[Milton-L] Flaws

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Thu Oct 24 12:31:46 EDT 2013

I don't think there's any point in trying to defend the allegorical episodes as somehow proper or conventional.  It is an inconsistency.  No way around that, and on that level it's open to criticism or negative response.  You can't make the episodes consistent with the representation mode of the rest of the poem.  They make no sense on that level of understanding and never will.  So in that sense Johnson and Richard are right about it.

The only way to defend the passages is to argue that Milton, who clearly knew what he was doing (creating an inconsistency), had a poetic reason (a reason as a maker of a poem) to create it and the confusions that it inevitable courted.  So the real question is:  what's the pay-off for the loss of consistency?

I think the answer has to do with the "resonances" (not exactly rational) that were mentioned earlier.  Or John Leonard's suggestion about "portent" (with its suggestions of signifying and telling forward, and by pun carrying forward, transport-a gate opening toward chaos-a break in the telling that tells in a different way, connecting various parts of the narrative by analogy and echo and prolepsis....).

The shift to an inconsistent strangeness (and back) creates effects; it expresses ideas and feelings and offers imaginative experiences and opportunities that a more consistent representational mode cannot.   I, for one, wouldn't want to be without those things, disquieting and complex as they are (both affectively and intellectually).  They haunt my mind and imagination more intensely than almost anything else in the poem.

But I like that sort of thing, so shoot me!

If I had to cut anything out for aesthetic reasons, it would be the War in Heaven, except that I wouldn't want to lose the debate with Abdiel (or at least Satan's final speech in the debate), the invention of artillery, the mountain-throwing, or the chariot of paternal deity.....can't have everything, though, and the deader passages are part and parcel of the larger package.

It's a rigorous poem, and it's theological and philosophical frameworks do powerfully bend things to their thematic will, but not without showing the pressure and certainly not toward a tidy end.  It's rigorous, but not tidy.  Open-ended.  Ported.  But I'll stop before I get more carried away with the puns.

Louis Schwartz
Professor of English
English Department
University of Richmond
28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu<mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Richard A. Strier
Sent: Thursday, October 24, 2013 11:52 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Flaws

1)  Spenser not an issue.  Different sort of poem.  Johnson perfectly consistent.

2) Genealogy and learned footnoting prove nothing.  That M was learned in the classical tradition is not in dispute.

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Neil Forsyth [neil.forsyth at unil.ch]
Sent: Thursday, October 24, 2013 8:45 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Flaws
Many thanks to Carter and Stella for the plug. Interestingly enough, the version of the plague story is quite different in 2 Samuel  24 and 1Chronicles 21.1. In the latter it is indeed Satan who provokes David to call for the census, for which the plague is a punishment, but in the Deuteronomic Historian's earlier version it is Yahweh. I discuss the difference, and what it has to do with the development of the Satan figure, in The Old Enemy at pages 119-123.

Yes, Johnson does discuss Spenser from time to time. Curiously, in view of the topic of this thread, he writes at one point that 'Allegory is perhaps one of the most pleasing Vehicles of Instruction.'

Neil Forsyth
neil.forsyth at unil.ch<mailto:neil.forsyth at unil.ch>

On Oct 24, 2013, at 3:04 PM, Achsah Guibbory wrote:

Carter, as usual you and Stella are brilliant!!!!

Sent from my iPhone

On Oct 24, 2013, at 2:33 AM, srevard at siue.edu<mailto:srevard at siue.edu> wrote:

This is Carter Revard again.  Stella and I have followed with interest this
thread.  Something that it seems to me (as to her also) has been completely
ignored, which matters very much, is that Milton did not just invent these
figures out of his English poet's mind. He drew them, did he not, in part from
Hebrew/Old Testament/Apocryphal/Talmudic/New Testament/Early Christian
writings? So it is somewhat sophomoric, jejune, pedantically mistaken, to sniff
and snuff and whoof (okay, shoot me?) without considering Sin and Death as to
some extent "found art." Any critical reading of Paradise Lost should consider
these facts. Milton "found" them, then he re-created them so as to advance the
action of his epic poem. He used the Greek birth of Athena as one "source" for
the birth of Sin; this is a part of his epic's reshaping all of Greek myth as
damned lies put about by demons.  He is rewriting, not just referencing, the
Bible and Homer and EVERY God-damned God-blessed THING.

Look, Milton knew a great many epic and other versions of Satan--Neil Forsyth
has done a great deal on a'that and a'that, eh what?--but his Satan is not
Dante's, nor Tasso's, nor Matthew's, and yet his Satan certainly comes directly
at one point in Paradise Regained out of 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles, when Jesus
asks him bluntly about his having tempted David and brought down a plague upon
Jerusalem and the Israelites. Milton drew on damned near (literally damned?)
everything from everywhere to create his figures. Audacious is far too timid a
word to describe Milton's ambitious epic.

To take another instance of Milton's creating a dramatic character, Comus is not
allegorical, exactly, but like Sin and Death, has a very complex "parentage."
So should Comus not be interacting with the "real historical" children of a
particular noble English family in an actual English town and its castle?

Just for fun, how many of you want to stomp on Spenser for "mixing" historical
English figures in with the allegorical ones in The Faery Queene?  I can't
recall whether Sam Johnson ever read that poem, or had anything to say about

Quoting "Hugh M. RICHMOND" <hmr at berkeley.edu<mailto:hmr at berkeley.edu>>:

I do agree that our generic tastes are more circumstantial than absolute. I
always saw Satan as a mere element of human consciousness (an allegorical
figure?) not a complete personality, and his associates (and Sin and Death)
as aspects or consequences of that frustrated egotism, which we see
integrated into full human consciousness only in the psychological
progressions of Adam and Eve. This is how they all emerged in our
production of "Paradise Lost" (see "John Milton's Drama of 'Paradise Lost'
", Peter Lang, 1992). In our production, the encounter of Satan, Sin and
Death was a real shock to the audiences - perhaps Milton's violation of
decorum was deliberate. Best wishes, Hugh richmond

On Wed, Oct 23, 2013 at 5:38 PM, alan horn <alanshorn at gmail.com<mailto:alanshorn at gmail.com>> wrote:

We may regard our own standards of taste as natural and correct, but it is
interesting to note how different standards have prevailed at other times.
Addison and Johnson were offended by the mixing of modes and genres they
found in Shakespeare, a judgment which seems peculiar now when such
conventions no longer have the same significance. But overt allegory has
been out of fashion long enough that the allegorical interlude involving
Sin and Death tends to bother contemporary readers of PL as much as it did
certain eighteenth-century critics--we're not used to THIS kind of mixture.
Registering our distance from the work in this respect is important to do
and can be instructive. But to take the conventions we're used to for
timeless norms is, it seems to me, to fall into a rather old-fashioned

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