[Milton-L] Bk 3 and Jeffrey Shoulson's link

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sun Oct 27 13:39:22 EDT 2013


I would like to contribute by responding to John Savoie's comments below,
as I think his emphasis on the reading experience of PL and how it differs
from reader to reader is perhaps very close to the basis of our
disagreements -- I think that the direction that the conversation has taken
provides explanations for our different reading experiences, but they still
proceed from our experience of reading the text.

When I first read the Sin and Death episode of Book 2 I took only limited
pleasure in it. I did take some pleasure in the episode, and I wouldn't
suggest that the episode be cut even as it is for the following reasons:

   - it serves an important narrative function (how does Satan get out of
   Hell?)
   - it furthers the development of Satan's character
   - it is imaginatively pleasing in its representation of the horrors of
   and relationships between Satan, Sin, and Death, and
   - it provides some grounds for interest in its appropriation of the
   conventions of Greek mythology to explicate Christian belief.

However, the pleasure I took in reading the episode was only limited because

   - Milton's allegorizing is too obvious. I don't mean to critique the use
   of allegory at all, just to say that this episode wasn't a particularly
   interesting example of allegorizing. Harold Skulsky's point a) doesn't
   really address this critique. No, there's no question that allegorizing is
   common to Milton's predecessors. That doesn't mean he did a particularly
   good job of it here.
      - To develop the previous point (and this was part of my previous
      discussion of the episode), allegorizing only becomes
interesting when it's
      supported by character development, so that the development of character
      nuances and expands the scope of the allegory. The best allegorical
      figures, then, are fully developed characters rather than flat characters
      that participate in a simple one for one correspondence within an
      allegorical structure.
      - I would explain this critique in terms of my own reading experience
      by saying that Satan in Bk 1 is a very well-developed character, and some
      of the sub-demons in Bk 1 are well-developed as secondary characters, so
      when we meet Sin and Death, characters who are not developed as
well in Bk
      2 as Satan and some of his demons were in Bk 1, the episode falls a bit
      flat. They may be somewhat better developed later, but that
doesn't change
      my experience of reading Bk 2.

      - In terms of narrative function, the episode is very stupid. What
   Milton expects us to believe is that God constructed massive gates for
   Hell, locked them so that they were impregnable, and then set guards at
   them to both serve as the way in (Sin and Death are the ways into Hell...
   and I feel I am being beaten over the head with how obvious the allegory is
   at this point) and keep occupants from getting out: but then God gave the
   keys to someone whom He know would release Satan at the first opportunity.
   Why bother with the gate and keys to begin with, then? Or why not shut and
   lock up everyone in there and set a loyal angel outside the gates as a
   guard? Even Biblically, Hell was created for Satan and his angels, not for
   human beings, but what would be motivating Sin and Death to keep anyone in
   if they wouldn't keep in Satan? Aren't all occupants of Hell equally in
   allegiance with Sin and Death against God?

Jim R

On Sat, Oct 26, 2013 at 1:24 PM, <jsavoie at siue.edu> wrote:

> No "devastating challenge" here, but I would only qualify point (c) below:
> pleasure comes first, then understanding, then evaluation, then all three
> interweave, again and again, sometimes one, then another, coming to the
> surface
> above the others.  The first time I seriously read the Sin and Death
> passage of
> BK 2, I looked up from the page "with a wild surmise, Silent upon a peak in
> Darien," "surpris'd by Sin," marvelously so.  Were the anti-allegorists
> really
> so offended or left cold upon that first reading?  Do you not recall
> experiencing a sense of wonder?
>
> John Savoie
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