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Although monotheism is at least as old as the Hebrew Bible, in the seventeenth century it received particular attention among philosophers and rational theologians. Within the writings of such figures as John Selden, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and Henry More, and amid emerging Socinian and deist thought, official religion in England was increasingly defined according to the notion of a single God. In this compelling study—illuminating reading for literary scholars and religious scholars alike—Abraham Stoll examines Milton’s poetry in the context of these debates swirling around polytheism and monotheism.
While writing Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes with a keen awareness of monotheism, Milton is faced with serious issues for his narratives. From the classical, polytheistic conventions of the Greek epic tradition, Milton inherits divine councils, invocations, and a cosmic scope; but he is also attempting to represent a God who is omniscient and omnipotent, who resists images and personality, and who thus cannot fit the minimal requirements of plot. Negotiating these problems, Milton’s monotheistic narratives must question the Trinity, depict polytheistic gods, and ultimately challenge the notion of revelation itself. Yet monotheism also describes how Milton pulls back from the extremes of rational religion to maintain the revealed God of the Bible, forging a unique version of Christianity.
As Stoll points out, poetry and theology are too often understood separately, which is especially damaging for the study of Milton, whose poems are retellings of biblical stories. Milton and Monotheism demonstrates the profound differences between doctrinal discourse and narrative poetry and how neither is, individually, able to fully represent Milton’s monotheism—or, as Stoll says, “a God of flickering subjectivity.”
“Milton and Monotheism is an extraordinary achievement, one that offers a fascinating and brilliantly illuminating account of how theology demands narrative and how narrative stands in tension with theology. Beautifully written, compellingly argued, Stoll’s work offers new insights into crucial matters of theodicy, doctrine, and representation in Milton’s poetry.” — Jeffrey Shoulson, University of Miami
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.
In our contemporary Western culture, “freedom” is a powerful term with elastic meanings and contradictory uses; it has both driven rebellion and justified empire. John Milton’s world, like our own, struggled to understand freedom within what was already considered a heritage of political and personal liberty, compounded in the seventeenth century by theological questions of freedom. In this important new study, Susanne Woods reveals Milton’s central place in the evolution both of ideas of freedom in English-speaking culture and in creating a poetics that invites readers to enact the freedom Milton defines. For Milton, we find, freedom is fundamentally about human choice; God gave humankind genuine free will, with reason and the light of conscience to enable choice. True freedom comes from who one is, formed and asserted by the choices one makes. This is true for the reader as well as for the author, Milton believed, and the result is what Woods terms an “invitational poetics.” By locating freedom in thoughtful choice, in other words, Milton must offer his reader opportunities to consider alternatives, even to his own well-argued positions. In six chapters, Woods examines these invitational poetics on several levels: as they develop in Milton’s prose and early poetry, in theory as well as practice; as they are expressed within prose sentences and lines of poetry through choices of diction and syntax; and as they inform character, plot, and genre. Chapter 1 connects Milton’s most famous statement about his ongoing interest in liberty with debates that preceded him. Chapter 2 shows Milton’s Elizabethan predecessors grappling with the possibilities and limits of poetic indirection; Philip Sidney, in particular, provides an underappreciated rhetorical and theoretical foundation on which Milton’s invitational poetics could build. These background chapters allow us to see Milton’s evolution toward a poetics of choice, followed by their confident manifestation in the great poems. Later chapters consider Paradise Lost as Milton’s grand disquisition on knowledge, choice, and freedom; and Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes in relation to the ambiguities of choice and vocation. Finally, Milton is situated in relation to the most influential seventeenth century political thinkers, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and Woods examines the influence of Areopagitica on political culture since Milton’s time, placing Milton’s ideas in a tradition that leads to modern contestations of freedom.
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.
"Reason Is But Choosing"
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.
Vol. 53 (2012) through current issue
Published annually by Duquesne University Press as an important forum for Milton scholarship and criticism, Milton Studies focuses on various aspects of John Milton’s life and writing, including biography; literary history; Milton’s work in its literary, intellectual, political, or cultural contexts; Milton’s influence on or relationship to other writers; and the history of critical response to his work.
This book-length study of Milton as a dramatist fills a longstanding gap in Milton scholarship. Combining author-contextual criticism, historicized reader-response theory, and new historicism, Timothy Burbery begins by answering common objections to the claim that the poet is a dramatist, including the putatively static natures of Comus and Samson Agonistes, Milton’s egoism, and his Puritanism. Further, Burbery asserts, recent biographical evidence of Milton’s consumption of drama, such as his father’s trusteeship of the Blackfriars Theater, suggests that the future poet viewed commercial plays and thus probably alludes to these experiences in his early poetry. Exposure to the public theater may also have influenced major episodes of his own dramas, including the debate between the Lady and Comus, and Dalila’s stunning entrance in Samson.
The study then examines Milton as a practitioner of drama by analyzing Arcades and the Ludlow masque. Having mastered the conventions of masque in the former work, Milton stretched himself in Comus by composing a work that was far more playlike than any court masque. It is possible that his success with these dramas encouraged Milton to regard himself as a budding dramatist in the 1630s, for late in that decade he began sketching out ideas for tragedies on biblical subjects including the Fall, Sodom, and Abraham and Isaac. This material, found in the Trinity Manuscript, shows him working through practical problems of staging and presentation, and sets the foundation for Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes. While Samson was “never intended for the stage,” it nonetheless embeds numerous “stage” directions in its dialogue, including information about the characters’ appearances, gestures, and blocking. Awareness of these cues sheds light on some of the current critical debates, including the terrorist reading of the tragedy and Dalila’s role. Burbery surveys the surprisingly extensive stage history of Samson, a history that tends to confirm its theatrical viability. Milton the Dramatist emphasizes Milton’s dramatic achievements and thus restores a more equitable balance to our appreciation of his total literary achievement.
A Poetics of Culture, Politics, and Friendship
Though renowned in her own time, noted Interregnum and Restoration poet Katherine Philips fell into relative obscurity within a few decades of her sudden death at age 32 and was soon relegated to the margins of the English canon. In recent decades, however, critics have begun to rediscover and recognize the importance of Philips’s poems and translations. This first scholarly collection devoted solely to the poetry of Katherine Philips is an important milestone, not only in the continuing recovery of Philips’s reputation, but in our understanding of her influence in the literary circles of the seventeenth century. As Orvis and Paul explain, Philips’s work ranges across genres, modes, and forms; she wrote epithalamia and elegies, pastorals and panegyrics, dialogues and Pindaric odes; she even tried her hand quite successfully at dramatic translation. Her significance as a poet became clear with her appearance in several notable print publications of the time, which had rarely included women writers. Though she continued to be cited by writers after her death — John Keats, for example, highly praised and quoted one of her friendship poems in an 1817 letter — editions of her poetry fell out of print after 1710, and her work became far less known. Until the recent surge in interest in “women’s writing,” Philips, if mentioned at all, was seen by early twentieth century scholars as a minor writer who dealt with rather inconsequential subject matter. The field of Philips scholarship is rich and diverse, however, despite its relative youth. As this collection demonstrates, her work resists attempts to pigeonhole it, bringing together questions of politics, sexual desire and identity, and poetic tradition. These 13 essays from a wide range of scholars are organized around three salient fields of inquiry: cultural poetics and the courtly coterie; innovation and influence in poetic and political form; and articulations of female friendship, homoeroticism, and retreat.
From Hegel to Heidegger
In An Ontological Study of Death: From Hegel to Heidegger, Sean Ireton examines conceptions of death as manifested in German literature and philosophy from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, expanding on thanatological theories that distinguish between a metaphysical and an ontological view of human finitude. Whereas metaphysics separates life from death and posits a transcendent reality beyond the physical world, the ontological perspective integrates death into the very core of being where it functions as a fundamental phenomenon of life. Arguing that the dialectical thinking of Hegel and Hölderlin erases the metaphysical paradigm of death and sets the stage for the existential interpretations advanced by Nietzsche, Rilke, and Heidegger, Ireton maintains that each of these authors ultimately seeks to incorporate the traditional realm of nonbeing into the heart of existence. Framed by the opposing philosophies of Hegel, who deems that death has little personal meaning but is vital for the life of Spirit, and Heidegger, who converts death into the determining factor of selfhood, Ireton’s study finds common ground in the way death is viewed—as the promise of possibility, freedom and wholeness. Though primarily focused on the Germanic tradition, Ireton’s study also addresses the modern French philosophical treatment of death by Blanchot, Kojève, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and Foucault in the wake of their German predecessors. Ireton concludes by placing the dialectical and existential views discussed in his study within the context of modern thanatology, specifically demonstrating how themes of human finitude and freedom have a direct bearing on the current debate surrounding the dignity of death and the right to die.
Plurality, Event, and Contingency in Contemporary Philosophy
After the vehement critique of metaphysics in the twentieth century, ontology has again found its place at the center of continental philosophy. Yet this does not mean that the way in which metaphysics and ontology are understood has not been affected by these criticisms, the so-called “linguistic turn” of hermeneutics and deconstruction. In fact, as Gert-Jan van der Heiden demonstrates, the themes and concepts of contemporary continental metaphysics are highly influenced by the different versions of the account of classical metaphysics as ontotheology. Thus, contemporary thought seeks to recover a sense of the absolute, but without recourse to specifically theological underpinnings. Working largely with present-day thinkers who take seriously Heidegger’s critique of ontotheology—authors such as Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy, Claude Romano, Quentin Meillassoux, and Giorgio Agamben—van der Heiden returns with them to the question of ontology rather than rejecting the question altogether. As the book’s title suggests, he maps this contemporary debate in terms of three axes: plurality; the event and contingency; and, finally, an ethics proper to a thinking receptive to contingency. Rather than affirming either the speculative or the hermeneutic-phenomenological school of thought, van der Heiden shows how these schools, each in their own way, are concerned with similar themes and sources of inspiration. In particular, he assesses and critiques the ways in which philosophers today deal with these concepts to offer an alternative to ontotheology. The question of contingency, he argues, is the most challenging issue for present-day ontology, and ontology today can only be an ontology of contingency.