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Milton's Visionary Obedience

This dissertation is a study of the work of John Milton, most especially of his late poems, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes. The early poetry, the prose tracts, and Christian Doctrine are considered in their developmental relation to those late poems. The question my study addresses is this: What does Milton mean by obedience? The critical approach used to address the question is as much philosophical-theological as it is literary. My project seeks to understand the shaping role of Milton's theology on his poetry: that is, to attempt to recreate and understand Milton's thinking on obedience from Milton's perspective. To this end, I focus on providing contextualized, attentive readings of key poetic moments. The contexts I provide are those derived from the two great heritages Milton had at his disposal--the Classical and Christian traditions. The poetic moments I attend to are most usually theologically and conceptually difficult moments, moments in which Milton is working out (as much as reflecting on or demonstrating or poeticizing) his key theological concerns, chief among them, obedience. Milton's concept of obedience is not just an idea developed within given interpretive frameworks, Classical, Christian, and a specific historic context, England in the seventeenth century. It is a strangely practical structure of being intended by Milton to recollect something of the disposition of Adam and Even before the fall. In other words, Miltonic obedience is multifaceted and complex. To address the complexity and nuance of what Milton means by obedience, I suggest that Milton's idea of obedience may be understood as a concept. The definitional source of Milton's concept of obedience is the Bible, and various texts of the Classical tradition. The necessary mechanism of the concept is Milton's idea of right timing, derived from the Greek idea of kairos. The necessary condition of Miltonic obedience is unknowing. With Milton's concept of obedience fully established, the dissertation concludes by suggesting connections between Milton's religious imagination and his political engagements. If Milton's paramount value was obedience, it was so because his paramount concern was liberty, for himself and for his nation.
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