[Milton-L] Marvell's Milton?

Brendan Prawdzik brendanprawdzik at gmail.com
Sun Feb 23 16:30:06 EST 2014

Hi Richard,

Thank you for your query into that grand undefended assertion in my previous
post.  One might understand why I did not venture the pains of explanation
at that time.

I don't expect to win many over that *Samson Agonistes* represents a
violence believed by its troubled main character to be spiritually
motivated, but that in doing so it either rejects Samson's assumption
completely -- an assumption that many have been all too ready to share --
or places, in a very timely way, the danger of confusion that comes with
spiritual phenomenology under sharp focus for scrutiny.  But that's my
view, and if that makes me a Heretick, I embrace the name.

Those views that see the closet drama as sanctioning religious
violence I reject.
 Too much happening in the blind spots.  I see leaps of logic, unjustified
or poorly justified assumptions, and unpersuasive arguments throughout
these readings.  Mostly, I see a desire to make the Milton of the
Restoration the Milton of the 1640s and early 1650s, and thereby to uphold
the vision of the heroic, ultra-authoritative revolutionary (aka Satan of
PL 1-2).  None models this dance better than Christopher Hill (and I am a
fan).  I also see erroneous readings of the drama's theological, cultural,
and polemical context, and misreadings of Milton's view of the "double
scripture" -- Joan Bennett, at least, does not want to make Samson an
antinomian.  But most of us do want to make of him a superhero: perhaps a
wise Hercules, or Hercules Gallicus?

The corrective function of SA is to provide a lens for viewing not the fact
that, but at least the place where impulses blend together; as such it
distances the reader from impulses understood to be righteous and with
certain.  Parallel arguments about immediate impulse and immediate
conviction run through the tolerationist literature of the late 1650s and

SA thus works as though medicinally to "temper" and "reduce" the passions
by means identification and analogy: and here the introductory note on
drama provides much evidence.  I see Milton as entertaining the dramatic
structure and focus on spiritual phenomenology as early as the sketch for
*Baptistes* in TMS.  This sketch shows the possibility of how closet
drama is working in SA, even if we are seeing a very different Milton at
that time.

We still have almost no clear sense of who, in the profounder senses, was
the Restoration Milton.

I think that I can prove my argument, and will hope to have done so when my
book is finished and published; but of course I cannot hope to do so (nor
do I wish, really, to try) on the listserv.  After all, this argument has
been rather bloody and shows little sign of truce.  But I do hope that I've
explained, at least to some satisfaction, how SA serves a corrective



On Sun, Feb 23, 2014 at 2:07 PM, Richard A. Strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu>wrote:

>  For Brendan:  What is the "corrective function" of *SA* supposed to be?
>  Looks like it supports religiously sanctioned violence -- as the recent
> conversations about "terrorism" have suggested.
>  RS
>   ------------------------------
> *From:* milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Brendan M. Prawdzik [
> bprawdzi at cbu.edu]
> *Sent:* Friday, February 21, 2014 8:47 AM
> *To:* Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
> *Subject:* [Milton-L] Marvell's Milton?
>   Dear all,
>  I'm wondering how some of you might venture to answer at least one the
> following questions:  What do you think was the relationship between
> Marvell's political and theological beliefs during the late 1660s and
> early 1670s?  How might we characterize the social relationship between
> these two men at this time?
>  It seems clear to me that Marvell's Restoration prose continually
> targets theological controversy itself, based on a) the acrimony and
> hostility that drives and had driven, with tragic consequences, Christians
> apart; that among his projects is the disentangling of polemic, with its
> thorns and erring, gadding vines
> , from a purer, more straightforward (and more pre-Nicene) form of
> Christianity; and based on b) that these controversies cause sustained
> eruptions over metaphysical questions beyond the reach of a fallen human
> understanding alienated from truths behind divine mysteries.
>  These views would have had consequences for Marvell's relation to
> Milton; they raise the question of whether this brilliant younger man to
> some degree *tutored* the older master, thus reversing a dynamic
> of influence that we might see in the 1640s and 50s.
>  After all, in the *Rehearsall Transpros'd* (1672) Marvell undeniably
> looks to Milton's polemics, especially the *Animadversions* and *Apology*,
> and reconstitutes them according to the ideology expressed in my second
> paragraph.
>  I think that we also see constructive admonishment/criticism in "On
> *Parad**ise Lost*."
>  I wonder if this (putatively) evolved relationship with
> Marvell influenced what I see as the corrective function of *Samson
> Agonistes*, which I read as marking a distinct shift from the Milton of
> the 1640s and early 50s, when his rhetoric was at its hottest and when his
> gradually dying Millenarianism was yet at its strongest, and when we
> confront Milton's efforts to legitimate violence (esp. the regicide) that
> we know to stem from a type of arbitrary government disregarding law.
>  These are all aspects that the maturer Marvell would have
> criticized; indeed, that he implicitly rejects while borrowing from the
> controversial Milton, such borrowings appearing in each of his Restoration
> prose tracts.
>  Your thoughts?
>  Regards,
>  Brendan
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