[Milton-L] Leonard on O Eve, in evil hour...
Roy at gwm.sc.edu
Thu Nov 17 16:23:53 EST 2005
O dear. I may be being simplistic again, but I see some of the problems in Eve's line "Fruitless to mee, though Fruit be here to excess," as theological. Just a few lines later, Eve is described as "Eve yet sinless"(659), as if Milton were warning us that she has been flirting with danger, as well as flirting with Satan in the Serpent. I see the pun on "fruitless" as evidence of a Satanic flirtation, but I also see the danger in "excess" theologically, because the fruit in Eden, though it is luxuriant, cannot be in excess. Like Eve's "wanton" hair, it may need pruning occasionally, but there cannot be more fruit than is needed. (That may get us into yet another theological debate.)
Loosen up a little and listen to the voice of Madeline Kahn saying "You big old serpent, you" between the lines as Eve says "Serpent, we might have spar'd our coming hither," and then goes on with "Fruitless . . . ." She is giving in, perhaps innocently but still flirtatiously, to the Serpent's perspective, since she acknowledges that the Serpent's power of speech is "Wondrous indeed." She is sincerely wavering, though she is at this point sinless.
>>> jleonard at uwo.ca 11/17/05 3:20 PM >>>
Steve Fallon makes a strong case, and I agree that "Recognizing the eating
of the apple as 'sinful indulgence' fits a resolve not to eat it better
than it fits a prior decision to eat it." But I still think Ricks is right
to attribute the pun on "excess" to Milton rather than to Eve--and I note
that Steve thinks this too, though not for the reason I gave. So I guess it
behoves me to come up with a better reason. Here's my best attempt: if Eve
were punning knowingly on "excess" as a sinful indulgence that she is
determined not to commit, one would expect her to use some other word than
"though" ("Fruitless to me though fruit be here to excess"). One would
expect an innocent punning Eve to say "Fruitless to me FOR fruit be here to
excess" ("for" signalling that the prospect of committing sinful excess is
her reason for remaining "Fruitless"). The fact that she says "though" (not
"for") suggests that she is deaf to the pun on "excess" that we hear, but
she doesn't. I suppose one might argue that Eve's "though" signals a
repressed desire to commit the excess (as in "Fruitless to me, though . . .
wow, imagine the excess!"), but I just don't hear the line that way. To my
ears, the dark moment of dramatic irony described by Ricks fits this moment
better than any other explanation I have read. It certainly makes better
sense than Prince's "one of Milton's sports."
----- Original Message -----
From: "Stephen Fallon" <fallon.1 at nd.edu>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2005 1:25 PM
Subject: [Milton-L] Leonard on O Eve, in evil hour...
> Thanks to John Leonard for directing those who might not know it toward
> Ricks' wonderful *Milton's Grand Style*, and for his clear analysis of
> Ricks on 9.647-48.
> I agree with everything John says except for his argument for why the pun
> on "excess" ("Fruitless to me, though fruit be here to excess") cannot be
> Eve's. He writes, "If Eve were knowingly punning on 'excess' as 'sinful
> indulgence,' the implication would be that she has already decided to
> fall. But the whole point of her pun on 'Fruitless' is that she does *not*
> intend to eat the apple--not yet." I agree with Ricks and with John that
> the pun is not Eve's, but not for John's reason. One could as easily
> argue that a knowing pun on 'excess' would fit her as yet to be broken
> resolve not to eat the apple. Recognizing the eating of the apple as
> "sinful indulgence" fits a resolve not to eat it better than it fits a
> prior decision to eat it.
> John is one of the very best readers of Milton, so I write with an uneasy
> sense that I may be missing something.
> Steve Fallon
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