[Milton-L] Samson, accord, action

Feisal Mohamed feisalm at hotmail.com
Wed Aug 3 23:04:26 EDT 2005

Your equation of the "speech-act" of a faithful champion to the Ciceronian
ethos of the defenses returns me to my original point: you seem to me to be
taking far too secular a view of the text.  Samson's inner fitness is not
ineffable; it is made explicit in his ability to hear God call.  I am
certainly not claiming, as Stanley Fish has done, that this divine
illumination does not produce justified outward action.  On the contrary,
the major poems show us over and again that such divine illumination is the
only means by which human action is justified.  Samson, in other words, has
to leave off both intending and performing and to return to waiting on God's

As for Michael Bryson's objection to my reading of Samson's marriage to the
woman of Timna, the "ambiguity" here is partly a byproduct of genre.  We do
not hear God's words directly in this dramatic poem in the same way that we
do in the epic and brief epic.  We do have, however, what seems to me a
convincing chain of associations from the "strong motion" of Paradise
Regain'd (1.290), to the "intimate impulse" of Samson's first marriage, to
the "rousing motions" of leading him to the Philistine temple.  Given the
biblical allusion operating in the second of these, I don't think Samson is
unreliable on the point; others, of course, will disagree.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: <jfleming at sfu.ca>
To: <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, August 03, 2005 4:50 PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Samson, accord, action

> Feisal is spiritedly right in ascribing to me the view that inner fitness
> not the point of _SA_. If it were, we really would have nothing certain to
> say about the play, other than "who knows what Samson means to mean?" But
> inner fitness misses the point, which in Milton is always (it seems to me)
> an expression that subsumes intention. That is to say, a speech-act, not
> ineffable state of mind. It is Milton's Satan who believes in that; it is
> Milton's More who thinks he does not have to confess to anybody but God
> "infamous libel" for which M excoriates him in _Pro Se_); it is Nicodemism
> to think that inner fitness subsumes outward expression.
> I hold to my point that what sets Milton's Samson apart from his
> contemporary analogues is that he performs his final work precisely in the
> _absence_ of a clear and manifest reconnection to the divine favor. Even
> Vondel does not scant the champion's prayer (p.119 in Kirkconnell). Only
> thereafter do we know that Samson is playacting. Meanwhile, Vondel's
> is bald (120, 122). The nexus God-strength, therefore, is immediately
> established. Milton, however, with his long-haired questionably-praying
> still-invincible Samson, declines to establish such a nexus. I do not
> conclude that we are supposed to think that Milton's Samson is a renegade,
> or that we are supposed to think that we do not know what to think; but
> we are supposed to think about something else.
> We are left either with the indeterminability of Samson's intention, or
> the fact of his expression. I think the play is about the necessity and
> excellence of Samson's move to expression. He becomes himself by
> himself -- not by meditating on hs own inner life. J
> On Wed, 3 Aug 2005 15:54:24 -0500 milton-l at lists.richmond.edu wrote:
> > Both of the positions below present far too secular a view of the text.
> > James Fleming is precisely right when he says that what sets _SA_
> > apart from
> > its analogues is the work its hero must perform.  He makes a rather
> > unjustified leap, however, in concluding that the "focus" of the
> > poem is thus on "speech-action in the world" rather than on internal
> > fitness--a conclusion that should not sit well with any student of
> > What really sets _SA_ apart from its analogues is the attention it gives
> to
> > the internal life of its hero.  Vondel's Samson, for example, is aware
> > early
> > on of the trick he will pull in the Philistine masque and simply waits
> > seize Occasion by the forelock.  The internal emphasis of _SA_, by
> > contrast,
> > makes its focus precisely about regaining access to God.  Samson's
> > hair and reacquired strength are not the point; if they were, the
> tragedy's
> > climax would be the Harapha scene.  The real point is his ability to
> > upon the divine impulsion of "rousing motions."  God, after all, doth
> > need man's work.
> >
> > The text also indicates, pace Professor Barton, that Samson is
> > "empirically"
> > aware of God's direction.  Milton chooses to draw specifically on Judges
> > 14.1-4 to make this clear: Samson knows the marriage to the woman of
> > was "of God" by "intimate impulse" (221-23). All of Milton's other
> > of Hebrews 11--Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses--are not praised for human
> > agency
> > alone, but spiritual fitness coupled with divine guidance and reward.
> > Samson is no different.
> >
> > Best,
> > Feisal
> >
> >
> >
> > James Fleming wrote:
> > > Moreover, M makes very clear that Samson is potent
> > > because his hair has regrown - and this even and precisely when he is
> > the
> > > depths of the despair that signifies his exclusion from God. So, God
> > doesn't
> > > do it all. Samson does some, too. This doing of Samson, for himself,
> > > exactly what sets _SA_ apart from its period analogues.
> > >
> > > Where do we come out? In my opinion, with a focus on the doing. The
> focus
> > of
> > > the play is a fact. Its subject, very carefully delineated, is not
> access
> > to
> > > God, but speech-action in the world. JD Fleming
> > >
> >
> > and Carol Barton wrote:
> > >Does he--can he--"know" conclusively that performing at the Dagonalia
> > is in
> > accordance with God's will? In an empirical sense, no, of course
> > can he sense the presence and agency of an external OTHER in the way
> > all of us do when we are creatively inspired? Of course--akin to what we
> > mean when we say that a poem or an essay "wrote itself." I was the
> > yes--and the actor--but the ideas came to me, sprang out of my head
> > fully-formed .
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> >
> James Dougal Fleming, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor of English,
> Simon Fraser University,
> (604) 291-4713
> Laissez parler les faits.
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