Cover image for Milton Studies: Volume 57 Edited by Laura L. Knoppers

Milton Studies

Volume 57

Edited by Laura L. Knoppers


$74.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-8207-0701-3

320 pages
6" × 9"
Originally published by Duquesne University Press

Milton Studies

Volume 57

Edited by Laura L. Knoppers

Published annually as an important forum for Milton scholarship and criticism, Milton Studies focuses on various aspects of John Milton’s life and writing, including biography; literary history; Milton’s work in its literary, intellectual, political, or cultural contexts; Milton’s influence on or relationship to other writers; and the history of critical response to his work.


  • Description
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
Published annually as an important forum for Milton scholarship and criticism, Milton Studies focuses on various aspects of John Milton’s life and writing, including biography; literary history; Milton’s work in its literary, intellectual, political, or cultural contexts; Milton’s influence on or relationship to other writers; and the history of critical response to his work.

Volume 57 includes 11 new essays by Paul Stevens, Raphael Magarik, Andrew S. Brown, Ayelet Langer, Charlotte Nicholls, Christopher Koester, John K. Hale, Alexandra Reider, Katherine Cox, Diana Trevio Benet, and Ryan Hackenbracht

Hardcover is un-jacketed.

Laura L. Knoppers is Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. Widely published on seventeenth century literature, politics, religion, and visual culture, she is most recently the author of Politicizing Domesticity from Henrietta Maria to Milton’s Eve and editor of The Oxford Handbook of Literature and the English Revolution. Her Oxford scholarly edition of Milton’s Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes won the 2008 John Shawcross Award from the Milton Society of America. Knoppers is past chair of the Northeast Milton Seminar and past president of the Milton Society of America.


Preface: Miltonic Poetics (Laura L. Knoppers)

Poetry and Theology

Peculiar and Personal: Milton’s De Doctrina Christiana (John K. Hale)

The Ecology of Chaos in Paradise Lost (Sarah Smith)

Mortal Change Life after Death in Paradise Lost (Mandy Green)

Materialist Poetics

Milton’s Sensuous Poetics: On the Material Texts of Paradise Lost (Thomas Festa)

Milton’s Earthbound Bodies: Genesis, Physics, Aesthetics (Caryn O’Connell)

Poetic Genealogies

Writing Epic in the Aftermath of Civil War: Paradise Lost, the Aeneid, and the Politics of Contemporary History (David Loewenstein)

Heroic Restorations: Dryden and Milton (Thomas H. Luxon)

Milton, Deliberative Liberty, and the Law of Spousal Privileges (Todd Butler)


From the Preface

Miltonic Poetics

Laura L. Knoppers

When Milton’s Death, poised at the gates of hell, upturns his nostril to snuff the smell of mortal change on earth, we find a strikingly compressed nexus of theology, ontology, cosmology, and intertextuality in Paradise Lost. The primordial snuff is Death’s response to his mother, Sin, who, with Satan’s success in tempting Adam and Eve, feels “new strength within me rise, / Wings growing, and dominion given me large / Beyond this deep” (10.243–45) and urges Death to go with her to earth, “For Death from Sin no power can separate” (10.251). Death, a perpetually ravenous “meagre shadow” (10.264), needs no further encouragement, avowing:

I shall not lag behind, nor err

The way, thou leading, such a scent I draw

Of carnage, prey innumerable, and taste

The savour of death from all things there that live. (10.266–69)

The “equal aid” (10.271) that Death offers Sin parodies the mutual help and solace of Miltonic marriage as well as the Son’s salvific mission on behalf of the Father. Milton now accords Death, hitherto a shapeless shadow, a cosmic nostril:

So saying, with delight he snuffed the smell

Of mortal change on earth. As when a flock

Of ravenous fowl, though many a league remote,

Against the day of battle, to a field,

Where armies lie encamped, come flying, lured

With scent of living carcasses designed

For death, the following day, in bloody fight.

So scented the grim feature, and upturned

His nostril wide into the murky air,

Sagacious of his quarry from so far. (PL 10.272–81)

Much can be deduced from this vivid and memorable moment. The snuff presages the creation of a bridge through Chaos, and the mutual work of death and destruction on which Sin and Death embark, joined with Satan in an infernal trinity that inverts the heavenly, or perhaps, as Neil Graves argues, constitutes Milton’s satire on orthodox Trinitarianism. We know from the work of Stephen Fallon that Sin and Death as allegorical figures are, theologically speaking, nonbeings, ontologically deficient, conveying an Augustinian privative sense of evil; here, we can further note that Death has no real material agency, as he sniffs the mortality that he himself represents. That not only Adam and Eve but also earth and all its creatures have fallen, shows us, as scholars such as Ken Hiltner and Diane McColley have stressed, Milton’s ecological awareness, his foregrounding of how human actions affect the earth and of the importance of place-based human stewardship.

