[Milton-L]: "that sure was worse"

shaw at ulm.edu shaw at ulm.edu
Sat May 20 15:44:32 EDT 2006

Jeffrey and Carol:

I too initially read Jeff's post as a misconstrual (perhaps deliberate  
on his daughter's and/or his part) of "that sure was worse" as  
equivalent to modern idiom.  The line means simultaneously "That, to  
be sure, was worse" and "That was sure (real, absolute) and therefore  

There might nevertheless be humor in the fallen angel's reduction of  
damnation to a purely material state--a dramatic irony whereby readers  
realize his ignorance.

But at the same time, I think there is another sort of irony that  
suggests God is not being merciful at all.  God looks on from heaven  
with a cold and calculating gaze, planning to let Satan "Heap on  
himself damnation" in order to show him once more God's absolute  
sovereignty.  Not only that, as Fish points out, when the fallen  
angels plot and execute their sabotage of God's new creation, they  
will discover a worse condition--a loss of self as they metamorphose  
into hissing serpents.

Remember in _Lear_ where Edmund says that a situtation "Is not worst /  
so long as we can say this is the worst."  In a pagan world, the worst  
is death; speech is evidence against death.  Perhaps the tragedy as a  
whole subverts this claim that death is the worst that can happen, but  
at the time when Edmund utters it, the statement rings true.  At any  
rate, in _PL_ the demons reach that which is worse (and who knows the  
utmost reaches of the worst from an infinitely creating, absolutist  
God?) when they can no longer say, "this is the worst," only hiss.

Julie Guernsey-Shaw

Quoting Carol Barton <cbartonphd at earthlink.net>:

> Jeffrey, I think you (and your daughter) are reading the line with the wrong
> (modern) usage and emphasis, and no, I don't think Milton intended any kind
> of humor whatsoever here.
> The "sure" doesn't mean what it does in the modern context of "I sure I am
> hungry" (difficult to translate, but something like "I'm REALLY hungry"). It
> means "of a certainty": Belial is arguing that they have already experienced
> what it means to suffer worse, BUT HE'S WRONG (except in human terms, where
> bodily suffering--physical torture--is the worst thing we can imagine). In
> _Dr. Faustus_, the title character is surprised that Mephistopheles has
> "escaped" from hell because he doesn't show any of the physical (Dantean)
> signs of damnation that Faustus expects to see: but the demon responds "Why,
> this is hell, nor am I out of it." Eternal separation from God is the worst
> any created being can suffer, as Satan himself will tell you in his
> invocation to the Sun [Son] in Book IV, he suffers supremely, perhaps
> because he alone understands fully and completely what he has lost: God's
> "eternal wrath" translates to his own "eternal despair" of grace, his
> eternal rejection from the heavenly Paradise, his eternal separation from
> all that is good and right and happy. Indeed, there is "Hell within him, for
> with him Hell /
> He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell / One step no more than from
> himself can fly / By change of place" (4.20-23). Think of Claudius, with his
> crown and his queen in _Hamlet_--he has everything he ever wanted, and those
> things he wanted enough to commit not only murder, but fratricide to obtain
> them . . . yet he cannot be happy, because in his heart, he understands the
> price he has paid, is paying, and will pay forevermore.
> Belial and Mammon have not yet learned to feel the torment that Satan does .
> . . or to understand the futility of their machinations . . . though Moloch
> unwittingly comes close: "what can be worse/
> Then to dwell here, driv'n out from bliss, condemn'd/
> In this abhorred deep to utter woe" is to "dwell here, driv'n out from
> bliss" *understanding* the immutability of that woe--of that separation--of
> that excommunicaton.
> As for the question regarding the "eternall anarchie" of Chaos--I think that
> should be read as "from its inception without end," rather than as deeply as
> you and Salwa are trying--in good faith--to interpret it. Stanley Fish has
> likened Chaos to God's Home Depot--which sounds irreverent until you think
> about it. It's the place where God (being a prudent manufacturer) stores his
> raw materials, elements he hasn't assembled into anything meaningful. It is
> and ever shall be a place of "nothingness" in the sense of meaningful
> substance, though it is more than "nothing." I don't think there's any
> implication intended as to its being co-original with God. It is "eternal"
> in the sense of waiting eternally in the expectation that Mr. or Ms. Right
> (or Godot?) is going to come . . . not "eternal" in the sense that God is.
> That's my two cents on the subject(s), anyway.
> Best to all,
> Carol Barton
> _______________________________________________
> Milton-L mailing list
> Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
> Manage your list membership and access list archives at   
> http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l

More information about the Milton-L mailing list