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  • Milton's Chivalric Tragedy:The Persistence of Romance in Book 9 of Paradise Lost

Milton's most consequential statement regarding his plans for an Arthurian epic occurs in the proem to book 9 of Paradise Lost, in which he seemingly refuses to debase his current project with the trivialities of chivalric romance. His loftier subject will instead be the tragedy of Adam and Eve. Milton's account of the Fall is obviously a Christian tragedy with classical precedents. However, judging by the frequency with which it follows romance conventions, book 9 of Paradise Lost can also be read as a chivalric tragedy, a mode not only familiar to Milton's contemporaries but also well suited to his political agenda and lifelong fondness for Arthurian literature. In fact, the proem does not reject romance outright, only a particular model associated with royalist propaganda. Its purpose is instead to prepare the reader, in true romance fashion, for the hero's choice between the genre's more superficial trappings and the righteous quests of the truly chivalrous.


Paradise Lost, genre, tragedy, romance, Arthurian literature


John Milton never wrote anything as vulgar as a chivalric romance. According to Wordsworth, tales of knight errantry were beneath him. While Wordsworth's contemporaries were languishing in "the heroic wealth of hall and bower," captivated by stories of "altar, sword and pen," Milton moved like a star in the higher realms of "manners, virtue, freedom" and "power."1 Thus, when Wordsworth considered taking up "some old / Romantic [End Page 136] tale" for his magnum opus, he remembered that Milton had left such a poem "unsung" and so could not justify his "More often resting . . . with reposing Knights." Milton had experimented with the matter of Britain in his youth, but he did not "settle" there, nor could he be found "resting at some gentle place / Within the groves of Chivalry."2 One gets the impression that Milton had better ways to spend his time.

Milton was nevertheless a lifelong fan of chivalric romance. In "At a Vacation Exercise" (1628), he indulged in the genre's "wandering Muse," recounting the exploits "of Kings and Queens and Hero's old" (ll. 47, 53); in L'Allegro (c. 1631) and Il Penseroso (c. 1632), he reflected upon the meaning of "high triumphs" for the happy and "Forests, and inchantments" for the thoughtful man (L'Allegro, l. 120; Il Penseroso, l. 119); in A Mask Presented at Ludlow-Castle (1634), he staged his own monster, enchanted object, and damsel in distress; in "Mansus" (1638), he invoked the memory of a subterraneous Arthur and "the great-souled heroes" of the Round Table as possible subjects for future work (l. 82); in Epitaphium Damonis (1639), he proposed to return Arthur someday to the world of poetry and settled again on the suitability of a British theme; in The Reason of Church-Government (1642), he explored "what K. or Knight before the conquest might be chosen in whom to lay the pattern of a Christian Heroe" (YP 1:814–15); in the Apology against a Pamphlet (1642), he remembered fondly his first encounters with romance, when he "betook me among those lofty Fables and Romances, which recount in solemne canto's the deeds of Knighthood founded by our victorious Kings" (YP 1:890–91); and in The History of Britain (1670), he concluded that although there is no reliable historical evidence to support it, the legend of Arthur still makes "for good story" (YP 5:166).3

What Wordsworth likely had in mind was Milton's apparent rejection of chivalric romance in the proem to book 9 of Paradise Lost (1667/1674), the same place incidentally where many readers are first exposed to Milton's original plans for the epic ultimately left "Unsung" (9.33). The irony is nicely spelled out in an annotation by Alastair Fowler:

Yet earlier M. loved romance (Il Penseroso 110–20; YP i 891), practiced swordsmanship, planned an Arthurian epic (Dam 162–78), projected other British subjects (Trin. MS), and pursued medieval interests (History of Britain).4

This is now such common knowledge that in Arthurian scholarship Milton is "famous for not having written an epic about Arthur."5 Readers might [End Page 137] still justifiably wonder why Milton would mention his original plan within the epic itself: Samuel Johnson famously identified the proem as one of Milton's beautiful "superfluities," an "extrinsick" paragraph in an otherwise tightly organized poem.6 But greater questions remain for scholars who trust that he had a reason. Fowler, for example, is less bothered by Milton's decision to invoke his original plan here than he is surprised by Milton's apparent willingness to abandon it so completely. He knows that Milton had an abiding interest in the Matter of Britain.

The greater questions are why Milton would reject chivalric romance at this point in his career, or whether he ever really rejected it at all. The first tends to be the one most commonly taken up, since any effort to argue for the persistence of romance in book 9 of Paradise Lost seems quixotic by contrast, an ironic interpretation informed more by familiarity with chivalric romance than a close reading of the text itself. Indeed, to identify book 9 with romance, a book that not only announces itself a Christian tragedy but also bears a strong resemblance to classical precedents, would seem to suggest that, as Jorge Luis Borges once opined, "literary genres may depend less on texts than on the way texts are read."7 Just as fans of detective fiction come to regard every story as a detective story, scholars with a background in Arthurian literature often do respond to book 9 of Paradise Lost as a kind of romance. However, the value of questioning whether Milton ever really turned his back on romance is attested to by more than just the reception history of the poem. The text itself suggests that continued attention to chivalric themes in book 9 of Paradise Lost is by design, as the proem does not in fact reject romance outright, but prepares the reader for the hero's choice between competing conceptions of romance, a genre that glamorizes the superficial trappings of warring knights, which Milton dismisses as a hollowed-out parody of a once-noble institution, or one that charts the righteous quests of the inwardly chivalrous, which he celebrates for promoting the trial and exercise of virtue and truth in the world.

Traditionally, readers have responded to the proem to book 9 of Paradise Lost with accounts of when and why Milton abandoned his proposed Arthurian project, as Fowler attempts later in the same annotation: "His rejection of chivalry developed gradually; it may have had to do with social élitism, like the French upper bourgeois scorn for noblesse d 'épee."8 The orthodox explanation is that Milton's "youthful enthusiasm" for romance at some point gave way to "outright rejection" and so followed a general trend away from romance in the mid-seventeenth century.9 Even those critics who maintain that romance never fell out fashion typically assume [End Page 138] that it was unsuited to Milton's aims in Paradise Lost, either because of the genre's royalist associations with kings and knights or because it could not be taken seriously enough for epic. In their reading, it was only later that Milton set about reforming it to his specifications in Paradise Regained (1671), a poem that Northrop Frye memorably characterized as "a parody of a dragon-killing romance, or, more accurately," as "the reality of which the dragon-killing romance is a parody."10

In contrast, recent studies have been more receptive to the importance of romance at each stage of Milton's career, with at least one major article taking up the subject every year since 2012, including a dissertation, to say nothing of many extended discussions in introductions, companions, and essay collections.11 There have been accounts of Milton's attraction to Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae,12 challenges to romance as an exclusively royalist genre,3 overviews of and introductions to Milton's Arthur,14 and arguments for the compatibility of romance with Milton's historiography,15 as well as systematic reappraisals of Milton's lifelong debt to the genre.16 Rather than representing the Return of Arthur in Milton Studies, however, these studies simply testify to the fact that while Arthurian literature might have temporarily fallen out of favor with Milton, it has never been far from his readers' minds. They also help illustrate that Milton had neither to reject nor return to and ultimately redeem chivalric romance when a tradition of antimonarchal sentiment suitable to his purposes was always already a feature of the genre.

