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Fallenness and Poetic Tradition in <i>Paradise Lost</i>
Readers of Paradise Lost have long been struck by two prominent—and seemingly unrelated—aspects of the poem: its compelling depiction of Satan and its deep engagement with its literary (and specifically epic) tradition. Satan’s Poetry brings these two issues together to provide a bold, provocative, and fresh reading of the poem—one that responds to the resurgent interest in Milton’s Satan by examining the origins of conflict and ambiguity in Paradise Lost. Without needing to resolve whether Satan is the hero or the villain, a mastermind or fool, Satan’s Poetry examines the more fundamental role of Satan as the origin of the fallen world, the entity that initiates the poem—perhaps, indeed, that initiates poetry itself. Paradise Lost, like all else in our fallen human existence, is permeated by Satan’s evil, which alters human life in ways that cannot be remedied within the course of human history, but Milton’s epic demonstrates that this generative evil does not ultimately determine what fallen creatures can do with that life. The whole point of the poem, then, can be seen as an attempt to understand what Satan’s fall means for us, the poem’s fallen readers, and only by achieving that understanding and working within our fallenness can our fallen state be resolved in the promise of redemption. Drawing on the philosophical frameworks of Hegel and Adorno, Satan’s Poetry argues that satanic creation, although fundamentally negative, nevertheless exists positively in Milton’s universe by virtue of its dialectical relation to God’s creation. Qualitatively different from God’s creation, producing only fragments, satanic creation is essential for Milton because it is the only mode of creation available to fallen consciousness, and therefore the only kind available to the poem seeking to create itself. So it is unnecessary, St. Hilaire concludes, to assume that sympathy for the devil means implicit agreement with the devil, or that Milton’s narrator must dissociate himself from Satan in order to justify God’s ways. Paradise Lost is Satan’s poetry because it participates in a form of existence that is in need of redemption; it is by embracing this fact that it renders itself fit for redemptive reading.
For the Common Good
This study is a response to a continuing debate stimulated primarily by cultural materialist and new historicist claims that the early modern self was decentered and fragmented by forces in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. The current study enters this debate by rejecting claims of such radical discontinuity characterizing a “contingent” and “provisional” self incapable of unified subjectivity. The counterargument in The Self in Early Modern Literature: For the Common Good is that the intersection of Protestant vocation and Christian civic humanism, in support of the common good, was a stabilizing factor in early modern construction of self that resisted historical and cultural dislocations.
The theoretical issues at stake are examined in an introductory chapter, followed by chapters discussing central aspects of five major early modern writers whose works variously incorporate elements in Protestant vocation and Christian civic humanism. These five writers have been chosen both for their importance in the English literary canon and for their respective roles in early modern culture: “Spenser: Persons Serving Gloriana”; “Shakespeare’s Henriad: Calling the Heir Apparent”; “‘Ego Videbo’: Donne and the Vocational Self”; “Jonson and the Truth of Envy”; “Milton: Self-Defense and the Drama of Blame.” The study ends with a brief postscript on the Bacon family in whom the combined forces of Protestant vocation and Christian civic humanism were uniquely expressed.
The Art of Almost Raising the Dead
This engaging book demonstrates Shakespeare’s abiding interest in the theatrical potential of the Christian resurrection from the dead. In 14 of Shakespeare’s plays, characters who have been lost, sometimes for years, suddenly reappear—seemingly returning from the dead. In the classical recognition scene, such moments are explained away in naturalistic terms—a character was lost at sea but survived, or abducted and escaped, and so on. Shakespeare never invalidates such explanations, but in his manipulation of classical conventions he parallels these moments with the recognition scenes from the Gospels, repeatedly evoking Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Benson’s close study of the plays, as well as the classical and biblical sources that Shakespeare fuses into his recognition scenes, clearly elucidates the ways in which the playwright explored his abiding interest in the human desire to transcend death and to live reunited and reconciled with others. In his manipulation of resurrection imagery, Shakespeare conflates the material with the immaterial, the religious with the secular, and the sacred with the profane.
