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Milton's Rival Hermeneutics

"Reason Is But Choosing"

edited by Richard J. DuRocher and Margaret Olofson Thickstun

Publication Year: 2012

Recent critical conversation has described John Milton’s major works as sites of uncertainty, irreconcilability, or even confusion—as texts that actually reflect radical incoherence and openness. These newer critical voices posit, moreover, that traditional critics must strain to find coherence and authorial control in Milton’s poetry. Richard J. DuRocher and Margaret Olofson Thickstun, together with an esteemed group of Milton scholars from a wide range of critical and theoretical backgrounds, respond to this challenge. While accepting the presence of uncertainty and welcoming the multiple perspectives that Milton builds into his works, this volume offers a variety of nuanced approaches to Milton’s texts. As these 11 essays demonstrate, Milton’s own acts of interpretation compel readers to reflect not only on the rival hermeneutics they find within his works but also on their own hermeneutic principles and choices—an interpretive complexity that is integral to his poetry’s enduring appeal. Thus, each of the contributors takes up the problem of this interpretive dilemma in some way: several explore Milton’s own engagement with the texts of Scripture and the classics; some examine the ways in which Milton represents the process of interpretation in his narrative poems; and still others are intrigued by the challenges that Milton’s works present for the reader’s own interpretive skills. Milton's Rival Hermeneutics, in responding directly to the “incertitude critics” of Milton, will be of interest to those on all sides of this debate and will certainly redirect the ongoing conversation.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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A Tribute to Richard J. DuRocher, 1955–2010

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pp. vii-xiv

Like all the great Renaissance humanists, Rich DuRocher was deeply grounded in Christian faith and in classical authors. These two arenas of lifetime commitment came together in his passionate engagement with Milton...

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pp. xv-xxv

John Milton’s works include interpretations of texts ranging from classical myths to biblical narratives regarded in his day as authoritative. In approaching these authoritative texts, Milton can be seen to be both faithfully...

Part One: Reading Violence

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pp. 1-73

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1. Inviting Rival Hermeneutics: Milton’s Language of Violence and the Invitation to Freedom

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pp. 3-16

Milton’s biblical hermeneutics direct his own composition, as Mary Ann Radzinowicz has ably and amply illustrated in her magisterial books, Toward “Samson Agonistes” and...

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2. “A Table Richly Spread”: Nature, Place, and Choice in Milton’s Nativity Ode

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pp. 17-30

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a...

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3. Dead Shepherd: Milton’s Lycidas

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pp. 31-56

Since the nineteenth century, when Mark Pattison, suiting the image to the thing, called this stream-filled poem “the high-water mark of English Poesy,” Milton’s Lycidas has had more votes than any other as the greatest short poem...

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4. Toward Latinitas: Revising the Defensio

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pp. 57-73

My title alludes, obviously, to Mary Ann Radzinowicz’s magisterial Toward Samson Agonistes: The Growth of Milton’s Mind. Radzinowicz’s central premise is that Milton’s mind and art developed dialectically, that the same concerns that...

Part Two: Reading Paradise Lost

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pp. 75-155

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5. Interpreting God’s Word — and Words — in Paradise Lost

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pp. 77-99

Milton’s major poems are all based on biblical texts, requiring him to interpret and present the essential meaning of those texts and the stories they narrate. He treats those texts with remarkable freedom, considering the anxieties...

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6. Sites of Contention in Paradise Lost: Scenes of Instruction, Lessons in Interpretation

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pp. 101-133

Milton’s poems are a provocation to repeated readings, with their deepening complexity becoming strikingly evident, as William Hayley attests, in “how ingeniously the great poet adopted the most opposite...

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7. Narrative, Judgment, and Justice in Paradise Lost

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pp. 135-155

The most basic template for every interesting narrative situation is a template of expected vindication.1 Someone is misunderstood and expects, often with desperate wishfulness, those who misunderstand...

Part Three: Reading Cruxes in Milton’s Major Poems

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pp. 157-237

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8. Rethinking “shee for God in him”: Paradise Lost and Milton’s Quaker Contemporaries

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pp. 159-181

The meaning of gendered hierarchies in Paradise Lost has long stood as a contentious issue in Milton criticism. In particular, the line “Hee for God only, shee for God in him” has prompted a wide range of responses...

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9. Fame, Shame, and the Importance of Community in Samson Agonistes

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pp. 183-203

As a young man, Milton desired recognition and understood the social benefits of publicity, offering fame now and in the future as incentive to study hard (Prolusion 7), to refrain from destroying a poet’s house...

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10. Satan in Paradise Regained: The Quest for Identity

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pp. 205-224

Although Paradise Regained is based on the accounts told briefly in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Milton both enlarges and elaborates on the temptations...

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11. Hermes’s Blessed Retreat: Rival Views of Learning in Paradise Regained

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pp. 225-237

Milton often designs his poems’ plots around clashes over differing interpretations of the same event, phenomenon, or issue. We might describe such clashes as cases of rival hermeneutics. For example, in...


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pp. 239-263

About the Contributors

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pp. 265-267


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pp. 269-278

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780820705811
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704500

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012