A quixotic reading of book 9 of Paradise Lost that identifies chivalric romance as one of its available modes may be unorthodox, but it is not without justification. Anyone who traces the history of the English monarchy from Monmouth through Wace and Layamon to Edmund Spenser will find fit material for royalist propaganda: Elizabeth I and James I were both fêted as descendants of Arthur. This is obviously a tradition, no less than the aristocratic prose romances in vogue at the time of his writing Paradise Lost, that a republican poet like Milton would have been keen to reject.17 But there is also a rival tradition, including the earliest Welsh tales, the Gawain poet, and Sir Thomas Malory (if not his sources) that openly criticizes an imperial ruler who mismanages his kingdom through adherence to a disastrous code of courtesy, is weakened by his infatuation with a foreign and unfaithful wife, and dies in a civil war initiated by his past sins and irresponsible largesse. It was largely because of the "folly" and "impertinencies" of this latter tradition that Cowley decided a biblical king would be more proper than "Knights Errant" for a royalist epic.18 [End Page 139]

This rival tradition, primarily associated with Malory, would have served Milton well as a subject for tragedy.19 The tragic nature of Arthurian literature was obvious to T. H. White, the author of The Once and Future King: "It is why Sir Thomas Malory called his very long book the Death of Arthur. . . . It is the tragedy, the Aristotelian and comprehensive tragedy, of sin coming home to roost."20 When Milton turned his "notes to tragic" (9.6), he did not necessarily have to abandon romance. Le Morte D'Arthur has itself been defined as either "a romance in a tragic mode" or a "tragic-romance," and both Sir Philip Sidney's Old Arcadia (c. 1580) and Sir William Davenant's Gondibert (1651) had adapted romance to the five-act structure of tragedy.21 In 1587, Thomas Hughes had also recognized the potential for tragedy in Arthurian legend when he adapted Monmouth's account of Arthur's death into a five-act Senecan tragedy. Written in blank verse, The Misfortunes of Arthur, Uther Pendragon's son reduced into tragical notes, equated Arthur's fatal encounter with Mordred with the threat of civil war surrounding the execution of Mary Stuart and advanced the anti-imperialist agenda of its producers. Many of these concerns would, of course, still be timely when Milton wrote Paradise Lost and would also later lend themselves well to burlesque in Henry's Fielding's Tragedy of Tragedies, or The Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great (1730). Romance may not be the genre of book 9, but it was one of the available modes for Milton's tragedy, which can be read as the inverse of Le Morte D'Arthur, a tragedy in a romantic mode or a chivalric tragedy.22

Like the Stanzaic Morte Arthur before him, Malory offered Milton a precedent for conflating the corruption of chivalry with the tragedy of the Fall. In addition to general themes related to the implications of one man's disobedience, for example, Le Morte D'Arthur expressly blames a snake for instigating the civil war that ultimately destroys Camelot and its king. In the final book, just as Arthur and Mordred have negotiated a peace treaty, and "were agreed and accorded thoroughly," an adder bites the foot of an unidentified knight, provoking him to draw his sword in an act that the hosts misunderstand as a renewal of hostilities.23 The symbolic appearance of the snake infuses the event with Edenic significance, specifically recalling the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 and Satan's identification as an "Adder" in Paradise Lost (9.625). However, Milton's debts to romance cannot be reduced to a single source, both because he was too well read to trace just one line of influence and because the romantic elements that found their way into Paradise Lost are as varied as the genre itself. As a genre, romance is a highly conventional episodic narrative, typified by fantastic adventures [End Page 140] in exotic locales, obsessive quests, and a clear demarcation between good and evil, whereas a chivalric romance, such as Le Morte D'Arthur, refers more precisely to those populated by knights adhering to a code of chivalry. To the extent that Satan, Adam, and Eve behave (or misbehave) like knights, book 9 of Paradise Lost can be read as a romance in the chivalric mode, following the example of Chretien de Troyes, Malory, and Cervantes. However, as Milton learned from Tasso, Ariosto, and Spenser, romance can itself also function as a literary mode, infusing other narratives with the wonder, wandering, and moral crossroads that characterize the hero's journey within the genre. This is why book 9 of Paradise Lost can also be identified as a romantic, specifically chivalric tragedy. For unlike a classical tragedy, Milton's account of the Fall does not attribute the hero's fate to a fatal flaw but to the free choices that she or he makes.

The importance of such classifications is established at the very beginning of book 9 of Paradise Lost, where the reader is invited to reflect upon appropriate genres and answerable styles. In the proem Milton distances himself from the heroic mode previously identified with Satan in the poem, before redefining it in human terms. Satan is the one who most consciously embarks on a quest, who does battle with strangers in a foreign land, and who recruits the fallen to his fraternity of the damned. In book 1, Milton had compared Satan's fallen glory with "what resounds / In fable or romance of Uther's Son / Begirt with British and Armoric knights" (579–81) and described the devil's camp as "a coveredd field, where champions bold / Wont ride in armed, and at the soldans chair / Defied the best of paynim chivalry" (763–65). It is perhaps also no coincidence that the only identifiable borrowing from Le Morte D'Arthur is a detail in the description of Sin, comparing her (via Spenser's Blatant Beast) to Malory's Questing Beast.24 Milton has no interest in rehabilitating the imperial Arthur who serves royalist propaganda. He will not write about "Wars, hitherto the only argument / Heroic deemed" (9.28–29), nor will he choreograph a "ballet of violence" as Malory had done.25 The only races and games he describes are those of the fallen angels in book 2 (2.528–32), parodies of the heroic Olympian or Pythian games of ancient Greece.26 In book 9, by contrast, there will be no "fabled knights / In battles feigned," no

      races and games,Or tilting furniture, emblazoned shields,Impreses quaint, caparisons and steeds;Bases and tinsel trappings, gorgeous knights [End Page 141] At joust and tournament; then marshalled feastServed up in hall with sewers, and seneschals;The skill of artifice or office mean,Not that which justly gives heroic nameTo person or to poem.


