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Theatrical Wonder, Amazement, and the Construction of Spiritual Agency in Paradise Lost Elizabeth Bradburn Criticism that addresses the presence of theatrical language and imagery in Milton's later poems is usually one of two types. The first type considers the ways in which the later poems incorporate dramatic conventions and criticize or redefine particular theatrical genres. Issues of genre are especially relevant to Samson Agonistes, a tragedy "never intended"for the stage.1 Essays byD. M. Rosenberg,John D. Cox, and Peggy Samuels all explain ways in which Samson engages with the dramatic conventions of the Restoration and especially the work of Dryden.An alternative path is followed by Elizabeth Sauer, who looks at Samson specifically as a closet drama and examines the ways in which Milton's play criticizes theatricality in general.2 ParadiseLostand ParadiseRegainedrequire alternative approaches, since they are not dramatic in form. Nevertheless, critics have argued persuasivelythat each engages with theatrical genres. In the case ofParadiseRegained , Steven Zwicker has emphasized its pairing with Samson, showing how Milton uses dramatic technique in Paradise Regained to correct Dryden's conception ofheroic drama. Regarding Paradise Lost, Barbara Lewalskis classic study ofliterary forms in the epic takes tragedy as one ofthose literary forms and analyzes the dramatic structure of Books 9 and 10,which follow first Aristotelian and then Christian paradigms of tragedy. Her reading counters that of Richard S. Ide, who sees Books 9 and 10 as shaped by the conventions ofElizabethan tragicomedy . Finally,John Demaray's Milton's TheatricalEpicshows how much of the imagery in ParadiseLostcomes from the English masquing stage.3 77 78Comparative Drama The second type of criticism that deals with theater in Milton's late poems tends to consider theater as a trope. For example, David Loewenstein's Milton and the Drama ofHistoryshows how Milton conceptualized history as a form of theater. Milton incorporated the metaphor ofdrama into his prose writings and later poems as a way oflinking literature with history.A second notable example is HistoricizingMilton,by Laura Lunger Knoppers, which argues that Milton criticized the English monarchy for its manipulative histrionics while also figuring his own political and authorial agency through the metaphor ofthe stage.4 This essay offers a different perspective on theatricality in Paradise Lost, and argues that Milton's literary imagination was also stimulated byhis conception ofthe emotional responses oftheatrical audiences. He systematically incorporated into the poetic language ofhis epic a pair of words, wonderand amazement, that link these emotional responses to a rich philosophical history and ultimately to Milton's sense that spiritual agency is as much a form ofresponse as it is a form ofperformance. I do not base this claim on any assumptions about Milton's actual experience with theater. Certainlyhe was interested in theatrical literary forms; he wrote a masque, and sketched out several ideas for stage tragedies , one ofwhich, entitled"Adam Unparadiz'd," eventually became his epic poem. As Zwicker points out, these sketches speak to "a vivid theatrical imagination."5 The extent ofMilton's own experience as a playgoer is not known. In 1992, the historian Herbert Berry argued that John Milton, Sr., became a trustee of Blackfriars Playhouse in 1620, and may well have had the privilege ofattending that theater, with his family, free of charge.6 This is only speculation, however, and a more recent article by T. H. Howard-Hill tries to lay to rest the idea that Milton had much interest in the English stage, either literarily or as an audience member.7 Nevertheless, the preface to Samson Agonistes suggests that the experience of emotionally responding to drama interested Milton. There he writes that tragedy is the"gravest, moralest, and most profitable ofall other Poems: therefore said by Aristotle to be of power by raising pity and fear, or terror, to purge the mind of those and such like passions."8 For Milton, the emotional response generated by tragic drama is the defining andjustifying feature ofthe genre,a testimonyto its moral seriousness .The importance ofthis concept is underscored bythe final lines of the drama itself: Elizabeth Bradburn79 His [God's] servants he with new acquisi Of true experience from this great event With peace and consolation hath dismisi, And calm ofmind...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 77-98
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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