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165 SIX Conclusion MILTON’S ACHIEVEMENT AS A DRAMATIST Having considered the major critical stages of Milton’s growth as a dramatic artist, we are now in a position to examine patterns and connections that have emerged, and to assess his achievement as a dramatist. I have already considered the impressive progress he demonstrates between the writing of Arcades and A Masque at Ludlow Castle. In the first work, he evidences his mastery of both entertainment and masque structures, including the lavish praise characteristic of the court masque. Within a year or so of completing Arcades, Milton was offered another commission to compose a second masque. Instead of creating a second, straightforwardly laudatory piece, however, he crafted a longer, richer work that artistically retards and complicates the masque’s progressive structure. The dramatic representation of the Egerton children’s “hard assays” in and through the Ludlow woods renders the Attendant Spirit’s closing compliment far more compelling than the unearned flattery that concluded the typical masque. Although a juxtaposition of the rudimentary Arcades alongside the Ludlow masque serves to highlight his growth as a dramatist, Milton was still in his apprenticeship when he finished Comus. Because of this, I noted characteristics of the masque that show his inexperience. For instance, in Comus the exposition of the 166 Milton the Dramatist villain’s heritage is spoken first to the audience by the Attendant Spirit (46–77), then essentially repeated at lines 520–30, a repetition that slackens the masque’s pacing. A seasoned dramatist would have found a way to include such exposition without hindering the play’s momentum, and indeed, Milton does just that in Samson Agonistes. Published in 1671, nearly 30 years after the Ludlow masque, the tragedy was probably also composed late in Milton’s career. Hence, it is separated from his early engagement with drama by several decades, yet basic motifs link it with these works. For instance, both Arcades and A Masque constitute approaches to seats of state, by the Arcadians in the first case, and the Egerton children in the second. Likewise, Milton deployed the same image of a group approaching an illuminated throne in both Arcades and in Paradise Lost, book 10. In a similar manner, the tragedy consists of a series of approaches by Samson’s visitors as he sits, not on a throne, of course, but on a mound near the prison. This structural resemblance is underscored by the fact that when the Danite Chorus declare “This, this is he” (115) they nearly echo the Arcadian nymphs and shepherds, who remark, twice, “This, this is she” as they walk toward the Countess Dowager (5, 17). Also, both groups are astonished by the incongruity between what they had been told about their subjects and what they actually see before them: the Arcadians, because the Dowager is even more resplendent than they had heard, and the Danites, by the shocking disparity between their memories of the former judge and the bedraggled figure sitting next to the mill. Milton’s views of tragedy also seem to have remained essentially unchanged from the 1640s to the 1670s, for his remarks on the subject in The Reason of Church-Government (1642) are quite similar to the tragedy’s prefatory epistle. Both documents praise Sophocles and Euripides as exemplary playwrights; both stress the importance of catharsis in the body politic; both extol the Calvinist commentator David Pareus, as well as his remark that Revelation constitutes an instance of biblical tragedy; and both censure play- wrights who introduce vulgar personages into their plays. To be sure, there are differences as well, such as in the epistle where Milton admits Aeschylus to the inner circle of Greek dramatists he most esteems. Also, he claims that Samson Agonistes is “never intended” for staging, while RCG speaks of producing “doctrinal and exemplary ” theater. Still, the tragedy preserves many implicit stage directions in its dialogue. Milton’s penchant for embedding such cues stems from his work on the Ludlow masque, for it too was intended to evoke spectacle in the minds of its original audience through the characters’ speeches. Milton’s early drama also influenced Samson both thematically and imagistically. For instance, the distinction between love and lust central to the Ludlow masque resurfaces in the Sodom sketch, wherein Milton envisaged the two visiting angels debating with the Sodom citizenry about the difference between these impulses. The heated agon between Dalila and Samson also seems indebted to this argument. Similarly, A Masque and...


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