Milton was not the first to negate heroic literature in this manner. In 1661 Samuel Pordage had also declined to write of "douty gests in warrs."27 However, while Pordage's proaemium simply clarifies in advance what his Mundorum explicatio will not be about, as prefaces at the start of sacred poems often did, the "rather unusual placement" of Milton's statement (in Lewalski's words) tends to have a different effect: it negates something that is not on the reader's mind at this point in the poem until the narrator brings it up.28 Rather than being a "self-enclosed" lyric, as Lewalski would have it (in a manner reminiscent of Johnson), the proem to book 9 has the effect of apophasis, or what through a misreading of the Rhetorica ad Herennium 4.27.37 came in the Middle Ages to be referred to erroneously as occupatio.29 It is a negatio but also a type of occultatio, whereby that which is too tedious or undignified to narrate is passed over in such a way that it is sure to be remembered, as has often been the case. In other words, the proem makes space for irony, a space as Milton remarks in another chivalric context, "Where more is meant than meets the ear."30

Many commentators nonetheless take Milton at his word here, assuming that he is in earnest because the royalist associations of romance presumably could no longer be tolerated, but it is also worth noting that the entire passage is framed as irony: it is meant to illustrate the "unpremeditated" (9.24) nature of the poet's verse. If Milton had an idea of what he was (or was not) going to do beforehand, and takes the time to say so after the colon, then the reader can be forgiven for doubting the narrator's denial. Of course, the speaker means to credit an external inspiration, a muse whose divine vision for the poem is superior to the poet's own, but that vision could still be informed by Milton's deep reading in chivalric literature.31 "Me of these / Nor skilled nor studious" (9.41–42) is disingenuous at best—Tillyard judged these lines "unprovoked lies," and they typically prompt objections from annotators.32 For example, Roy Flannagan has difficulty accepting in The Riverside Milton what the narrator appears to be saying here:

Considering that Milton told Dryden that Spenser was his "original" (see Parker 1:635 and Patterson, Milton 17) and considering [End Page 142] that Milton read widely in the Italian epic literature, his rejection of the subject matter of both the Italian romantic epic poets and Spenser seems a denial of his poetic roots.33

This rejection is ultimately for Flannagan "as forceful as is Jesus's rejection of classical learning in Paradise Regain'd," but while the two may be similar in degree, they are different in kind.34

Not everyone considers the proem of book 9 of Paradise Lost an outright rejection; for some, it constitutes merely an "apparent dismissal" or a misleadingly "self-conscious" statement that "has proved something of a red herring."35 Even Flannagan admits that it only "seems" to be so, a word that one should always be alert to in the presence of Spenser. First, the proem does not betray Milton's reading of Italian romances; it is arguably modeled upon Ariosto, who according to Sir John Harrington was not only a great ironist, but also the first to speak "so much in his own person by digression."36 Second, Milton does not reject romance in its entirety: he rejects only the superficial matters of races, games, jousts, heraldry, tournaments, and war—in other words, the "trappings" of the victorious Arthur, the legendary dux bellorum better suited to epic. With the possible exception of war, these are all simulated exercises designed to promote individual fame—"the skill of artifice or office." He does not do away with the art of courtesy, codes of chivalry, knightly quests, enchanted gardens, encounters with coiled serpents, broken oaths, or damsels in distress that one associates more with romance and finds elsewhere in the verse and prose. In fact, as Ray Heffner has found, there is a higher correlation of allusions to book 1 of The Faerie Queene in book 9 of Paradise Lost than between any other two sections of the poems.37

Milton might have objected to the outward trappings of chivalric literature but, as Wordsworth observed, he retains an interest in the "ancient English dower / Of inward happiness."38 In book 9 of Paradise Lost, following a more general shift away from marital heroics to the internal history of the individual in republican epics, Milton shifts focus from global conflicts to the domestic politics and inward dispositions that originate them.39 Like Ariosto and Spenser, he leaves off Virgil's "Arms and the man"—"hitherto the only argument / Heroic deemed"—to sing "Of Dames, of Knights, of armes, of loves delight, / Of curtesies, of high attempts," though unlike Spenser and Ariosto, he remains skeptical of such things.40 These are the romantic trappings the proem calls to mind for the reader familiar with chivalric literature in general, if not also Milton's previous Arthurian statements in particular. [End Page 143]

Nor has the proem prevented readers from drawing comparisons with chivalric romance in book 9 of Paradise Lost. Rather, the frequency with which they have done so is testament to the proem's ability to call to mind precisely that which the poet appears to reject in favor of notes more tragic, even though they are occasionally off the mark. For example, Dryden thought Milton would have remained truer to the epic form, "if the Devil had not been his Heroe instead of Adam, if the Gyant had not foil'd the Knight, and driven him out of his strong hold, to wander through the World with his Lady Errant."41 Readings of Paradise Lost are often shaped by what Milton opposes, and criticism of book 9 has proven no diferent.42 Even if there were no evidence that Milton intended it, readers have so often responded to book 9 of Paradise Lost as though it were a romance that the proem offers what might be considered a "scene" of irony—a happening if not a structural feature of the poem.43 However, so many readers have detected so many chivalric conventions in this book that it is difficult to imagine Milton was not himself under the spell of romance while writing it. These conventions permeate nearly every scene, beginning with its own comments on genre, through the proem, to what is commonly described as Adam's "chivalric" decision to share his wife's fate. Together, they show that it was not between tragedy and romance that Milton wanted readers to choose, but between the true romance God had intended for Adam and Eve and the mock romance that Satan tragically tempted them to adopt.


The proem in book 9 of Paradise Lost initially resists the mixing of genres that had become fashionable in Stuart England: there will be no more talk of the pastoral and georgic now that the speaker "must change / Those notes to tragic" (9.5–6). The usual explanation of these lines is that if epic contains all genres (Quintilian, Institutes 10.1.46) then book 9 will be "The Tragedy of Adam," but in the lines that follow Milton continues to wrestle with his choice between genres. Having now to write a tragedy—after having previously decided upon epic—is a "sad task" (9.13) for a poet so fond of choice, and an especially difficult one in the case of the Fall, which Renaissance critical theory deemed ill-suited to the demands of heroic poetry. In the non-Aristotelian tradition to which Milton early inclined, different subjects were understood to call for different genres, meaning that if the Fall was suitable for his originally planned tragedy, "Adam unparadiz'd," it could not equally be the subject of an epic. Tasso had wavered on this point in his Discourses on the Heroic Poem, arguing that an epic subject cannot serve [End Page 144] also for tragedy while stating, in another part of the same work, that epic and tragedy treat the same class of subjects in different ways.44 Milton continues to waver on it in the proem to book 9, stating that what follows will be tragic, while arguing only a few lines later that it be "Not less but more Heroic" (9.14) than classical precedents, turning his original choice of the matter of Britain into a "higher argument" for "the better fortitude / Of patience and heroic martyrdom" (9.42, 31-32). The proem of book 9, like so many other moments in the poem, is never really a beginning, but always a starting over, caught somewhere between beginning and ending.45

This tension between tragedy and epic, and Milton's wavering between the two, is one way in which book 9 enters into the "uncertain middle realm of 'romance,'" which, as Patricia Parker has shown, extends beyond the genre of Paradise Lost to the very nature of the poem's "pendent world" itself (2.1052).46 However, romance does more than create suspense; it also provides Milton with a pastoral setting where error is possible, as the demands of the poem required, rather than inevitable, as epic and classical tragedy would dictate but Genesis does not allow. As David Quint has observed, Milton's story of Adam and Eve "reclaims and revalorizes the open-endedness and contingency of romance" by isolating them from the public imperatives of epic. In his reading, the couple's happiness is not security but contingency (9.337-41), which is why for Milton's Eve it is not only permissible but also preferable to wander in the garden.47 This is not the passive retreat of royalist epic, examined in detail by Annabel Patterson and Lois Potter, and exemplified by Davenant's Gondibert.48 The romance convention of the locus amœnus was a recognized feature of a much broader epic tradition. The value of Quint's observation is not necessarily the anti-imperialist lesson one might draw from it, which remains controversial, but the space it allows for an unfallen version of romance.