The moment is also rich for source-criticism, evincing Milton’s use of philosophical and literary precursors in the long simile of the “ravenous fowl.” Milton may allude to Pliny’s belief that three days before they lay their eggs vultures will fly to places where there will be future carcasses. The vulture lore is echoed satirically in Plautus’s Truculentus, when the rejected suitor Diniarchus recognizes that the clever prostitute Phronesium and her servant are awaiting new prey: “she’s waiting for someone; the soldier, I believe. Now it’s him they’re keen on, like vultures they have foreknowledge three days in advance as to what day they’ll be eating on.” Most apposite at this point in Milton’s narrative, though, is Lucan’s graphic account of the aftermath of Caesar’s defeat of Pompey’s army at Pharsalia. As Caesar, refusing to bury the bodies, feasts his victorious army, wolves, lions, bears, and dogs converge upon the Emathian fields, along with “every creature that perceives by the power of scent (literally, “sagacious nostril,” nare sagaci) air that is impure and tainted with death.” Along with the beasts, Lucan writes, “the birds that long had followed the armies of civil war now flocked together.” The horror culminates in a vision of bloody, gorged vultures: “Never did the sky clothe itself with such a host of vultures; never did more wings beat the air. Every wood sent its birds, and when the birds were bloodstained, every tree dripped with a crimson dew.” As the birds drop body parts on Caesar, himself mindlessly gorging, Lucan shows the barbarity of tyranny and war, darkening and extending Virgil’s own vision. Milton’s simile may also thus implicitly critique England’s recent history of civil war, as well as the nation’s ongoing imperialism, as the snuff leads to a descent that will colonize the inhabitants of the New World.

Death’s upturned nostril hence conveys a freight of contextualized meanings. And yet as we reread the exchange between Satan’s “offspring dear” (10.238) — their energy and adventurousness, their enthusiastically professed sentiments of mutual help and regard, the delight with which the monster “snuff[s] the smell / Of mortal change on earth” — the narrative moment exceeds its theological and cosmological registers. Even if we remind ourselves of the characters’ ontological deficiency, the energy and verve of the narrative draw us in. If Milton echoes Lucan’s powerful vision, the tone differs dramatically: here we are seeing the battlefield not through the eyes of the horrified narrator but from the prescient point of view of the birds, about to feast and, even, delight. Lucanic gore and disgust are held at a distance, temporarily suspended. The moment, then, is also an instance of exemplary Miltonic poetics: character and dramatic situation conveyed by figurative language, sensuous imagery, apt diction, sound, meter, and rhythm shaping sense, and multiple correspondences between tenor and vehicle in the epic simile.

Reading the moment as poetry, we see how emphatic verbs and colloquial language convey the energy of the newly delighted Death. Alliteration heightens the immediacy: “So saying,” “snuffed” and “smell,” “scent of living carcasses,” “So scented the grim feature,” and “Sagacious,” “so far,” or, “As when a flock / Of ravenous fowl,” “to a field,” “come flying”; and “designed / For death, the following day” (emphases mine). The epic simile, a single largely monosyllabic sentence that is run-on from lines 273–78, conveys the eager onrush of the birds. The oxymoronic “living carcasses” startles the reader into recognizing that the process of death has begun. Death’s upturned nostril, like an arched eyebrow, offers the knowing superiority of an in-joke that the reader shares, emphasized by the polysyllabic and punning “Sagacious,” acute in perception, especially by sense of smell, and in mental discernment (parodying the human Fall). The black comedy of the passage reminds us how Miltonic poetics not only give life to but reshape and (in the experience of the reader) go beyond the philosophical, theological, and cosmological. As such we can see, as critics have begun to recognize, rich and complicated relationships between the poetry and the prose. And we see the value of returning to questions of form and formalist poetics that have been of so much recent interest in Renaissance scholarship more broadly.

The essays in this volume of Milton Studies take us, from different perspectives, back to issues of poetics, poetic form, and poetic relationships placed alongside but not subsumed by Miltonic theology, cosmology, materiality, and questions of literary influence and genealogy. The first section, “Poetry and Theology,” offers three essays that variously align Paradise Lost and De doctrina Christiana. If C. S. Lewis famously argued against a personal reading of Paradise Lost in favor of a formalist reading of the poem as a secondary epic, John K. Hale opens our volume by reinstating the personal: by exploring the ways in which Milton’s own beliefs and preconceptions drive his omission, selection, changes, and additions to Scripture in his writing of De doctrina Christiana. As such, Hale might seem to be moving away from poetry and form, but in fact he argues, ultimately, that Milton’s imaginative needs in part shape his theology. Not only, then, can one correlate De doctrina Christiana and Paradise Lost, but Hale shows how Milton com- poses the theological treatise with poetic and imaginative needs in mind (hedging on the place of hell, for example) as well as with selectivity based on his deeply held theological and social beliefs (on the Trinity, on divorce). Above all, Hale finds that Milton’s theological treatise holds interest for its eloquence and passion, for the infusion of the poetry into the prose.

