[Milton-L] Fruitless to me

Gregory Machacek Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu
Mon Nov 21 15:21:02 EST 2005


I'm glad the discussion of "Fruitless to me, though fruit be here to
excess" has continued into this week, because, as I was mulling the line
over this past weekend, I felt like I came up with further confirmation of
Ricks' and Leonard's sense that while the "fruitless . . . fruit" pun is
Eve's, the "fruit . . . to excess" pun is Milton's.

It occured to me that the "fruit . . . to excess" pun resides almost as
much in the word "to" as in the word "excess."  As Eve pronounces the line,
the word "to" doesn't mean much more than "in":  "It was to no purpose that
you led me hither, Serpent--fruitless, one might say--even though there is
a lot of fruit here."  The punning version of "fruit to excess" puts its
"one might say" after the "to":  "Eve speaks more truly than she realizes;
eating from the forbidden tree really would make this fruit to (that is to
say, leading to a sinful) excess."

Part of what makes me feel sure that that pun isn't Eve's, is that one
can't (I can't anyway) speak the line so as to bring that pun out.  Not
only would doing so throw off the inflections needed to get the "fruitless
. . . fruit" pun to work; indeed I can't do it at all.  It's a silent,
conceptual pun, that Milton has arranged to be available and some readers
might respond to, but that is not present in the spoken version of Eve's
speech.

Greg Machacek
Associate Professor of English
Marist College



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