[Milton-L] Memorized poetry

Brendan Prawdzik brendanprawdzik at gmail.com
Tue Jun 19 18:49:29 EDT 2012

Dear all,

Some observations about the *Of Education* passage noted by J Carl

This passage reworks two iconic scenes of oratorical education that Milton
would have confronted in Quintilian and Plutarch, who describe the
transformation of Demosthenes and Cicero into expert orators through the
arts of delivery (actio/pronuntiatio, gesture).  Plutarch describes
Cicero's training by the tragedian Aesopus and the famed comedian Roscius.
 More to the point, Plutarch describes the actor Satyrus's use of,
specifically, texts by Sophocles and Euripides to train Demosthenes.

In Milton's passage from *Of Education*, the actors and comedians
disappear.  Moreover, where another author might see in these scenes of
education a training in *imitation*, Milton emphasizes the transmission of *
authentic* feeling from book to reader, and the expression of that "vigor"
and "spirit" (protestantized) through the voice.  This seems fully in
keeping with *Areopagitica*'s passion-centered ethics of textuality.

It is of interest to me that Milton both takes pains to reproduce these
iconic scenes of gestural instruction in the concise passage from *Of
Education* and at the same time works to tone down the presence of "actio"
by obscuring the actors (esp. Roscius) and their focus on bodily gesture.
 And it would seem that "vigor" contributes to the more masculine view of
oratorical instruction intended by Milton here.  Thus, the passage depicts
reading and declamation as embodied and spiritual but also strives to tone
down the presence of the histrionic, feminized body.  A similar tension
runs through discourses of early modern sacred rhetoric generally.

William Marshall, the artist who engraved the notorious frontispieces to
both the 1645 *Poems* and the *Eikon Basilike*, features the scenes of
Cicero's and Demosthenes's instruction (the latter with looking-glass
included) in the frontispiece of John Bulwer's 1644 *Chironomia* which,
with *Chirologia*, is Bulwer's treatise on the rhetorical gestures of the
hands and fingers (available in EEBO).


Brendan Prawdzik

On Tue, Jun 19, 2012 at 10:20 AM, JCarl Bellinger <dionhalic at gmail.com>wrote:

> A number of benefits to students memorizing and pronouncing important
> texts have been listed in this thread but nothing approaching the
> radical re-wiring of mind & force Milton seems to promise in OF
> Education.
>     Query: Should we dismiss M's claim here as a hyped-up,
> rallying-the-troops-of-an-English-eduction, or some such?
>   >> and some of them got by memory,and solemnly pronounced ... would
> endue them even with the spirit and vigor of Demosthenes or Cicero,
> Euripides, or Sophocles. <<<
> -Carl
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