[Milton-L] ee/e

J. W. Creaser john.creaser at mansfield.ox.ac.uk
Mon Feb 4 10:40:37 EST 2008

I'm sorry to refer to something I wrote long ago, but in 'Editorial Problems in Milton', part i, RES 34 (1983), 279-303, building on authoritative earlier essays by John Shawcross, I looked in detail at the supposed distinction between emphatic and unemphatic spellings in Paradise Lost and showed (I believe) that they are without basis. With a 50% chance of being 'right' in any one instance, it is of course possible to produce apparently convincing examples, as Carol Barton does in the paragraph copied below. But look at the whole picture, and follow the poem through from Book I manuscript to print to to Errata to second edition to Errata, and the whole idea falls apart. I do agree, however, that it is very important to maintain distinctions such as 'beloved/belov'd, because these affect the rhythm of the verse.

John Creaser

(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;

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