Reinterpreting Samson Agonistes
Samson Agonistes is the climax and completion of Milton’s poetic vision. As such, it has become the work at which the critical controversies in Milton studies converge and from which new critical perspectives on Milton’s poems emerge. In 1969, John Carey heralded the birth of new critical perspectives when he contended that Milton’s dramatic poem "is not a drama of inner regeneration," a view that flies in the face of traditional interpretation, which tends to perceive Samson as a hero of regeneration. Carey also focused on Samson’s “tragic sulk” and the “theatre-demolition” at the feast of Dagon. Following Carey’s lead, other critics, notably Irene Samuel, began to question the various elements, large and small, of the traditional interpretation of Milton’s dramatic poem. Milton’s religious and political thinking, his use of prosody and verse, his outlook on tragedy, and the like were all reexamined. Since this revisionist view of Samson Agonistes began to develop, it has unfolded with a decisiveness and momentum that now challenge the traditional view, if not overthrow it. The dramatic poem’s ambiguities highlight Milton’s innovative adaptation of the biblical narrative concerning Samson, undermine the traditional ideas of Samson’s election by God and his redemption, question the typological alignment of the Hebraic and Christian scriptures whereby Samson traditionally is perceived as a “hero of faith” who prefigures the mission and ministry of Jesus, and draw attention to Milton's use of Arminianism, Calvinism, and other theological views. This book contends that there are several Samsons in the dramatic poem and multiple contexts and various traditions that bring to light Milton’s unique rendition of a kaleidoscopic protagonist. To achieve its purposes, this book forges and deploys a new critical vocabulary of paramount importance not only to Miltonists but to critical theorists generally.
Milton, Marriage, and Friendship
This book takes a fresh look at John Milton’s major poems—Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes, and Paradise Regained—and a few of the minor ones in light of a new analysis of Milton’s famous tracts on divorce. Luxon contends that Milton’s work is best understood as part of a major cultural project in which Milton assumed a leading role—the redefinition of Protestant marriage as a heteroerotic version of classical friendship, originally a homoerotic cultural practice. Schooled in the humanist notion that man was created as a godlike being, Milton also believed that what marked man as different from God is loneliness. Milton’s reading of Genesis—“it is not good for man to be alone”—prescribes a wife as the remedy for this “single imperfection,” but Milton thought marriage had fallen to such a degraded state that it required a reformation. As a humanist, Milton looked to classical culture, especially to Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, for a more dignified model of human relations—friendship. Milton reimagined marriage as a classical friendship, without explicitly conceptualizing the issues of gender construction. Nor did he allow the chief tenet of classical friendship, equality, to claim a place in reformed marriage. Single Imperfection traces the path of friendship theory through Milton’s epistolary friendship with Charles Diodati, his elegies, divorce pamphlets, and major poems. The book will prompt even more reinterpretations of Milton’s poetry in an age that is anxiously redefining marriage once again.
Milton's Literary Ecclesiology
Ken Simpson’s study, focusing on John Milton’s Paradise Regained, examines the literary ecclesiology of this most subtle and elusive of Milton’s works. While far less critical attention has been given to Paradise Regained over the years as compared to Paradise Lost and others of Milton’s canon, it might be argued that Paradise Regained may be read as a full and culminating expression of Milton’s views on the doctrine of the church, the nature of the Word, prophecy and vocation, and apocalypticism. As Simpson asserts, in Paradise Regained Milton not only continues his critique of the English Reformation by confronting the failures of the Restoration settlement, but he also continues to develop the consistent theology of the church that preoccupied him in his prose during the civil war and Interregnum. Theology, polemics, and poetry were not backgrounds of one another in Milton’s work, nor was theology a set of abstract propositions to which all discourses referred; rather, these were overlapping fields of discourse that offered different opportunities to fulfill the religious imperative to build the church. Simpson examines Milton’s view of the church as a textual community—a group of participants in the church who are each guided by the Holy Spirit in their reading of the Word. The interplay of silence and the Word, then, in Paradise Regained demonstrates that interpretive authority must always defer to the Spirit rather than tradition. This approach also shapes Milton’s construction of ministry, liturgy, and church militancy in the poem. Simpson’s provocative and unique examination of Milton and Paradise Regained will become an indispensable study, offering new views of this somewhat neglected poem.