In the essay that follows, Sarah Smith revisits the debate over whether the chaos in Paradise Lost is good or evil and the seeming inconsistency between the poem and Milton’s De doctrina Christiana. Critics have compared the chaos of Paradise Lost to the “first matter” in De doctrina, but what, Smith cogently asks, if the two terms are not commensurate? Arguing that Chaos in the poem is a realm defined more by its disorder than its material, Smith traces how Satan and his allies aspire both to undo God’s creation and to provide a perverse alternative to it by rear- ranging and manipulating matter against God’s will. Distinctions between the poetic universe and the theology of De doctrina have implications for the poem’s environmental ethics, including connections between the human and the nonhuman and the importance of stewardship and proper use of all matter. In turn, Mandy Green looks at the imaginative and narrative working out of the four degrees of death in the aftermath of Satan’s and Adam’s falls, showing how the complex, perhaps inexplicable, interaction of divine and human agency opens up moments of narrative tension and poignancy: will Satan repent, and if he does, will God forgive him? Will Adam despair? Or will he forgive Eve, the marital reconciliation being the hinge upon which redemption turns? Green suggests that by presenting sequentially what is doctrinally synchronic, Paradise Lost demonstrates the importance of human action, exploring and conveying the full meaning of regeneration as not based on the work of God alone.

Opening the second section, “Materialist Poetics,” Thomas Festa argues that attending to the material texts of Paradise Lost — from the extant manuscript of book 1 through the history of editions to modern day — allows for consideration of how the material presentation affects interpretation of the poetry and poetics of the epic. Attending to the history of the material book allows us to listen differently to the material aesthetics of Milton’s verse. Milton’s inclusion of rhyme (despite the headnote rejecting it) or of strikingly regular or irregular metrics creates local poetic effects that are as cognitive and conceptual as they are aesthetic. In turn, Caryn O’Connell reexamines Miltonic materiality through his poetics, arguing that the idea of ontological evolution, in which humans ascend to a higher, more spirituous nature in a monist universe, has been overestimated in Paradise Lost and traces instead a “terrestrial aesthetics” in which bodies are bounded and linked with place. If Festa looks at the materiality of Milton’s own texts to offer new insights into poetic form and meaning, O’Connell shows how Milton’s poetic imagination, in particular the images of the solid, bounded earth that he draws from such hexameral poets as Du Bartas and Tasso and applies to all earthly creatures, reshapes materiality in Paradise Lost. Earthly creatures gain in efficacy and standing by virtue of their formal and substantive identity with their natural place, the self-standing earth.

In the third section, “Poetic Genealogies,” David Loewenstein challenges a scholarly tradition that sees Paradise Lost as anti-Virgilian and as resisting and inverting the Aeneid, while adhering to the republican sentiments of Lucan’s Pharsalia. Loewenstein suggests, rather, that Virgil provides an important epic model for Milton on how to write obliquely on contemporary events in a post–civil war context. If Virgil’s poem endorses dynasty, it also shows a tragic sensibility and dramatizes the human cost of civil war. Following the poetic model of the Aeneid, Paradise Lost turns to an originating myth to frame its political sentiments, and crafts its representation of liberty, tyranny, servility, and the use of political rhetoric in such a way as to remain accessible to a wide audience while covertly appealing to a “fit audience . . . though few.” Second in this section, Thomas H. Luxon, responding to the critical tendency to oppose John Dryden and Milton, and to see Dryden’s State of Innocence as ridiculing Paradise Lost, explores, rather, what Dryden learned from Milton and how he adapts and rewrites Miltonic motifs for different political ends. In this context, Luxon shows how beauty becomes central to Dryden’s reshaping of a new heroic, and he argues that the force and role of beauty — in Dryden’s dedication to Mary of Modena, Duchess of York, and in his reworking of Milton’s Adam and Eve — evince the power of beauty without the attendant anxieties and fears found in Paradise Lost. Finally, Todd Butler expands the Miltonic genealogy by exploring the early modern roots of spousal privilege in Milton’s private and discursive definition of marriage. Placing Milton’s divorce tracts and the marital conversations of Paradise Lost alongside both seventeenth-century marriage manuals and modern-day legal formulations, including the marital communications privilege and the adverse testimony privilege, Butler demonstrates that Milton and modern liberal theory share a difficulty in accommodating distinctions of gender in regard to self-interest. Legal questions inform but are finally subsumed within the poetic narrative, as divine foreknowledge precludes the necessity of Adam and Eve’s spousal testimony and incrimination after the Fall in Paradise Lost.

(Excerpt ends here)

Mailing List

Subscribe to our mailing list and be notified about new titles, journals and catalogs.