[Milton-L] Split-Reader

Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Mon Feb 23 06:52:18 EST 2004

Deborah, I don't recall any specific term (such as "split reader") in any of
Dean Fish's writings about _Paradise Lost_ (though I believe he does refer
to it as conscious "reader entrapment" on Milton's part), but yes, the
phenomenon you describe does occur, throughout that poem, and in _Paradise
Regained_ and _Samson Agonistes_ as well. Occasionally, I have students who
grasp the almost paradoxical nature of, say, Adam's "trial of exceeding
love" (in which his declaration, "Flesh of my flesh . . . " seems to
Eve---and us---quite chivalrous, but is actually the well-spring of his
damnation) on their own, but more often than not, I have to point it out.

A good number of sophisticated eighteenth century readers were convinced
that Satan was the hero of _Paradise Lost_ (and a good number of nineteenth
and twentieth century scholars misquoted Blake to "prove" it)---just as the
late Christopher Hill was convinced that Satan was
Milton-as-a-Parliamentarian, based on the same kinds of misreadings . . . so
one can hardly blame undergraduates for being taken in. As Dean Fish
argues---copiously and splendidly, in a variety of ways---it is Milton's
*intent* that we fall into the same trap, so that we can see how easily we
become victims of our own sophistry and rationalization. Sometimes, it takes
a little practice for us to learn to be alert enough to spot that wolf-tail
sticking out from under the sheep's clothing, though.

Best wishes,

Carol Barton

----- Original Message -----
From: "Deborah Dale" <dariel at whidbey.com>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at koko.richmond.edu>
Sent: Monday, February 23, 2004 4:37 AM
Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Split-Reader

> Forgive me if the answer to this question is common knowledge, but I am a
> librarian and not a professor of literature.  Stanley Fish defined the
> split-reader in _Paradise Lost_ as one who follows a "yes no yes no" train
> of thought.  I am wondering, for those of you who teach this text, whether
> you have witnessed students exhibiting this type of thinking, or whether
> have openly discussed this reading behavior in class. I am not doubting
> split-reader exists.  Rather, I would like to find out how often the
> behavior happens and whether there may be other texts written during the
> same time period or prior to Milton that follow the same deliberate
> yes no yes no.
> Debbie Dale
> _______________________________________________
> Milton-L mailing list
> Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
> http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l

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