Exiled From Light

Exiled From Light: Divine Law, Morality, and Violence in Milton's Samson Agonistes

DEREK N.C. WOOD
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 276
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442674714
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  • Book Info
    Exiled From Light
    Book Description:

    Wood proposes that Milton's Samson is an emblematic embodiment of Old Testament consciousness as rigorous, incomplete, literalistic, and uncomprehending, fashioned by the old Mosaic Law, without the amelioration of Christ's charity and forgiveness.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7471-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Chapter One Introduction: The Critics and Some Problems of Meaning
    (pp. 3-26)

    There is less agreement now than there ever has been about the meaning ofSamson Agonistes. ʹMeaningʹ is not intended here in any esoteric or theoretically modish sense, such as ʹsignifiance,ʹ or cultural poetics, or re-presentation of history, or the like. Quite simply, even accounts given by belated liberal humanists and ʹclose readersʹ of what happens in the play can differ so startlingly from one another that the reader is left wondering if their authors have been reading the same text. There is no consensus about the nature of the central character, the moral significance of what he achieves, the...

  7. Chapter Two Intertextuality, Indirection, and Indeterminacy
    (pp. 27-45)

    It is a frustrating experience to search Miltonʹs writings after 1660 for a clear, unequivocal comment on Samson, a remark which will tell us what he thought late in his life of that heroʹs achievement as the scourge of the Philistines. How is the Christian to use the biblical story of a hero of faith? What moral guidance does it offer?Samson Agonisteswas Miltonʹs daring, and only, attempt to equal, if not overgo, the great tragedians of antiquity. So, surely, after completingParadise Lost, he must often have reflected on the meaning of Samsonʹs achievement, the morality or even...

  8. Chapter Three Fictional Consciousness and the Authorʹs Voice
    (pp. 46-59)

    Let us turn now from Miltonʹs subtle management of language to his shaping of fiction as he reworked what he found in his biblical pre-text. Miltonʹs play dramatizes a fictional Old Testament consciousness in all its personages. This is shown to be different, even in a morally committed individual, from the consciousness made possible by the full Revelation of the Gospel and by the instructive example of Christʹs incarnate life in time. In the last chapter, we looked at Miltonʹs use of syllepsis and intertextual allusiveness to indicate this. W.G. Madsen pointed out years ago that Milton ʹis concerned with...

  9. Chapter Four Tragedy: Theory, Form, and Meaning
    (pp. 60-79)

    In the last two chapters, we looked at what is involved in a reading of Miltonʹs play. We considered first how his careful allusive and sylleptic manipulation of language directs us towards meaning and, in the next chapter, we saw how his management of the fiction does this. Now, we will approach his meaning through his management of tragic form. Milton refers to AristotleʹsPoeticsin the preface toSamson Agonistes, inOf Education, and elsewhere, and, therefore, understandably, his tragedy has often been described in the light of the Greek philosopherʹs theory, or what has survived of it. Some...

  10. Chapter Five Exiled from Light: Sin, Regeneration, the Hero of Faith
    (pp. 80-98)

    The last three chapters have focused on hermeneutics:howto read the language, fiction, and tragic form of Miltonʹs play. Some suggestions have been made about the meaning of the play, which we can now focus on and develop. Let us review the basic questions we must ask about Miltonʹs tragic hero. In 1671, Miltonʹs brief epic and his tragedy were published in the same volume. Was the play added only to fill out a slim volume or are the poems in any way related, one poem somehow reflective of the other? Both poems are dominated by strong central figures....

  11. Chapter Six Samson and Dalila: Love and Marriage
    (pp. 99-117)

    Dalila is a lost soul, as unregenerate as Satan. She leaves the scene damned, like another Judas, to be destroyed, no doubt, at the temple where the Christ-like Samson is sacrificed. At best, she is useful in serving the process of Samsonʹs regeneration, worthless herself, made to be rejected, soil out of which flourishes the renewed Christian hero.¹ This is the Dalila most critics present us with. Perhaps because of Dalilaʹs sex, race, and creed, her truth and morality have been interpreted with astonishing hostility as these critics collaborate with what they imagine was her authorʹs committed Judaeo-Christian, male-biased viewpoint....

  12. Chapter Seven Samson: Divine Impulsion in the Hero of Faith, Charity, and the Imitation of Christ
    (pp. 118-139)

    A recently published reading ofSamsonis an excellent example of a recurring phenomenon in criticism of the play. Peggy Samuels sensitively locates a number of signs or markers of the playʹs significance, then proceeds to read those signs as indicators of the opposite of what they seem to mean – with no textual justification for such a reading. The play is placed in the context of Renaissance tragicomedy and the relevant features of such tragicomedy are clearly enumerated, such as ʹthe movement out of loss to triumph by means of a reversalʹ; life offers the possibility of a ʹsecond...

  13. Chapter Eight The Structure of Samson Agonistes
    (pp. 140-165)

    The structural syntax ofSamson Agonistesis like a simple metasentence: it consists of subject and verb. Subsuming the formal Greek structural framework ofprologos, exodos, parodos, episode, andstasimon, the construction of the play is in two contrasting intimately linked parts. The first, containing the beginning and middle of the Aristotelian plot, is static and continues till the return of the public officer. It begins with Samson being led by the silent guide to the bank where he rests and talks, and talks, with the sort of garrulity he often condemns in the old proud self that is supposedly...

  14. Chapter Nine Milton and Politics in Old Age
    (pp. 166-191)

    Milton appears to have found an enviable peace in his last years. W.R. Parker infers from his earliest biographer that, ʹ[i]n the last years of his life, Milton was an extraordinarily serene person. Visited often by admiring friends and even strangers, he gave no impression of either bitterness or complacency. Cheerful, busy with his various publishing projects, he was a man obviously fulfilling himself, rounding out a long and productive career. In this work, and occasional teaching, ʺhe in great serenity spent his timeʺʹ (Biography1:638). Even in his fits of gout, he managed to remain in good spirits, and...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 192-192)

    Miltonʹs three great final poems are the most important contextual evidence for understanding one another: far more important than his early prose pamphlets, which were written in a different world and a different time. The first five lines ofParadise Loststate the theme not only of that epic but also of the poems in the 1671 volume. The two later poems effectively complete the program begun there.Samson Agonisteis a dramatic image of the fruit, or outcome, of that forbidden tree, life under the Law, a time of darkness, misconception, ambiguity, exile from light. This is what the...

  16. Appendix
    (pp. 193-194)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 195-202)
  18. List of Works Consulted
    (pp. 203-226)
  19. Index of Biblical Citations
    (pp. 227-228)
  20. Index of Citations from the Works of John Milton
    (pp. 229-236)
  21. General Index
    (pp. 237-247)