[Milton-L] text questions

Carol Barton cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Sun Feb 3 14:13:26 EST 2008

Professor Shawcross makes some very important points, to which I would only 
add that

(1) emphatic spellings ("hee" and "mee"--as in Beelzebub's (1.84-87) "If 
thou beest hee; But O how fall'n, how chang'd"; Satan's contemptuous 
(4.827-31) "Know ye not then said Satan full of scorn / Know ye not mee? . . 
."; the Serpent's (684-709) "Queen of this Universe, do not believe / Those 
rigid threats of Death; ye shall not Die; / How should ye? by the Fruit? it 
gives you Life / To Knowledge: by the Threat'ner? look on mee, / Mee who 
have touch'd and tasted, yet both live, / And life more perfet have attain'd 
than Fate / Meant mee, by vent'ring higher than my lot . . ." ; Adam's 
(10.831-7) "First and last /On mee, mee only, as the source and spring / Of 
all corruption, all blame lights due; /So might the wrath. / Fond wish! 
couldst thou support / That burden heavier than the Earth to bear, / Than 
all the world much heavier, though divided / With that bad Woman? . . ."; 
and Eve's (10.927-31) "On me exercise not / Thy hatred for this misery 
befall'n, / On me already lost, mee than thyself / More miserable; both have 
sinn'd, but thou / Against God only, I against God and thee" and (10. 932-6) 
". . . And to the place of judgment will return, / There with my cries 
importune Heav'n, that all / The sentence from thy head remov'd may light / 
On me, sole cause to thee of all this woe, / Mee mee only just object of his 
ire . . ." (and so on)--are also conducive to full comprehension;

(2) that learning the difference between "be-loved" (the way many people 
pronounced "beloved" today) and "belov'd" or "u-SUR-ped" and "usurp't" is 
not only essential to the scansion of some Miltonic lines, but also provides 
a useful introduction to historical linguistics, and facilitates the reading 
of early modern poetry in general; and

(3) that if students are not challenged to make use of their dictionaries, 
they will not know that "nocent" means harmful, or that "perfect" (in the 
seventeenth century) frequently means "complete"--so that when Jesus tells 
his disciples, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in 
heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), he is not suggesting that they be 
"without flaw" (as in the modern sense), but that they offer their love to 
their fellow men completely (as "your Father which is in heaven: for he 
maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the 
just and on the unjust," Matt. 5:45). I recently heard a priest telling her 
congregation that the KJV authors had "misinterpreted" the Hebrew word for 
which they substituted "perfect." Rather, it was she who hadn't known that 
the word had other meanings when the KJV was being prepared.

This is a long post, but the issue is an important one. I didn't know who 
Milton was, and thought I was a Shakespearean, before I took my first class. 
It was my teacher, the late John Potter, who made Milton come alive for me, 
using Merritt Hughes' _Complete Poems and Major Prose_. His obvious love for 
and fascination with the text of _Paradise Lost_ was contagious, as ours is 
for our students . . . and the same was true many years later, when Tom 
Kranidas "hooked" me on the prose. But for my familiarity with Shakespearean 
English (to which all students are supposed to have been introduced in high 
school) I knew no more about seventeenth century linguistics than today's 
freshman (should). Studies of the "self-fulfilling prophecy" have shown time 
and again that students live up (or down) to the expectations of their 
teachers. Help the ones who have genuine trouble (not born of laziness), of 
course--but don't lower the bar for the ones who have the capacity to leap 
over it. Teaching is no more "one size fits all" than students are.

Best to all,

Carol Barton 

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