Another influential explanation for Milton's apparent rejection of romance has been that the incessant wandering associated with the genre only approximated the truth, and so was conducive to allegory, whereas history required his epic to be true and complete in its own words. The purpose of the proem then is to draw away error, so that a boundary is erected around the truth.49 However, while it is true that Satan operates alongside just such a boundary, introducing unnecessary nuance and complexity to the truth, this is as much a function of parody (from the Greek parōidía, beside song) as it is of allegory. Moreover, it is important to note that, as a parody of the romantic hero, Satan brings error into a romanticized world in which Eve is true and complete but also capable of choice and free to wander. Only when she chooses Satan's way does she fall under the spell [End Page 145] of his mock romance, providing in turn a fallen model for Adam to follow, making the intricate seem straight (9.632).

Much about Milton's Satan is readily recognizable as a parody of romance; in book 1 he is a kind of "mock crusader" who perverts the whole range of heroic values found in chivalric literature (ll. 579–87).50 His flight through chaos is even more erratic than the flights of Ariosto's paladins.51 However, when Satan finally reaches the "place foretold" (2.830), he is no longer just a caricature of the romantic hero on a "wandering quest" (2.830); he is also a character in a romance. In book 9 he arrives in Eden like a knight in less than shining armor: "And on his quest, where likeliest he might find / The only two of mankind, but in them / The whole included race, his purposed prey" (9.414–16). In the garden Satan is an Arthurian villain (in appearance also a dragon) who, rather than rescuing a damsel in distress or seeking to win her love, purposes inwardly to destroy a married woman and her husband. He is also a kind of anti-Guyon, who like Spenser's hero sails past islands of distracting delights (Fairie Queene 2.12.10–15; PL 3.567), to creep covertly through the thickets of a garden (Fairie Queene 2.12.76; PL 12.58–96), in order ultimately to destroy a woman's bower of bliss.52 In short, Satan is a Knight Errant in Erich Auerbach's first sense of the word: like the hero in a chanson de geste, he has "an office and a place in a politico-historical context," but because it is not the place and office for which he was intended, he has strayed from the path of righ-teousness.53 Satan errs, and his errors are always ironic imitations of his intended path, serving as both a source and analogue for the many knights in the Arthurian tradition who pervert the code for which they stand, from Maleagant and the Black Knight to Lancelot and Sir Gawain, to say nothing of the knight prisoner, accused of rape, who chronicled them. As Stanley Fish remarks in Surprised by Sin, drawing upon his prior expertise in medieval literature, "Satan intends very little when he characterizes his journey as a 'wand'ring quest' . . . yet we are free and indeed obliged to compare his quest with Gawain's or Percival's and draw the obvious conclusion," which could be taken to mean in the case of Gawain that Arthur's knights were as Satanic as Milton's Satan is chivalric, or in the case of Percival that Satan's wandering ways are the prototypical perversion of the ideal quest. There's plenty of evidence to support either conclusion.54

If Satan alone defined attitudes toward romance in Paradise Lost, it would be reasonable to assume that the genre had no place in the poem's account of the Fall. But he doesn't.55 In book 9 Eve also departs on a quest. She is not content to rest on her laurels, but will set out to assay her virtue [End Page 146] wherever the foe might be met. Hers is the ideal quest of true romance, a purposeful wandering overlaid by wonder, a near homonym in the poem. She is a Knight Errant in Auerbach's second sense of the word; she sets out to find adventure, a perilous encounter by which she can prove her mettle and, in so doing, exercise virtue and truth in the world.56 While Adam is clearly identifiable with epic, Eve is a thoroughly romantic character; it is in her nature to wander, and her wandering nature is one way in which she remains subservient to Adam, in keeping with the hierarchy of genres.57 Eve's arguments in support of her departure are also, of course, reminiscent of Milton's own disapproval of "a fugitive and cloister'd virtue . . . that never sallies out and sees her adversary" and his subsequent recognition of the moral potential of Arthurian literature realized in "the person of Guion."58 Her more exalted chivalry is likely what Lewis had in mind at the end of A Preface to "Paradise Lost," where he concludes that Milton's great poem remains suspended between the higher virtues of Sir Galahad and the more cynical vision of Mordred, in a manner that might have provoked Fish's remarks above.59 Like Satan, Eve does not enter the lists in the trappings of knightly combat—no "tilting furniture, emblazoned shields" (9.34), "not as she with bow and quiver armed" (9.390)—since their contest will not involve outward shows of force.60

When Eve finally confronts Satan in the garden he appeals to her sense of romance in order to present her with a choice between these two types of chivalry. His role as the amorous knight is often noted: he woos Eve with the ardor of a knight in the Garden of Love (9.532–48).61 But as John Rogers has observed, one of Satan's more nuanced and successful ploys is to reframe disobedience as "an act of romance chivalry," when he suggests "in perfect chivalric language" that God will not be upset with Eve for so petty a trespass, but will instead "praise / Rather your dauntless virtue" (9.693–94). As Rogers explains, Satan essentially tempts Eve into thinking that she is not a character in a biblical epic but a wandering knight whose only responsibility is to prove her virtue through courage. This is an acute observation and one worthy of exploration in the classroom, where it was introduced. However, because Rogers assumes Milton's rejection of romance as a viable literary mode, he concludes that Eve would be "dead wrong to apply the assumptions of romance to this decidedly unromantic test of her obedience," a lesson that demonstrates how a new generation of readers is being trained to interpret the proem to book 9 as a dismissal of all things chivalric.62 In Rogers's reading of this scene, Satan is enticing Eve with an alternative story to that recorded in Genesis. It is another [End Page 147] example of what, in the context of Paradise Regained, Fish has called the temptation to plot: like Jesus in that poem, Eve is invited to improve her lot by exchanging romance conventions for the conventions of the story she is in.63 But is it not necessarily the case that Eve must here reject romance altogether; she has only to recognize and reject Satan's perversion of the genre and the errors of his wandering quest. It is only within his debased view of romance, after all, that Eve's daring to disobey can be understood as courage. Chivalric romances generally do not privilege courage over obedience. In Le Morte D'Arthur, for example, Gawain often behaves heroically but is deemed "bad" because he shows no appreciation for courtly virtues, while worshipful knights such as Tristan are "good" because they observe the king's code of chivalry and completely satisfy the demands of knighthood. And Lancelot, despite his many failings, is always the "best" because he does everything with an awareness of his additional duty to God.64 It is Satan, not chivalric romance per se, that temps Eve, and by extension the reader, to downplay her higher obligation to God.