Deity, Discourse and Heresy in the Miltonic Canon
In lively, forceful, and at times witty language, Michael Lieb has written an illuminating study of the figure of God as a literary character in the writings of John Milton. Milton’s God has always been a provocative and controversial figure, and Lieb offers a fresh way to look at the relationship between the language of theology and the language of poetry in Milton’s works. He draws into the discussion previous authors on the subject—Patrides, Hunter, Kelley, Empson, Danielson, Rumrich, and others—resulting in a dynamic debate about Milton’s multifarious God. By stressing God’s multivalent qualities, Theological Milton offers an innovative perspective on the darker side of the divinity. Lieb allows us to see a Miltonic God of hate as well as a God of love, a God who is a creator as well as a destroyer. Lieb directly confronts the more troubling faces of God in a manner richly informed by Milton’s own theology. Against the theoretical framework for the idea of addressing God as a distinctly literary figure, Lieb presents Milton in the historical milieu prior to and contemporaneous with his works. More cogently than others, Lieb clarifies Milton’s theology of the godhead and the various heresies, such as Socinianism and Arianism, that informed the religious controversies of the seventeenth century. He does so in a manner that exemplifies how literature and theology are inextricably intertwined.
Levinas, von Balthasar, and Trinitarian Praxis
For centuries, but especially under Heidegger’s influence in the twentieth century, Christian theology has consistently approached its inquiry through the language of ontology and within the framework of Being. These attempts to find a rational way to articulate religious life and the mystery of God, making spiritual praxis secondary to theory, not only run the danger of reducing God to a set of propositions, but also risk condoning violent indifference to interhuman relations. In response, Glenn Morrison suggests that Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophical corpus, which puts into question Heidegger’s fundamental ontology, can serve as a valuable resource for developing new theological language that unites theory and praxis. Building on previous attempts to appropriate Levinas to Christian thought, Morrison critiques thinkers such as Michael Purcell, David Ford, Michael Barnes, and Graham Ward for hesitating to go beyond ontotheology. A Theology of Alterity strives to more radically utilize Levinas’s philosophical framework, bringing it into conversation with the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, to construct a post-ontotheological account of theology that coincides with ethical behavior. In looking at these two thinkers in relation to each other, Morrison brings out the drama of eros that is often hidden in Levinas’s texts, and he points the way toward a less mystical, more ethical, and more metaphysically transformative reading of von Balthasar. In allowing Levinas’s Judaism to challenge von Balthasar’s Catholicism, Morrison develops a perspective that is both theologically rich and philosophically provocative. Following Levinas’s demand that we think Being “otherwise,” Morrison explores the implications of alterity in both systematic and practical theological matters such as the paschal mystery, Christ’s person and mission, pastoral care, mental health, forgiveness, prayer, and Jewish-Christian friendship. Reflecting on central articles of the Christian faith through the language of alterity, such as Christ’s death and resurrection, he describes the work of an ethically grounded theology that inspires a “trinitarian praxis”—wherein theology is driven by a kenotic, self-giving love, a radical gift of passivity, and the desire to encounter Christ in the face of the other person.
Recent John Milton scholarship has seen a revival of interest in the practice of close reading: historically and theoretically informed attention to the author’s poetic and rhetorical style. Responding to this emerging trend, To Repair the Ruins examines how close reading functions as an act of recovery, an attempt to close the gap between past and present, or as an act of repair that uses the past to reenvision a ruined or fallen present. In this volume’s 12 essays, esteemed scholars offer fresh perspectives on the significance of close reading for Milton criticism, presenting both new topics in Milton studies and new ways to read and think about previously considered topics. Part 1 of the book calls for revival—for a return to close reading, an exploration of Milton’s undervalued Latin poems, and a reexamination of neglected aspects of Paradise Lost. Part 2 analyzes Milton’s understanding of inward experience and the relationship between reading, self-reflection, and action. Part 3 explores the historical record—medieval Catholicism, Milton’s biography, and seventeenth century religious conflicts—to shed light on forgotten or obscured details central to the meaning of particular texts. Finally, part 4 assesses not merely the author’s reception history, but also the ways in which Milton’s work has been used to address the concerns and even amend the problems of later readers—from politicians to visual artists to prisoners. Each chapter, in one way or another, attempts to bridge the gap between literary and historical studies—between the delight we may take in the beauty, in the unstable, sometimes bewildering proliferation of meanings we encounter in a poem, and the worldly commitments of an author trying to prosecute arguments in a world of policy and ideological or theological conflict. A significant contribution to Milton studies, To Repair the Ruins will also be of interest to scholars concerned with general discussions of close reading, as well as Protestant revisionist poetics, art, environment, and devotional practice.