[Milton-L] Is Paradise Lost

jonnyangel junkopardner at comcast.net
Mon Apr 20 18:45:47 EDT 2009


I enjoyed reading your post, but I got a little confused toward the end.
When Milton invokes aid at the beginning of PL to achieve "Things
unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime", do you think he failed in doing so?

And do you really think that Beckett is above Milton? Or that Homer was
actually a *sole* author? It seems that your post here (for me anyway)
started running off of the rails toward the end, but that's just my opinion.

-jonny


On 4/16/09 1:30 PM, "Harold Skulsky" <hskulsky at smith.edu> wrote:

> Milton and Shakespeare are heirs to the same ars rhetorica-dpminated
> literary culture, and the same vast treasury of Renaissance learning in
> law, theology, warfare, sciences, and pseudosciences. Anybody who has
> done research on allusions to these domains in the Shakespearean canon
> will be inoculated against the facile assumption that the university
> man's  powers in any of these domains were ipso facto superior to this
> particular graduate of a grammar school. It is a commonplace of
> Renaissance literary criticism (due to a remark in Aristotle's Poetics)
> that tragedy is epic reduced to the latter's dialogic elements; and it
> was also obvious to anyone who had read Seneca, much less a Greek drama,
> that plays are expected to be full of out-and-out poetry, in the full
> formal sense ‹  by generic obligation and not by accident. There is no
> important generic obstacle to a value comparison between the two
> authors.
> 
> The intellectual and encyclopedic richness of Milton's poems is
> staggering; he addresses issues of theodicy, metaphysics, natural
> science, free will, the status of morals at a crucially brave depth of
> involvement - like Spenser, Herbert, Donne, and Shakespeare. Milton also
> creates indelibly vivid characters of universal import; his Satan, Adam,
> Eve, God, Christ Samson, Dalila, Manoa are never to be underestimated
> for unexpected nuance and depth. And often enough Milton passes
> triumphantly the central test of literary power and mastery for the ars
> rhetorica-shaped enterprise that he shares with Spenser, Herbert, Donne,
> and Shakespeare: he reaches out and presses our buttons not only for
> pity and fear but for a wide range of other emotions too, including the
> satire humor (though not vis comica) that sometimes emerges even in PL
> (see the Fool's Paradise sequence and Adam's dialogue with God on the
> need for a mate). But in all these respects (with the exception of
> focused classical allusion), the Shakespearean literary canon is
> measurably more complex, and measurably richer than the Miltonic.
> 
> Milton's poetic corpus shows full mastery of all of the three levels of
> style distinguished in the dominant rhetorical tradition. But so does
> Shakespeare's ‹  even to the point of shrewd and totally knowing
> parody of the grand style (see "The rugged Pyrrhus" and countless other
> examples); and the range of stylistic variation in the Shakespearean
> canon (including at leasat one brilliant success in the so-called
> Metaphysical style) is staggering, beyond anything in Milton. But the
> major comedies and tragedies not only address the familiar range of
> ultimate concerns (about free will or the lack of it, personal identity,
> the status and survival of moral principles, the limits of political
> action, the limits of human communication) at a level more nuanced and
> complex than anything in Milton (partly because as a popular dramatist
> Shakespeare is immersed in the actual nuts and bolts of an actual
> society), but they do so with the momentum and compactness forced on a
> supreme man of the theater by the discipline of his daily craft.
> 
> I love Milton. I have written about him with pleasure and total
> devotion and (I hope) some understanding beyond the superficial. And (as
> I argue above) I find nothing wrong in principle with literary axiology
> (value judgment of all sorts), and even with invidious comparisons
> across genres; as a realist about value, I find such comparisons always
> legitimate in principle though obviously very difficult, sometimes to
> the point of impossiblity, in practice. But it seems to me inescapably
> clear (on the grounds I have mentioned as well as many others) that it
> is Shakespeare and not Milton who belongs to the select company that
> includes Homer and Dante and Cervantes and Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and
> Beckett and a few other luminaries of many nations. It is Shakespeare
> and not my beloved Milton who has created a world, in all its blooming,
> buzzing, fertile, hilarious, and forlorn confusion. I strongly suspect
> that Milton himself would not disagree.
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