[Milton-L] Milton's Deliberate Ambiguities

Salwa skhoddam at cox.net
Sat Sep 2 18:55:12 EDT 2017

Dear Professor Richmond,

My example of ambiguity in Lear’s words about poverty is totally rash and incorrect. The ambiguity is certainly in the reader’s mind. I apologize for that. 


But the other examples I gave about Shylock, Hamlet, Adam, and Eve, etc. are, I believe, non-linguistic ambiguities, “large, and general,” in the words of Professor Hamlin. The dangers of focusing on linguistic ambiguities is over reading, and the dangers of focusing on moral and psychological ambiguities is incomplete understanding of the literary work. All literary elements are linked. Balance is all.



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: Saturday, September 2, 2017 5:26 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at richmond.edu>
Subject: [Milton-L] Milton's Deliberate Ambiguities


As a Miltonist/Shakespearean (aren’t we all?) I am loath to deflect a Milton discussion, but the sweeping assertion of universal ambiguity requires examples of the absolutely unambiguous, of which Shakespeare is full (pace Stephen Booth): “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment “; “My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun.” 


We may agree similarly that what Lear says about poverty is “linguistically unambiguous” which seems to mean it can only be read one way. But the issue is then raised that wealth does not obligate social blindness. That is not the literal sense of Lear’s lines, which is surely that wealthy people can buy themselves off crime, while the poor cannot afford to hire to win justice. So the ambiguity lies not in the text but the reader’s desire to supplant the text by her own views. This means that for an ambiguity to appear we must in such cases prefer her views to Shakespeare’s sense. Just as “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder” “ambiguity lies in the mind of the critic.”  


I may seem dreadfully archaic, even primitive in saying that initially at least I am mostly interested in what a major author literally means than some ingenious appeal to a different authority or some undemonstrable subconscious. I have written up this and all the other Shakespeare issues raised at greater length in Shakespeare’s Tragedies Reviewed. Incidentally as to the original debate about justifying God’s ways to man, I think both meanings are simultaneously relevant intentionally, a kind of intellectual pun: offering economically richer meanings not ambiguous ones.  With best wishes, Hugh Richmond.

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