Shoulson is unconvinced of a direct link between a specific collection of rabbinic writings and Milton's works. He argues that many of Milton's poetic ideas that parallel midrash are likely to have entered Christian discourse not only through early modern Christian Hebraicists but also through Protestant writers and preachers without special knowledge of Hebrew. At the heart of Shoulson's inquiry lies a fundamental question: When is an idea, a theme, or an emphasis distinctively Judaic or Hebraic and when is it Christian? The difficulty in answering such questions reveals and highlights the fluid interaction between ostensibly Jewish, Hellenistic, and Christian modes of thought not only during the early modern period but also early in time when rabbinic Judaism and Christianity began.
Informed by a range of critical methods, the essays examine the diverse - sometimes conflicting - and strained expressions of nationhood and national identity in Milton's writings, to address the literary, ethnic, and civic dimensions of his nationalism. These essays enrich our understanding of the imaginative achievements, religious polemics, and political tensions of Milton's poetry and prose, as well as the impact of his writings in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Early Modern Nationalism and Milton's England also illuminates the formation of early-modern nationalism, as well as the complexities of seventeenth-century English politics and religion.
Pizer shows how these writers' racist impulses represented more than just personal biases, but resonated with larger social and ideological movements within American culture. Anti-Semitic sentiment motivated such various movements as the western farmers' populist revolt and the East Coast patricians' revulsion against immigration, both of which Pizer discusses here. This antagonism toward Jews and other non-Anglo-Saxon ethnicities intersected not only with these authors' social reform agendas but also with their literary method of representing the overpowering forces of heredity, social or natural environment, and savage instinct.
According to Song, a divided view of creation governs Milton's related systems of cosmology, theology, art, and history. For Milton, any coherent entity-a nation, a poem, or even the new world-must be carved out of and guarded against an original unruliness. Despite being sanctioned by God, however, this agonistic mode of creation proves ineffective because it continues to manifest internal rifts that it can never fully overcome. This dilemma is especially pronounced in Milton's later writings, including Paradise Lost, where all forms of creativity must strive against the fact that chaos precedes order and that disruptive forces will continue to reemerge, seemingly without end.
Song explores the many ways in which Milton transforms an intractable problem into the grounds for incisive commentary and politically charged artistry. This argument brings into focus topics ranging from Milton's recurring allusions to the Eastern Tartars, the way Milton engages with country house poetry and colonialist discourses in Paradise Lost, and the lasting relevance of Anglo-Irish affairs for his late writings. Song concludes with a new reading of Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes in which he shows how Milton's integration of conflicting elements forms the heart of his literary archive and confers urgency upon his message even as it reaches its future readers.
The author holds that Samson Agonistes represents the culmination of Milton's poetic œuvre. Its subject is growth, and the tragedy imitates a Biblical story of movement from self-destruction to self-transcendence. In each section of her book, the author considers the poem in a different context or area of Milton's thought. Each new aspect suggests a widening circle of implication as the discussion moves from Milton's dialectic to the representation of tragic failure, from change and growth as themes to the discovery of history as tragic design.
Originally published in 1978.
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