[Milton-L] An antidote . . .

Uzakova, Oydin Yashinova oydin.uzakova at okstate.edu
Sun Apr 20 12:58:35 EDT 2014

I fully agree, and I hope that my position is quite clear in this debate--I was not convinced of the alleged sexual pun on "fallacious" and did not insist on the potentially more plausible sexual pun on "seal."  There is simply no conclusive textual evidence in the poem to prove such usage by Milton in both cases.  Instead, I consider the word "seal" here as a legal term of their being mutually bound in the original sin and postlapsarian condition, not unlike fallen Lucifer--their disobedience has sealed their fate as a result of the violation of God's contract.  I have offered the other passages on love and sex to follow up on our discussion of Milton's views on the subject of marital love, sex, lust, women, and mind's and eyes' endless roving... :)

I could not agree more with the statement that Milton employs bountiful wordplay on the word "fruit" in the poem, including "fruitful" and "fruitless"--not only does he use the word "fruit" in the literal sense of "tree fruit," he uses it for the metaphorical sense of "result/consequence" (as I already pointed out in my earlier post) and mostly associates "fruitful" with God's deeds (creation) and his verbal decrees for human beings ("Be fruitful, multiply"). However, it is worth noting that, despite the fact that John Savoie argues that the phrase "fruitless hours" (spent in their "mutual accusation" [10.1187-88]) necessarily signals Adam and Eve's unproductive/fruitless version of sex after the fall, Milton uses the adjective "fruitless" on 2 occasions in Eden before the fall in rather innocent contexts.  When Eve says "fruitless to me" about the forbidden tree, she means on one level that God did not make that particular tree's "fruit for food" (7.540) for her and Adam, unlike all of the other garden "trees of God" (5.390; 7.538; 9.618) in Eden, but on another level she means that "tasting of the tree" would yield fruitless/unfruitful consequences for their current "happy state" (9.337, 9.347).  The only other mention of "fruitless" occurs in Book 5 as "fruitless embraces" of overgrown trees:

On to their morning's rural work they haste,
Among sweet dews and flowers; where any row
Of fruit-trees over-woody reached too far
Their pampered boughs, and needed hands to check
Fruitless embraces: or they led the vine
To wed her elm; she, spoused, about him twines
Her marriageable arms, and with him brings
Her dower, the adopted clusters, to adorn
His barren leaves.

Yes, we have a "marriage" of the elm and the vine here, but nothing sinister other than Milton's favorite theme of temperance and self-discipline (in not "reach[ing] too far" and reigning in wild nature).

Thus, I do not see fruitful/fruitless binary as reinforcing the alleged sexual pun on "fallacious"--alluding to God's biblical decree "Be fruitful, multiply" (7.396 and 7.531) and to Eve's "fruitful womb" as the "Mother of Mankind" (5.388) is as close to the sexual meaning of "fruitful" as Milton gets in the poem.

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu <milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> on behalf of Richard A. Strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu>
Sent: Saturday, April 19, 2014 3:38 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .

I don't believe there is a sexual pun on "seal" any more than on "fallacious."  I think the hunt for such puns is, to use a word that Milton does pun on, unfruitful.  In general, I think the search for sexual meanings in Renaissance poetry has been overdone (especially in Donne, but also in Shakespeare).  I think that when a Renaissance poet wants to make use of a sexual meaning, s/he makes it very clear -- "the very prick of noon," etc.  Often "to die" really just means to cease having biological life.


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