[Milton-L] Marvell's Milton?

Richard A. Strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Sun Feb 23 17:14:13 EST 2014

Thanks, Brendan.  I think I now understand your position, though I think I don't agree with it, and hold to the "antinomian" reading -- especially since I am on record saying (in the last chapter of Unrepentant) that SA is a work of the early '60's, one that M kept in his drawer until he could hide it under the cover of the much more quietist PR (when the printer, as I speculate, asked for more pages -- see "to which is added").

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Brendan Prawdzik [brendanprawdzik at gmail.com]
Sent: Sunday, February 23, 2014 3:30 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Marvell's Milton?

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 Restoration.

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 function.



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

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>] on behalf of Brendan M. Prawdzik [bprawdzi at cbu.edu<mailto:bprawdzi at cbu.edu>]
Sent: Friday, February 21, 2014 8:47 AM
To: Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu<mailto: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 Paradise 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?



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