prophesied by an angel (SA 24, 361, 635), is given a second chance to resist Dalila; the Public Officer ‘came now the second time’ to fetch Samson (Argument); and Manoa makes two ...

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pp. 55-78

Title: “Of that sort of Dramatic Poem which is call’d Tragedy” is the heading of Milton’s Preface or “Epistle” to SA. The first forty-two of the seventy-six lines are a vindication of tragedy as a poetic form; the remaining part is an explanation of the “Greek manner” of this particular tragedy. Langdon observes that the heading “implies an expression of a general theory” (98). Sellin describes it as “the most ...

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The Argument

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pp. 79-83

The Argument: commentators have comparatively little to say about this opening section, mostly discussing how accurately it represents SA’s narrative. E.g., Gilbert identifies various discrepancies between the Argument and the poem (see the notes for Argument 10, 15–16, 20, 24–25, 27–28); he concludes that the Argument was written before Milton completed SA and represents an early outline (“Is Samson ...

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The Poem

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pp. 84-480

Commentators discuss various precedents for Samson’s opening speech. Cumberland writes that “Samson possesses all the terrific majesty of Prometheus chained, the mysterious distress of OEdipus, and the pitiable wretchedness of Philoctetes” (337). Sheppard alternatively offers a detailed analysis of what he calls the “Aeschylean symmetry” of the prologos (157–59); Brewer also compares ...

Works Cited

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pp. 481-501

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705019
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704159

Page Count: 519
Publication Year: 1970

Volume Title: A Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton