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The prevalent worldview of early modern England, clearly shaped by Protestantism, dismissed magical belief as an ideological delusion inherent in Catholicism. That same Protestantism encouraged a strong sense of individualism, with its emphasis on self-transformation, through which a new masculinity found expression. Why, then, did magical self-empowerment retain such a hold on the artistic and cultural imagination of early modern English society?
Ian McAdam’s innovative study suggests that the answer to this question may lie partly in an increasingly ironic presentation of magic. While the magical beliefs of the period asserted, on the one hand, individual empowerment through a quasi-religious self-justification and a presumed mastery of the objective world, those beliefs also gave rise to various anxieties concerning power and control — anxieties that created difficulty with conceptions of masculine and feminine gender roles as well as cultural attitudes toward Nature and the natural. Thus, McAdam contends, the increased interest in magic was connected to a crisis in masculine identity, which was exacerbated by the Protestant Reformation and its concern with individual empowerment as well as class, sexual, and religious identifications. Moreover, as artistic presentations — especially in the theater — were concerned with magic as a form of psychological, ideological, and cultural control, the study finds the psychoanalytic concept of narcissism useful in explaining the notion of selfhood as it developed in early modern England.
In chapters that explore various literary texts, McAdam considers depictions of magic by tracing a chronological path that follows a dialectical struggle involving a precarious attempt to balance “supra-rational” and “sub-rational” impulses. Beginning with Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, which depicts some ambivalent attitudes toward magical self-empowerment and the cultural concern of a feminine sexual threat to masculine (magical) control, the book moves to the Calvinist constructions of manhood in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and eventually to considerations of male self-definition and its reliance on women, class considerations in more oblique magical contexts, and surrender to magical (and ideological) powers in the works of Shakespeare, Marston, Middleton, Chapman, and Jonson.
In addition to appealing to those who study early modern literature and drama, this book will interest scholars of gender and those concerned with the theological basis of human subjectivity in the Renaissance.
"Written to Aftertimes"
This is the first full-length study of the relation between Milton and Homer, arguably Milton’s most important precursor. It is also the first study of a major interpoetic relationship that is responsive to the historicist critical enterprise, which has been dominant within literary study for the past 30 years, and engages the work of theorists of canon formation such as Barbara Herrnstein Smith and John Guillory. Most studies of the relation between one poet and another are wholly diachronic, examining the way in which brief, verbal recollections of the earlier poet—allusions—enhance or qualify the significance of passages in the later, alluding poet’s work. But this study goes beyond that, considering its focal poets within a synchronic framework that allows us to respond to the Homer of mid-seventeenth century England specifically rather than to some transhistorically unvarying Homer, thus revealing that Homer is important not only to the significance but also to the canonical status of Paradise Lost. Machacek not only examines the ways in which Homer enriches our understanding of Paradise Lost, but also argues that Milton was guided by the ways that Homeric epics were being reproduced in his time to “leave something so written to aftertimes as they should not willingly let it die.” The Homeric poems influenced Milton in his own ambition of composing an enduring work of literature, as Machacek details in chapters on the war in heaven as moral exemplum; on Milton’s negotiation of the contradictions inherent in the genre of Christian epic; on the relation of Paradise Lost to the emerging critical categories of originality and the sublime; and on the institution of the school, to which Milton entrusted the perpetuation of his epic. Milton’s approach to (and success at) securing canonical status for Paradise Lost provides important insights not only into his own artistry, but into the dynamics of literary canon formation in general. Milton and Homer will appeal to Miltonists, classicists, scholars of early modern literature, and those interested in the debate over the formation of the literary canon.
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.
Politics and Religion in the Democratic Homeworld
Modern political thought - at least in the West - has long presupposed that religion and politics constitute two distinct spheres with clearly demarcated boundaries. However, recent political developments, such as the rise of global Islamism and the American religious Right, have challenged the assumption that the progress of democracy within a society requires the increasing secularization of its government. In this work, Daniel D. Miller takes up the problem of how to think outside the flawed logic of this “normative secularism,” as he identifies it, and how to then articulate a theory of the social that can truly account for the complex relationship of religion and politics. Miller’s quest for such an understanding leads him to first consider three diverse contemporary sociopolitical theories that depart from normative secularism: the Radical Orthodoxy of Graham Ward and John Milbank; the theory of Empire and the multitude that resists it, as characterized by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri; and the self-styled postsecular political theory of Jürgen Habermas. Although each offers significant insights, Miller ultimately concludes that all these theories fail to achieve their goals due to a grounding in presuppositions and circular argumentation. Abandoning these avenues, Miller then takes the highly original step of turning to Husserl’s generative phenomenology, considering aspects of poststructuralism and post-Marxist political theory as well, to devise a constructive alternative account. The Myth of Normative Secularism thus conceives a phenomenology of the political that takes as its starting point the democratic orientation of the present political moment. Miller presents the compelling case that generative phenomenology makes transcendental claims that are absolutely necessary to an account of the social, within which the religious and the political must be understood as irreducibly phenomenological dimensions of the democratic homeworld. Bridging the gap that often exists between social scientific analyses of secularism, on the one hand, and philosophical and theological analyses, on the other, The Myth of Normative Secularism succeeds in both demonstrating the shortcomings of our current understandings and in providing an innovative and distinctive way forward.