Andrew Marvell’s critical stock has never been higher. Long admired for a handful of widely anthologized lyrics, more recent interest in his prose writings has revealed Marvell to be among the most penetrating observers of the debates over liberty and toleration that convulsed the seventeenth century. As a result of this attention Marvell himself has become—along with his friend John Milton—closely identified with the founding of modern liberalism. My concern in this essay however is to interrogate the ways in which Marvell’s politics have been read under the shadow of Milton; and indeed I discover a “Miltonizing” hermeneutic in common between the High-Church controversialists who repudiated Marvell’s tolerationist pamphlet The Rehearsal Transpros’d (1672) and modern historians and critics who have sought to write Marvell into the history of English liberty. Without seeking to nullify Marvell’s significant contribution to that history, I argue here that the lyric poet of “inconclusiveness” is more continuous with the Restoration politician than we have thought; and moreover that by taking Marvell’s politics on his own terms we stand to gain valuable perspective on the unstable divisions and contingencies of seventeenth-century political experience.


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pp. 132-162
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