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Milton and the Grounds of Contention

Edited by Mark R. Kelley, Michael Lieb, and John T. Shawcross

Publication Year: 2003

Both in his writings and in his life, Milton became the very embodiment of contention. He was an embattled figure whose ideas provoked endless controversy from his own time to the present. The ten new essays in this volume examine major issues that have become the grounds of contention in the study of interpretation and Milton and his works. These issues include the significance of women writers and readers, the nature of Milton’s influence and the reception of his works, the gendered bias that informs the portrayal of Eve, the vexed subject of choice and election that underlies the character of Samson, and the taint of the heresy that Milton’s theological beliefs are said to betray. In their engagement with these issues, the scholars represented here concern themselves with such figures as Edmund Burke, Lucy Hutchinson, and Elizabeth Singer Rowe. Their essays explore the concept of feme covert, the authorship of De Doctrina Christiana, the significance of Milton’s failure to pursue the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus, and the place of the Socinian controversy in Milton and his heirs. The authors of the essays, all well-known and well-published Miltonists, aim at setting up the “grounds” for undergoing the “trial by contrary” so extolled in Areopagitica as crucial to the understanding of the truth. It is by means of this trial that scholars can be equipped to engage in the contentions that have come to dominate the world of Milton studies.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-10

Critical approaches to literature in recent years have included the significance of women writers and readers, and the contemporary or near contemporary reception of an author and her or his works. Implicit in such concerns is also an awareness of an author’s potential influence upon the thinking...

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1. The Deleterious and the Exalted Milton’s Poetry in the Eighteenth Century

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pp. 11-36

Lying between the “Restoration” period of the last 40 years of the seventeenth century and the 1800 and 1802 pronouncements by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads, the eighteenth century experienced a number of conflicting attitudes toward poetry and...

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2. John Milton, Lucy Hutchinson and the Republican Biblical Epic

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pp. 37-63

In a recent book, Writing the English Republic, I tried to situate Milton in a larger grouping of republican writers who, whatever their limitations and the limitations of their moment, offer a present challenge in an England newly open to political change.

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3. “Pleasure by Description” Elizabeth Singer Rowe’s Enlightened Milton

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pp. 64-87

Alexander Pope’s 1713 recipe for an epic poem advises that for the language, “it will do well to be an Imitator of Milton, for you’ll find it easier to imitate him in this than any thing else.”¹ As Pope’s mockery made clear, even early in Milton’s afterlife, his peculiar use of language spawned a generation of...

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4. Inventing Postcolonialism: Edmund Burke’s Paradise Lost and Regained

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pp. 88-114

This essay follows the steps of Joseph Wittreich who followed the steps of John Milton into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with a creative zest of his own. I offer a Miltonic contribution to what is often called the “Burke problem”; the vexed relation between Edmund Burke’s defense of the...

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5. Gratitude and Paradise Lost: A Neglected Context

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pp. 115-149

That great man Philo the Iew, in the booke he hath entitled Noes plant, figureth vnto vs a certayne tradition of the Sages of his nation, to wit, that God the creator, after he had framed the world as a Scucheon of his Nobility, a contracted Table of his titles, a mirror of his greatnesse and wisdome, demaunded of the...

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6. Paradise Enclosed and the Feme Covert

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pp. 150-173

Thomas Carew’s “A Rapture” inextricably weds property and women, private ownership and control, suggesting that men who enclosed land necessarily and naturally enclosed women as well. The poem voices a common paradigm of the seventeenth century, as debates about property rights often...

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7. Choice and Election in Samson Agonistes

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pp. 174-187

Joseph Wittreich, in the most comprehensive reading thus far of Samson Agonistes’s context and critics, presents us with a fallible and unregenerate Samson who defies efforts to turn him into Samson Triumphantes. In Wittreich’s reading, Milton embraces contemporary commentary and...

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8. Milton’s Circumcision

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pp. 188-213

Even Milton’s most forgiving critics have been obliged to agree that the early ode Upon the Circumcision is less than entirely satisfying. The justification for this assessment has traditionally been aesthetic. Milton copies for the only time in his career a complex repeated Italian stanza, the specific...

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9. The Provenance of De doctrina Christiana: A View of the Present State of the Controversy

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pp. 214-233

The initial challenge to John Milton’s authorship of De doctrina Christiana was advanced at an International Milton Symposium (Vancouver, 1991) by William Hunter. His challenge was at once probed by a skeptical John T. Shawcross and confidently dismissed by Barbara Lewalski. After these papers were...

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10. Milton and the Socinian Heresy

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pp. 234-283

In what appears to be an ongoing tendency in modern criticism, scholars are ever more inclined to align Milton with the various heresies that emerged with renewed vigor during the revolutionary decades of the seventeenth century. Most recently, the fine essays that constitute Stephen B. Dobranski and John...


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pp. 284-333

Select Publications of Joseph Wittreich

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pp. 335-338

About the Contributors

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pp. 339-341


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pp. 343-352

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705248
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820703459
Print-ISBN-10: 0820703451

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2003