If Satan's is a "ruined romance," it is also a ruining one.65 Eve might have resisted temptation, thereby proving herself a true knight in the manner of Lancelot, but by uncritically accepting Satan's corrupted definition of chivalry, she not only takes her first step toward disobedience, but also redirects her path from purposeful wondering to confused wandering, thereby becoming what was originally known in Latin as an error. Having set out virtuously like Spenser's Guyon, she thus ends up in the same situation as the Redcross Knight, led by delight, beguiling the way, and wandering "too and fro in waies vnknowne."66 Her predicament is not just her own; it is also shared by the reader, as Satan's romantic overtures function as a second "Proem" to Milton's tragedy (9.549), inviting everyone led by delight to enter the very kind of hollowed-out romance the proem was intended to forestall. As Satan's cynical view of romance begins to infect Eve's sense of wonder, making its way into her heart and the reader's mind, it becomes increasingly difficult to disentangle the two, so that in the end the precise moment of her fall and its cause does not have the lucidity of straight tragedy but is clouded with the indeterminacy of romance. For as Fish has influentially theorized, just as Eve is free to choose whether to obey or disobey, Milton's readers are ultimately left to judge for themselves the precise moment that she transgresses, in a manner that has typically led either to either wonder or wander, if not some combination of both.67 [End Page 148]

Satan's corrupted ideal does not just affect the romantic hero; it also reaches past Eve to infect Adam's and the reader's understanding of epic heroism. For his part, Adam is ruined by his infamous decision to join Eve knowingly in her deception and bear the consequences with her: "he scrupled not to eat / Against his better knowledge, not deceaved, / But fondly overcome with female charm" (9.997–99). In Lewis's oft-cited explanation, "Adam fell by uxoriousness."68 This idea may have required some elaboration for twentieth-century readers, but it was well known to Lewis from his study of medieval literature. Uxoriousness, or over-fondness of one's wife, is the tragic failing of the hero in Chretien de Troyes's Eric and Enide, the very first chivalric romance, as well as arguably the many subsequent romances it inspired, including accounts of Arthur's blind devotion to Guinevere. Courtly love sometimes inspired knights to perform great and honorable deeds for a lady, but it just as often led them to abandon their principles in order to please her, as Lancelot comes to repent when he acknowledges that he loved Guinevere so "unmeasurably" that he served her more than God and would "do battle were it right or wrong" in order to please her.69 The Victorians were so alert to this tendency in Milton's Adam, a tendency highlighted further in Tennyson's Arthurian romances, that by 1915 Adam's fateful decision could be easily glossed: "He knew, says Milton, that Eve was lost by her sin, so that with noble chivalry and devotion he decided to die with her."70 And this remained such a common interpretation that at late as 1947 A. J. A. Waldock remarked,

It is difficult to find a critic of Paradise Lost who (however shattering to his scheme of the poem the admission may be) will not confess, as Dr Tillyard does, that his heart is warmed at Adam's act. M. Saurat, though the consequences of what he is saying do not, I think, quite strike him, concedes that Milton has a sense of chivalry: "what greater instance in the whole world than that of Adam deliberately and clear-headedly joining Eve in her transgression, not to be parted from her in the punishment?"71

Here, Waldock is as cynical a Mordred as Fish, who acknowledged "Paradise Lost" and Its Critics as an important influence in Surprised by Sin (Don Cameron Allen had criticized Waldock for advancing "the doctrine that Milton wanted to do one thing but usually did something else").72 But Waldock's point is an important one: readers who cannot shake off the [End Page 149] memory of chivalric romance from the proem will find in moments like this a shameful example of corrupted ideals that, in the seventeenth century, were perhaps more readily identifiable with the Stuart court than with Satan.

Milton's description of Adam "fondly overcome with female charm," in particular, invites comparison with parliamentarian complaints about the sway of woman at court. In The History of Parliament (1647), for example, Thomas May protested not only the vocal support that many women showed for the defendant at the Earl of Strafford's trial, but also that their "voices will carry much with some parts of the State," and as Lois Potter has shown, there was little doubt which parts he meant.73 As specified in The Life and Reigne of King Charls, or, The Pseudo-Martyr Discovered (1651), an anonymous pamphlet often linked to Milton, the king had abandoned Parliament to be directed instead by "female advice."74 In 1645 the publication of The Kings Cabinet Opened had revealed that Charles I was particularly beholden to his wife, Henrietta Maria, provoking his critics to wonder publically "how and by what Fate this most unfortunate Prince came to be so overpowred with the Inchantments of a Woman."75 According to The Life and Reigne of King Charls, the queen alone was

his Oracle for the leading on of all his designes; In so much as he durst not offend her in the least punctilio, or to transact any thing of never so little moment without her good liking, and approbation, and so much to dote on her, as not to permit the Prince to stir a foot, or to undertake anything, but by her only direction, such an absolute power and command had this Queene gained over him and his affections.76

As Potter reveals, referencing Paradise Lost 9.999 as a comparable instance, this is how republicans could turn the language of romance itself against the romantic hero in vogue at court.77

If Adam's actions appear to parody chivalric romance, as I would argue they do, then it is also because they are all for show, what some might see as an outward triumph but everyone must admit is an inner failing. The proem primes readers to make the distinction. As mentioned above, and reaffirmed by John E. Seaman, the proem to book 9 of Paradise Lost is not an outright rejection of chivalry; it "is actually a comparison between a romance knighthood of empty trappings ('fabl'd Knights / In Battles feign'd'), and an epic knighthood in which obedience and charity give [End Page 150] substance and authority to those trappings." As Seaman explains, Milton's "higher argument" (9.42), following Spenser and Tasso, is that outward displays of gallantry cannot justly be deemed "heroic" (9.40) if they are not matched with "the better fortitude" and inward virtue "Of patience and heroic martyrdom" (9.31–32). The external images of chivalry emphasized in the proem "have nothing to do with heroic virtue, but rather parody it when the inner spirit is missing."78 Thus, just as Satan's flattery of Eve's appearance is the first example of insincere poetry, Adam's superficial show of courtly love establishes a precedent for the kind of false heroism later prophesized by Michael (11.689–99). But the story does not end there; it needs also to be interpreted alongside Paradise Regained, in which the second Adam fulfills the first's incomplete knighthood. The end of Adam's tragedy is the beginning of his return to true romance: he "enters the dark wood on a long and difficult journey, sustained by the hope that at the end of the quest he shall acquire the spiritual virtues sufficient to enable him to take up the sword and quell the dragon."79 If epic promises to take Adam in one direction, from the garden to the city, then romance promises to bring him back around again, returning the errant hero to paradise.

