[Milton-L] Abdiel and Treason law

butlert at mail.wsu.edu butlert at mail.wsu.edu
Wed Jun 25 14:15:46 EDT 2008

Peter's right--the law indeed did change, though the change occurred a bit
earlier. "Compassing and imagining" was introduced by the 25 Edward III,
though the extent to which this charge needed to be tempered by an
absolute act was the subject of some controversy. Henry VIII notoriously
introduced the notion of "constructive treason," or what we might call
"treason by words. Rebecca Limon's and Karen Cunningham's books are good
on these topics, as is John Bellamy's.

Regarding "unapproved," I think we might need to be a bit more specific
about the processes of thought. One's reason might consider--we might say
"entertain"--images (from the imagination) of any number of desires. The
question, of course, is whether simply accepting an image or impulse is
sufficient. In practical terms the matter was problematic--how does one
make thought legally actionable?

That Sin springs from Satan's head earlier in the epic is certainly
relevant here. Though her birth surely indicates the importance of
thought, it's worth noting that she springs forward

In Heav'n, when at th' Assembly, and in sight
Of all the Seraphim with thee combin'd
In bold conspiracy against Heav'ns King, (2.749-51)

So the question is, has Satan simply thought rebellion, or is his assembly
of the angels sufficient to be an act of rebellion?

(As an aside, if I may, though I don't handle Paradise Lost directly, I
spend a good deal of time examining Milton's presentation of cognition in
my _Imagination and Politics in the 17th Century_. There's a bit on
treason in there as well, though the aforementioned works have much more.)

Todd Butler
Buchanan Assistant Professor
Department of English
Washington State University

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