[Milton-L] Milton's deliberate ambiguities

Salwa skhoddam at cox.net
Sat Sep 2 13:22:14 EDT 2017

I agree with Professor Richmond that this passage from Shakespeare is certainly unambiguous linguistically. But I think it becomes ambiguous when we begin to interpret the issue of whether riches and “pomp” can make one forget about homeless people. Debatable issue to some?

This is what I understood by (and I may not be correct) Arnie’s “alternate versions” and  “interpretations of everything.” Such moral/ethical/psychological “ambiguity” presented in characters’ motivations and plot lines is plentiful in Shakespeare: Was Hamlet really mad? Was Lear culpable towards his daughters? Did he receive justice at the end? What about Cordelia’s undeserved death? How is Shylock more than the stereotypical villain in the source that Shakespeare inherited? Is there racism in the portrayal of Othello? And so on. And so with Paradise Lost: How culpable is Eve? Was she fallen before biting into the apple? Did Adam bite into the apple because of uxuriousness? and so many other questions of this sort that have many answers. So many ambiguous matters that, as Arnie posted (in different words), while trying to resolve them, we expand our views of humanity and so are confronted with the fragility, strength, and mystery of human life, an experience  that helps us tolerate our own existence. I cannot help but quote C. S. Lewis here from An Experiment in Criticism (1961): “[I]n reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see” (141). This experience results from evaluating more than the language (i. e., whether “to” is “to”) but from “receiving” (another Lewis term) the work as a whole with its many ambiguities.




Salwa Khoddam, PhD.

Professor of English, Emerita

Oklahoma City University


From: milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Hugh M. RICHMOND
Sent: Friday, September 1, 2017 7:33 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at richmond.edu>
Subject: [Milton-L] Milton's deliberate ambiguities


Shakespeare is ambiguous? What is ambiguous about these lines?


Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,                      

That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,             

How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,     

Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you     

>From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en       

Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp,   

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel. (III.iv.19–34) 


If this is not ambiguous does it prove it bad poetry, or poor thought?

Ambiguity and irony may be signs of impotence. HMR

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