Many of these readings might be based upon nothing more than lingering impressions informed by broad reading, but they receive some support in Milton's later works, where chivalric themes are clearly restored to prominence. In particular, the chivalric nature of the temptation in Eden is reaffirmed in Paradise Regained when Satan tempts Christ in the wilderness with a feast framed by references to the Fall of man. These dishes are compared favorably to "that crude Apple that diverted Eve" and are accompanied by alluring female figures such that would be "met in Forest wide / By Knights of Logres, or of Lyones, / Lancelot or Pelleas, or Pellenore" (2.349, 369–61). As Satan stresses, inviting Jesus to sit and eat, "These are not Fruits forbidden, no interdict / Defends the touching of these viands pure, / Thir taste no knowledge works" (2.369–71). In book 3 of Paradise Regained, chivalry is also presented as part of the fallen world, and private passions originating with courtly love conventions are held responsible for the fury of global conflict (3.337–44). All of these images are obviously critical of chivalry but, as Seaman and others have argued, Milton's response is not rejection but the redemption of a perverted ideal. According to Lewalski, "Jesus' adventure and conquest over Satan in the Wilderness" is "the true, fully achieved Romance Quest" in which the hero "antitype[s] the romance [End Page 151] knights" and "achieves . . . the highest romance purposes."80 Satan's tactics do not change, but the hero's response does.

As a companion to Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes similarly contrasts the perversion of a chivalric ideal with heroic effort to redeem it. Samson's war of words with the giant Harapha, for instance, frequently draws upon the language of knightly combat. As a boastful knight in the tradition of Spenser's Braggadocio, Harapha longs to meet a worthy opponent in a "listed field" (1087), but will not dishonor himself through single combat with Samson (1092, 1111), because he has the fiendish advantage of "spells, / And black enchantments, some Magicians Art" (1132–33).81 From the giant's perspective, Samson is the fallen knight. But to the extent that Samson is an anti-type of Christ, he ultimately redeems not only himself but also the heroic and chivalric codes for which he stands. William Haller has even gone so far as to claim Samson Agonistes as the dramatic fulfillment of Milton's promise to write an Arthuriad, an argument that could be equally made for book 9 of Paradise Lost: "his great poem when it finally came still sprang from his early devotion to that theme, even though in its final embodiment it turned out to be a tragedy."82 Like Samson Agonistes in this respect, book 9 of Paradise Lost is a chivalric tragedy that dramatizes the tragedy of a perverted chivalry.

In light of Milton's lifelong interest in chivalric romance, the proem to book 9 of Paradise Lost appears to be either a conspicuous anomaly or an exception that proves the rule. There are moments when Milton clearly opposed quixotic readers; in Eikonoklastes (1649), he lampoons Charles I for devoutly mistaking a "vain amatorious Poem" from Sidney's Arcadia for serious religious verse (YP 3:362).83 But if the passages and readings discussed above are any indication, romance conventions are not as irrelevant to discussions of book 9 as the proem at first seems to suggest. Even scholars who see it as a complete rejection of chivalric romance still hazard that traces of Milton's original plan persists in later works.84 This article has hazarded only a little more: that while Paradise Regained is the most obviously chivalric of Milton's later poems, it is not the only place where traces of his original plan can be detected. In Mansus Milton projected that he would someday recall in song his native kinds, invoking the image of a restless Arthur "as yet warring underneath the earth."85 That promise has been realized in book 9 of Paradise Lost, where chivalric romances remain influential subtexts in interpretations of Milton's tragedy. [End Page 152]

Trevor Cook
Concordia University of Edmonton


. An earlier version of this article was presented to the twelfth annual Canada Milton Seminar at the University of Toronto in May 2017. I would like to thank Paul Stevens for the invitation and the other participants for their many helpful comments, especially David Galbraith, Mary Nyquist, and David Adkins. I would also like to thank Stephen B. Dobranski and the anonymous reviewer for their invaluable feedback. This research was supported by a Fellowship at the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies at Victoria University in the University of Toronto.

1. "London," in William Wordsworth: The Major Works, ed. Stephen Gill (Oxford, 2008), ll. 3–4, 8.

2. "The Prelude," in William Wordsworth: The Major Works, 1.179, 180–83.

3. All references to Milton's shorter poems are taken from John Milton: Complete Shorter Poems, ed. Stella Revard (London, 2009). All references to Milton's prose are taken from The Complete Prose Works of John Milton, gen. ed. Don M. Wolfe, 8 vols. (New Haven, 1953–82), cited parenthetically as YP.

4. Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Alistair Fowler, 2nd ed. (Harlow, 2007), 469 n. 30–31. All references to Paradise Lost are from this edition except where otherwise noted.

5. Alan Lupack, "The Arthurian Legend in the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries," in A Companion to Arthurian Literature, ed. Helen Fulton (Oxford, 2012), 342. Some enthusiasts further regret that Milton had not achieved his fame with Arthur, seemingly preferring his abandoned project to Paradise Lost. See, for example, Howard Maynadier, quoting Sir Walter Scott in The Arthur of the English Poets (Boston, 1907), 293–94; and T. L. Lustig, Knight Prisoner: Thomas Malory Then and Now (Brighton, 2013), 109.

6. Samuel Johnson, "Milton," in The Lives of the Poets: A Selection, ed. Roger Lonsdale and John Mullan (Oxford, 2009), 103.

7. Jorge Luis Borges, "The Detective Story," in Selected Non-Fictions, ed. Eliot Weinberger, trans. Esther Allen, Suzanne Jill Levine, and Eliot Weinberger (New York, 1999), 491. Book 9 of Paradise Lost is often identified as either an Aristotelian or Euripidean tragedy. See, for example, Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms (Princeton, 1985), 220–53; William P. Shaw, "The Euripidean Influence on Milton's 'Tragedy of Adam,'" Milton Quarterly 19, no. 2 (1985): 29–34.

8. Paradise Lost, 469 n. 30–31.

9. Annabel M. Patterson, "Paradise Regained: A Last Chance at True Romance," Milton Studies 17, ed. Richard S. Ide and Joseph Wittreich (1983): 188.

10. Northrop Frye, "Agon and Logos," in Northrop Frye on Milton and Blake, ed. Angela Esterhammer, vol. 16 of Collected Works of Northrop Frye (Toronto, 2005), 157.

11. See Colin Lahive, "Milton and Romance: Vernacular Romance and Chivalric Traditions in Paradise Lost" (PhD dissertation, University College Cork, Ireland, 2013); and, for example, Thomas Roebuck, "Milton and the Confessionalization of Antiquarianism," in Young Milton: The Emerging Author, 1620–1642, ed. Edward Jones (Oxford, 2013), 48–71; and Tobias Gregory, "Milton and His Epic Precursors: Overgoing and Recuperation," in A New Companion to Milton, ed. Thomas N. Corns (London, 2016), 450–59. Passing references to Milton's Arthur and comments on the relationship between book 9 of Paradise Lost 9 and chivalric romance also continue to be common but are too numerous to engage with here.

12. Paul Stevens, "Archipelagic Criticism and Its Limits: Milton, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and the Matter of England," European Legacy 17, no. 2 (2012): 151–64.

13. Emily Griffiths Jones, "Milton's Counter-Revision of Romantic Structure in Paradise Regained," Huntington Library Quarterly 76, no. 1 (2013): 59–81. Anthony Welch has also explored how Milton was able to exploit the royalist associations of the genre to his advantage in Paradise Lost. See Welch, "Epic Romance, Royalist Retreat, and the English Civil War," Modern Philology 105, no. 3 (2008): 570–602.

