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Heroic Knowledge

Heroic Knowledge: An Interpretation of Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes

Copyright Date: 1957
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Heroic Knowledge
    Book Description:

    Professor Stein’s critical work on Milton which was launched in his earlier book, Answerable Style: Essays on Paradise Lost, is completed in this volume. He devotes eight essays to Paradise Regained and five to Samson Agonistes. In addition, a preface explains his assumptions and a postscript connects and extends the implications of his work. The author’s purpose and method are, perhaps, best described in his own words: “For the most part I have tried to demonstrate rather than to argue, and have (except in some notes) avoided engaging the established critical problems separately; but have instead trusted that a fresh critical interpretation of the poems would come to terms with the major problems while in motion, as part of a developing grasp of the integrated working of the poems.”

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3698-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-xii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  3. Paradise Regained

      (pp. 3-16)

      The theme is most formidable, even for a poet truly fascinated by what’s difficult, and with a great talent to indulge. And this poet is no experimenting youth flushed with inspiration He is writing a special kind of a major poem he intends to stand beside an epic and a tragedy — both notable for ambitious themes difficult to realize poetically. The theme ofParadise Regainedis the most difficult — not only for what it requires doing but for what it forbids, and Milton accepts fully the poetic challenge of the limitations imposed by his theme. For this is...

      (pp. 17-35)

      This essay will attempt to sketch some of the background of Milton’s moral scheme for the poem. That the leading ideas are Platonic is a fact so long taken for granted that it may be practically neglected in ambitious interpretations of the poem. I want to insist on the fact again, for purposes of critical emphasis. But I must warn the reader not to expect a full, or strictly methodical, exposition of the Platonic elements in the poem. What I am presenting here is not a complete argument, and is more exploratory than methodical. Nor shall I draw many of...

      (pp. 36-46)

      Milton is a great master of structural prolepsis. Under the stylized postures and movements of antagonist and protagonist there are often slight, unstylized, “natural” movements, so swift as to be barely perceptible sometimes, but every exciting. We shall try to mark these. And under the stylized movements, or as part of them, there are often movements which anticipate gestures still to come; these give a special quality to the structural development, and create a kind of movement that is very important in a poem composed of a series of formal confrontations.

      The poem begins with seven introductions, all proleptic, extending...

      (pp. 47-62)

      Book II begins like Book I, with a series of introductions extending, once more, for three hundred lines. The effects, however, are almost entirely different from those in Book I. These introductions are not intense. They do not anticipate with brilliant concentration the major lines of development. Instead, they are part of a complete shift in tempo. The first two of these introductions are leisurely, almost digressive, as they bring in the third audience of the drama, the human audience.

      We can see already, though better from the vantage point of the whole poem, that Milton is managing the rhythm...

      (pp. 63-77)

      If we step back entirely from this drama, further back even than the moral traditions associated with the symbols of “the world” and “the kingdoms of the world,” we may make a useful discrimination drawn from political theory. Erasmus, leaning on Plato and combining a moral simplicity of orientation with some experiential sense of the complexity of action, proclaims no one “fit to rule who has not assumed the rule unwillingly and only after persuasion.”¹ To desire power is to disqualify oneself as foolish, ignorant, or wicked. The facts of morality and the facts of political existence do not quite...

      (pp. 78-93)

      Let us begin by remembering a peculiar pattern of the temptations which precede the offer of the kingdoms of the world. The appeal to appetite was never pure and unambiguous; for the temptation of the bread involved a big transcendence; then there was a kind of retreat as the banquet invited a small, self-flattering transcendence from the appetitive to the passional — the banquet being both the height of the appeal to carnal appetite and the lowest level of appeal to the passional parts of the soul. The transitional offer of wealth appealed directly to the passional, but at the...

      (pp. 94-111)

      Satan is “with fear abasht,” but not too abashed, at the failure of his overt impiousness. He has merely been practicing the business of personal justice, and concerning himself with his most proper concern: which has been to test by rational experiment, to try to understand, and finally to challenge that symbolic “title” Son of God. He is almost graceful, and he is impressively patient in his admissions of defeated concern, and in the nonchalant way he drops the ruined subject:

      Therefore let pass, as they are transitory,

      The Kingdoms of this world; I shall no more

      Advise thee, gain...

      (pp. 112-134)

      The exploratory argument of my concluding essay onParadise Regainedis this: Milton revives the old ascetic notion of dying to the world, and transforms it to express his concept of Christ’s drama by going back of the ascetic idea (as a good Renaissance humanist, as a seventeenth-century Protestant, as John Milton), and back to the sources in the philosophical, the religious, the mythic “way of death”; and revives and transforms the oldest version of this cathartic human wisdom into a path of action leading, not to the denial or rejection of the world, but to the acknowledgment of the...

  4. Samson Agonistes

      (pp. 137-147)

      It is easier to believe that the arts share common forms than to talk sensibly on the subject. The idiom of each art, and each artist, is too intimately individual to translate without gross distortion. But the critical imagination, I believe, may be educated without the distortion of inadequate words. My understanding of my own experience, for example, is that, though I am barely literate in music, I have come to see many potentialities of poetic form by first having experienced them in music. Both arts, it is obvious, require the dimension of time for their development; they move by...

      (pp. 148-166)

      Manoa introduces the most human voice into the drama, the one with the widest range, and a full dramatic and natural privilege to express that range. The voice is both public, saying what ordinary men might feel, and individual to his character and to his position as father. Finally, as spokesman for ordinary humanity and as participant in the drama, he will be privileged to express a purified human response to the tragic experience.

      The first effect is different and shocking, partly because of the quality of the new voice, which is recklessly willing to articulate attitudes not yet articulated;...

      (pp. 167-177)

      Dalila appears on the dramatic horizon, gloriously rigged, “With all her bravery on, and tackle trim.” A new range of the drama is now to be entered, and the tone veers like a wind in a new direction. We have had some small signs of warning, but now we are in full motion again. The comic, which was present without laughter in some of Samson’s lofty, solitary eying of himself (the comic strained to an extreme, perhaps uncharted, range), and was present with uneasy but familiar laughter in the paternal display of unheroic, domestic differences, now enters with a new...

      (pp. 178-191)

      The departure of the defeated Dalila has not left Samson profoundly shaken, as he was when Manoa left. He has discovered no “end” for his life or death, but he has not moved into new error or renewed old error. The major revelation of his guilt has not been extended or deepened, except by the small further revelation that his lovewasan independent “motion” from self, and not dependent upon the mission that was his “end of being.” But that further exploration of weakness now has helped. His love gave him a sure basis for the most telling arguments;...

      (pp. 192-202)

      The tide has turned. Now there is no doubt. A few last counter-motions persist, but they exert no convincing pull. They ripple the surface here and there, and make a few slapping sounds to mark their own indecision before they succumb utterly to the irresistible force growing beneath them. But we are strangers, as always, to the inlet of individual human experience. We have come, and in a condensed period of time have been able to mark many of the formations revealed and partly revealed by the ebb, along with certain historical signs remaining from the flood. But the speed...

    (pp. 203-214)

    I want to comment on some of the larger assumptions that underlie this book. Some of them I began with, others I realized only during or after the composition.

    First let me try to state briefly the working hypothesis I have used for understanding Milton’s solution of the dramatic problems involved in Christ’s dual nature. Milton accepts the mystery of that dual nature as the kind of inscrutable fact a believer had better workfromrather thantoward. It is instructive to see Milton in theChristian Doctrine(I, v, xiv) stubbornly steering clear of the tangles of speculative possibilities....

  6. NOTES
    (pp. 217-231)
  7. INDEX
    (pp. 232-237)