[Milton-L] Is Paradise Lost the greatest work?

Mario DiCesare dicesare1 at mindspring.com
Wed Apr 15 16:14:20 EDT 2009

Tony Demarest, I'm interest in your phrase regarding Lear -- "his redemption into 
despair." I'm reading "Lear" at the moment with, as always, odd and strange 
feelings, including a kind of sharp pleasure with an undercurrent of pain. A very 
dear old friend -- a no nonsense Scottish woman, from Glasgow, and we know they're 
the toughest and most interesting -- said to me once, in her very old age, that she 
could no longer read "Lear" or see it. "It's too painful." I understand that. Is it 
the "redemption into despair" that makes it so painful?

Of course the play becomes painful right at the start. When Cordelia utters her 
resounding "Nothing," holding to it stubbornly, Lear just as stubbornly but also 
mindlessly refuses to accept any explanation of that response -- not hers, not 
Kent's. What's particularly bitter here is the fact that Lear himself created this 
trap when he concocted the love-test.

     "Which of you shall we say doth love us most?"

The crucial word is "say." That tells us how strange, even weird, his love-test was. 
Goneril and Regan play along, falsely of course but perhaps also humanly, in 
catering to that weirdness. The size and quality of that foolishness, of the pride 
that is its substance, you can feel in his response to Kent: "Come not between the 
dragon and his wrath!"

Clearly, Lear needs redemption. Into despair? The notion is attractive if a little 
elusive. Enlightenment?


Tony Demarest wrote:
> The older I get (and that is old), the more I love Lear- I understand 
> his decisions, his denial of love, his redemption into despair- it is 
> part of the older human condition- mostly, I love the play's truth, and 
> living in today's world, who can deny the reality of the deep tragedy of 
> life portrayed. And I love Paradise Lost for the verbal, sonic, 
> rhetorical, and thematic pyrotechnics Milton provides. Why would, or 
> should I ever have to choose (like Lear) which I love best? The question 
> is, for me, not only meaningless, but absurd- sort of like asking which 
> work is more existential- L'etranger or Huis Clos? 
> Have we not all loved different people? Do we not know life is 
> unpredictable- and that is why we cling to it so fiercely?
> Like Borges, I think the greatest work of literature has yet to be born- 
> and frankly am glad I will be, like his last Saxon, 6' under.
> Tony

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