14. Helen Cooper, "Milton's King Arthur," Review of English Studies n.s. 65, no. 269 (2013): 252–65; Willy Maley and Adam Swann, "The Fortunes of Arthur: Malory to Milton," in A Companion to British Literature, vol. 2, Early Modern Literature 1450–1660, ed. Robert DeMaria Jr., Heesok Chang, and Samantha Zacher (London, 2014), 23–26.

15. Luke Taylor, "Milton and the Romance of History," Milton Studies 56, ed. Laura L. Knoppers (2015): 301–29.

16. Colin Lahive, "Reading and Writing Romance in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained," Literature Compass 12, no. 10 (2015): 527–37; and Lahive, "Milton and the Resource of Romance," in Timely Voices: Romance Writing in English Literature, ed. Goran Stanivukovic (Montreal, 2017), 88–109.

17. The political implications of romance in Milton's lifetime have been helpfully discussed by Paul Salzman, English Prose Fiction, 1558–1700: A Critical History (Oxford, 1985); Nigel Smith, Literature and Revolution in England, 1640–1660 (New Haven, 1994); Victoria Kahn, Wayward Contracts: The Crisis of Political Obligation in England, 1640– 1674 (Princeton, 2004); and Amelia Zurcher, Seventeenth-Century English Romance: Allegory, Ethics, and Politics (New York, 2007).

18. Abraham Cowley, "Preface to Poems," in Poetry and Prose, ed. L. C. Martin (Oxford, 1949), 72.

19. As Don M. Wolfe notes in his edition of The Reason of Church-Government, "These are all subjects for tragedies—lusts, murders, betrayals, etc.—and do not deal with Christian (that is, glorified) heroes" (YP 1: 813 n.87). According to Colin Burrow, these are also the features of romance for which Milton had the least affection: "love, pitiful digressions, warriors leaving or not leaving ladies, heroes succumbing to love." Epic Romance: Homer to Milton (Oxford, 1993), 245.

20. T. H. White, The Once and Future King: The Complete Edition (New York, 1996), 334–35. Elsewhere White described Le Morte D'Arthur in the same terms that Samuel Johnson had described book 9 of Paradise Lost, as "a perfect tragedy, with a beginning, a middle and an end implicit in the beginning." See T. H. White to Leonard James Potts, January 14, 1938, in T. H. White: Letters to a Friend: The Correspondence between T. H. White and L. J. Potts, ed. François Gallix (Gloucester, 1984), 86; Johnson, "Milton," 103.

21. D. S. Brewer, introduction to Malory: The Morte Darthur, ed. D. S. Brewer (Evanston, 1968), 33. Earlier, Brewer takes a harder line: "The Morte Darthur tells the story of a tragedy, and if modern definitions of tragedy cannot encompass it, so much the worse for their definitiveness" (31). See also K. S. Whetter, Understanding Genre and Medieval Romance (Abingdon, 2008), 8.

22. Or book 9 of Paradise Lost can be read in a "romance idiom" (Burrow, Epic Romance, 244) or as a naïve example of romance in its tragic form. For the latter view, see Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, ed. Robert D. Denham, vol. 22 of Collected Works of Northrop Frye (Toronto, 2007), 31–63.

23. Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur, 513.

24. Lynette R. Muir, "A Detail in Milton's Description of Sin," Notes and Queries n.s. 3 (1956): 100–101.

25. Derek Pearsall, Arthurian Romance: A Short Introduction (Oxford, 2003), 99.

26. Roy Flannagan, ed., The Riverside Milton (Boston, 1998), 585 n. 22.

27. Samuel Pordage, Mundorum Explicatio, or, The Explanation of an Hieroglyphical Figure (London, 1661), b8r. Romance itself also has a long history of self-deprecation and irony. Zurcher, Seventeenth-Century English Romance, 2.

28. Lewalski, Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms, 36.

29. Ibid., 27; and H. A. Kelly, "Occupatio as Negative Narration: A Mistake for Occultatio/Praeteritio," Modern Philology 74, no. 3 (1977), 311–15.

30. Il Penseroso, line 120.

31. Also possibly an example of William Empson's fifth type of ambiguity: "the author is discovering his idea in the act of writing." Seven Types of Ambiguity (New York, 1961), 155ff.

32. E. M. W. Tillyard, The Miltonic Setting, Past and Present (Cambridge, 1938), 201.

33. Flannagan, ed., Riverside Milton, 585 n. 25.

34. Ibid.

35. Anna K. Nardo, "John Phillips, John Milton, Don Quixote, and the Disenchantment of Romance," Mosaic 47, no. 2 (2014), 183; Christopher Bond, Spenser, Milton, and the Redemption of the Epic Hero (Lanham, Md., 2011), 73.

36. Sir John Harrington, "A Preface," in Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, trans. Sir John Harrington, ed. Robert McNulty (Oxford, 1971), 13.

37. Ray Heffner, Spenser Allusions in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Chapel Hill, 1972), 259. For further parallels see Bond, Spenser, Milton, and the Redemption of the Epic Hero, 69–100.

38. Wordsworth, "London," lines 5–6.

39. Smith, Literature and Revolution in England, 233.

40. Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, trans. Sir John Harrington, ed. Robert McNulty (Oxford, 1971), 1.1.1–2. See also stanza 1 of the proem to The Faerie Queene, book 1. Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Qveene, ed. A. C. Hamilton et al., 2nd ed. (Harlow, 2001), 29.

41. John Dryden, "The Dedication of the Æneis," in The Poems of John Dryden, vol. 3, ed. James Kinsley (Oxford, 1958), 288–91. Qtd. in Burrow, Epic Romance, 245.

42. A point made by Patricia Parker, Inescapable Romance: Studies in the Poetics of a Mode (Princeton, 1979), 158, among others.

43. Linda Hutcheon, Irony's Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony (London, 1994), 2, passim.

44. Gordon Teskey, "Milton's Choice of Subject in the Context of Renaissance Critical Theory," ELH 53, no. 1 (1986): 58–59.

45. Clare Kinney, Strategies of Poetic Narrative: Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, Eliot (Cambridge, 1992), 122–30.

46. Parker, Inescapable Romance, 128.

47. David Quint, Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton (Princeton, 1993), 248, 301.

48. See Quint, Epic and Empire, 309; Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England (Madison, 1984); and Lois Potter, Secret Rites and Secret Writing: Royalist Literature, 1641–1660 (Cambridge, 1989).

49. Gordon Teskey, "From Allegory to Dialectic: Imagining Error in Spenser and Milton," PMLA 101, no. 1 (1986): 17, 18.

50. Michael Lieb, Poetics of the Holy: A Reading of "Paradise Lost" (Chapel Hill, 1981), 304. See also Lewalski, Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms, 66ff.

51. Lewalski, Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms, 68.

52. John R. Knott Jr., Milton's Pastoral Vision: An Approach to "Paradise Lost" (Chicago, 1971), 133–34. For additional parallels throughout Paradise Lost, see Karen L. Edwards, "On Guile and Guyon in Paradise Lost and The Faerie Queene," Philological Quarterly 64, no. 1 (1985): 83–97.

53. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, 1968), 133.

54. Stanley Fish, Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1998), 134. Like C. S. Lewis before him, Fish was a medievalist before he turned his attention to Milton, a professional development he discusses briefly in There's No Such Thing as Free Speech: And It's a Good Thing, Too (New York, 1994), 269, among other places.

55. See Kinney, Strategies, 129–30. Christ also shares many characteristics of the knight hero in Paradise Lost. John E. Seaman, "The Chivalric Cast of Milton's Epic Hero," English Studies 49 (1968): 97–103.

56. Auerbach, Mimesis, 133–34.

57. Heather James, "Milton's Eve, the Romance Genre, and Ovid," Comparative Literature 45, no. 2 (1993): 121–45.

58. Areopagitica in YP 2:515–16.

59. C. S. Lewis, A Preface to "Paradise Lost" (New York, 1961), 136. Surprised by Sin is in many ways, including its title, a response to Lewis, as Fish himself frequently admits.

60. There is also a possible pun on "bow," originally spelled "Beaux." She is without weapon as well as her lover.

61. See Lewalski, Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms, 71.

62. John Rogers, Open Yale Courses: Milton (November 7, 2007),

63. Stanley Fish, "Things and Actions Indifferent: The Temptation of Plot in Paradise Regained," Milton Studies 17, ed. Richard S. Ide and Joseph Wittreich (1983): 163–85.

64. Beverly Kennedy, Knighthood in the Morte Darthur, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1992), 95–96. A knight would not be faulted for eating another knight's fruit, especially in the face of possible death (this happens in Book 18 of the Morte d'Arthur: Sir Patrise eats Gawain's apple and Guinevere is blamed for his death), but a knight would almost certainly be punished for eating fruit his Lord expressly forbade him to eat.

65. Burrow, Epic Romance, 274.

66. Spenser, The Faerie Qveene, 1.10.5.

67. This essay began with the suspicion that the central argument of Surprised by Sin applies more to Spenser than Milton; it might equally have been called Surprised by Error: The Reader in Book 1 of The Faerie Queene. David Lodge seems to have entertained a similar idea at some point: Stanley Fish pairs well with Patricia Parker in Small World: An Academic Romance (London, 1984).

68. Lewis, A Preface to "Paradise Lost," 126.

69. Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur, vol. 2, ed. Janet Cowen (London, 1969), 272; Dorsey Armstrong, Gender and the Chivalric Community in Malory's Morte d'Arthur (Gainesville, 2003), 156. Milton also illustrates the power of the knight's desire to please his Lady in L'Allegro, ll. 121–24.

70. Elliott A. White, "Adam's Motive," Modern Language Notes 30, no. 7 (1915): 231. White's conclusion is more overtly sexist: "Milton's point, many times emphasized in his works, was that a man may well love a beautiful woman, but that he should not let his passion obscure his judgment, and should follow his conscience and his intelligence in spite of the lovely but capricious sex, lest 'wommen shal him bringen to mischaunce.' The statement, however, remains true and worthy of note, that Milton gave his epic the romantic motive of love."

71. A. J. A. Waldock, "Paradise Lost" and Its Critics (Cambridge, 1962), 52l; Denis Saurat, Milton: Man and Thinker (New York, 1925), 169.

72. Don Cameron Allen, review of "Paradise Lost" and Its Critics by A. J. A. Waldock, Modern Language Quarterly 10, no. 1 (1949): 115.

73. Thomas May, The History of the Parliament of England (London, 1647), O2v; and Potter, Secret Rites and Secret Writing, 79–80.

74. The Life and Reigne of King Charls, or, The Pseudo-Martyr Discovered (London, 1651), sig. E6v. Many databases confidently cite Milton as the author, following the attribution of Samuel Halkett and John Laing's often unreliable Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh, 1926–62).

75. Life and Reigne of King Charls, sig. P3v.

76. Ibid., sig. P3v–P4r.

77. Potter, Secret Rites and Secret Writing, 80. The extent to which Milton is possibly also turning the language of royalist romance against itself is difficult to determine with certainty. Nonetheless, there are several suggestive parallels between Paradise Lost and Gondibert, which similarly privileges conscious goodness over "Cloyster virtue" (1.1.74) and depicts Eve as Adam's sovereign (2.5.33, 2.6.63). Sir William Davenant, Sir William Davenant's Gondibert, ed. David F. Gladish (Oxford, 1971), 68, 155, 166. However, whereas Milton appears to be more obviously critical of Adam's likely uxoriousness, Davenant took issue with "the Interpretation of the Envious," arguing instead "that indefinite Love is Lust; and Lust when it is determin'd to one is Love." For Davenant, had Adam been fondly overcome by female charm in general, his affectations would have been sinfully promiscuous; but because he was fondly overcome by the charms of a particular female, they are in fact an appropriate sign of monogamous attachment. Thus, the chief difficulty for Gondibert is not to avoid the charms of women, but to decide which is best to dedicate his affections to, a difficult decision between his public duties to princess Rhodalind and his private affections for Birtha, and one that might have ultimately proved too difficult for Davenant to solve, since the poem remains unfinished. "The Author's Preface," in Sir William Davenant's Gondibert, ed. David F. Gladish (Oxford, 1971), lines 457–62.

78. Seaman, "The Chivalric Cast of Milton's Epic Hero," 106.

79. Ibid., 107. Seaman is not the only one to suggest that Adam and Eve's "wandering steps and slow" carry them into romance at the end of Paradise Lost (12. 648). See also Kinney, Strategies, 129.

80. Barbara K. Lewalski, "Milton: Reevaluation of Romance," in Fours Essays on Romance, ed. Herschel C. Baker (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), 68–69.

81. Allan H. Gilbert, "Samson Agonistes 1096," Modern Language Notes 29, no. 6 (1914): 161. See also Ralph Nash, "Chivalric Themes in Samson Agonistes," in Studies in Honor of John Wilcox, ed. Woodburn Ross and Alva Wallace (Detroit, 1958), 23–38.

82. William Haller, "The Tragedy of God's Englishman," in Reason and the Imagination: Studies in the History of Ideas, 1600–1800, ed. J. A. Mazzeo (New York, 1962), 201.

83. The significance of Don Quixote in Milton's circle has been discussed by Nardo, "John Phillips, John Milton, Don Quixote," 169–86, and in Paradise Lost by Mary Nyquist, "Anagnorisis, Misprison, and Shame in Paradise Lost," a paper presented at the twelfth annual Canada Milton Seminar, Toronto, Ontario, May 2017. I am grateful to Professor Nyquist for sharing a draft of this paper with me.

84. Another is James Nohrnberg, whose phrasing I have adopted here. The Analogy of "The Faerie Queene" (Princeton, 1976), 58. Because the date of Samson Agonistes remains controversial, it is impossible to know for certain whether its composition postdates Paradise Lost.

85. Milton, "Mansus," line 81.

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