[Milton-L] Thinking or Rehearsing?

rpyoder at ualr.edu rpyoder at ualr.edu
Wed Feb 20 17:44:58 EST 2008

The comparison with Shakespeare is also suggestive, for isn't this related to Keats's opposition between Shakespeare as the poet of negative capability and Milton as the poet of the egotistical sublime?  That is, we learn nothing about Shakespeare's perspectives or beliefs from the plays, whereas we learn lots about Milton's perspectives and beliefs.


----- Original Message -----
From: Carol Barton <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>
Date: Wednesday, February 20, 2008 3:46 pm
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Thinking or Rehearsing?
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>

> Again, Michael, I would send you to the prose, and in particular 
> to Eikonoklastes, in which Milton "deconstructs" (to use the 
> term very anachronistically!) "Charles I's" Eikon Basilike 
> (which he knows is not even "the king's book," as popularly 
> attributed and received). As David Ainsworth has observed from a 
> religious perspective, Milton is perceptibly *teaching his 
> readers how to read*--which is to say, how to get past the 
> propaganda, and see through the ad misericordia manipulation. 
> Fish contends--and I am certain, too--that Milton is doing no 
> less in _Paradise Lost_ (and _Paradise Regained_ and _Samson_ 
> and almost everything else written in his maturity)--and in fact 
> wrote a rather lengthy dissertation on the subject of why that 
> is the case. The world has "turned upside down" at this point in 
> history--none of the old truths about the physical universe or 
> kingly divinity or the flatness of the world or even the 
> contents of the Bible (as "translated" by the clerisy) can be 
> relied upon, and all one can know is what his own right reason 
> tells him, as informed by the Holy Spirit. It's imperative that 
> the faithful be taught how to spot wolves in sheeps' clothing--
> and wolves in mitres, and wolves in coronets--and how to 
> distinguish between propaganda, self-delusion, and the truth. 
> That's the purpose of Milton's pedagogy--and less overtly, 
> Shakespeare's too, to some degree, especially in _Hamlet_ and 
> _Lear_ and the "problem plays," I think. Not to denigrate his 
> accomplishment in the least, Fish only put into words what I 
> (and others) experienced, but couldn't express: I didn't 
> encounter him until long after I'd read _Paradise Lost_ for the 
> first time, so he couldn't have influenced "how" I read it then.
> Best to all,
> Carol Barton
>   ----- Original Message ----- 
>   From: Michael Bryson 
>   To: John Milton Discussion List 
>   Sent: Wednesday, February 20, 2008 3:52 PM
>   Subject: [Milton-L] Thinking or Rehearsing?
>   The paragraph quoted below encapsulates something that 
> has long fascinated me about Milton studies, and about the way 
> many of us were taught, starting as undergraduates, to read 
> Paradise Lost. 
>   We talk about this text in an unusual way. I do this as 
> well, of course, so I am not trying to point fingers here. I 
> wonder, however, what it might look like to talk about Hamlet in 
> a similar way.
>   "To take Hamlet as one example, one does not (indeed, is 
> not even *supposed to*) recognize how he or she is being 
> entrapped by the text into drawing the same wrong conclusions 
> that its characters do--that Hamlet is heroic, Laertes 
> chivalrous, Ophelia so seductive that 
>   her poor mate is incapable of rational thought in her 
> presence, and Claudius a manipulative tyrant. It is only through 
> the process of rethinking and rediscovery that we [...] realize 
> that we've been 'had.'"
>   One might argue that the two texts have different 
> purposes (and to be fair, one might also argue the difference in 
> genre), that Paradise Lost is pedagogical in a way that Hamlet 
> is not, but that argument seems circular (though again, I have 
> used a variation of that pedagogical argument). Why do we do 
> this? I am reminded of Peter Herman's point (in Destabilizing 
> Milton) about dominant interpretive paradigms, and Carol 
> Barton's observation sums up the "Fish" paradigm very well. But 
> teaching our students to "see" the text in that way (which is 
> also a way of not seeing...) seems less like encouraging them to 
> *think* than like teaching them to become well-rehearsed--even 
> virtuosic--in the use of an elaborate tradition of 
> interpretation that has become quite nearly co-equal with the 
> text itself. 
>   (Though perhaps such an exercise is one way of 
> encouraging the exercise and development of our students' 
> thinking abilities, at least for those inclined to do more than 
> simply say "yes...and will I need to know this for the test?")
>   Ruminations while trying to fight off a massive head cold...
>   Michael Bryson
>   ---- Original message ----
>     Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2008 14:25:32 -0500
>     From: "Carol Barton" <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>
>     Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Why oh Why
>     >Milton does something unforgivable, in the 
> context of today's classroom: he 
>     >expands the mind, and makes the reader 
> *think.* To take PL as one example, 
>     >one does not (indeed, is not even *supposed 
> to*) recognize how he or she is 
>     >being entrapped by the text into drawing the 
> same wrong conclusions that its 
>     >characters do--that Satan is heroic, Adam 
> chivalrous, Eve so seductive that 
>     >her poor mate is incapable of rational 
> thought in her presence, and God a 
>     >manipulative tyrant. It is only through the 
> process of rethinking and 
>     >rediscovery that we engage in the reversion 
> that Stanley Fish so 
>     >perceptively described in _Surprised by 
> Sin_, and realize that we've been 
>     >"had." That's more work than many of today's 
> readers want to do--but the 
>     >benefits of the effort are inestimable, and 
> if you take nothing else away 
>     >from careful study of _Paradise Lost_, you 
> leave it never able to read 
>     >anything else in the old naive way again.
>     >
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R. Paul Yoder
Interim Director, Donaghey Scholars Program
Associate Professor
English Department
2801 S. University
Little Rock, AR  72204-1099
Phone:  501.569.3569
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