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With Mortal Voice

With Mortal Voice: The Creation of Paradise Lost

John T. Shawcross
Copyright Date: 1982
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    With Mortal Voice
    Book Description:

    More often than not, critics have looked upon Milton's great epic not as a literary work but rather as a theological tract or a display of Renaissance learning. In this book John Shawcross seeks to redress that critical imbalance by examining the poem for its literary values. In doing so he reveals the scope and depth of Milton's poetic craftsmanship in his control of such elements as structure, myth, style, and language; and he offers new approaches to readingParadise Lostas a literary masterpiece rather than a relic of religious history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6464-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. ONE The Rhetor as Creator
    (pp. 1-11)

    UNDERLYING this study ofParadise Lostis the belief that literature is a consciously contrived product of an author’s mind, attitude, talents, planning, and execution. I deplore the attitude that seems to exist among some scholars that nothing much happens between the thought or emotion of the author and its presentation as art form. Obvious though this notion is, failure to recognize it lies at the base of the antagonism one finds in criticism (particularly in Miltonic criticism) toward structural, numerological, and psychological studies.

    The author is a creator and Milton associates himself with the archetypal creator, God. The poem...

  5. TWO Inspiration & Meaning
    (pp. 12-20)

    INParadise Lost, Milton displays his artistic intention to emulate God’s creation, and his ability to achieve that intention is a function of God’s presence within him. “All is, if he has grace to use it so, as ever in his great Taskmaster’s eye.” Inspiration is literally a breathing into, and for Milton as Christian poet it is the breathing of thespiritusof God into him as mortal. Such “inspiration” supplies the life-giving force which will bring about creation. For the poet, the result is his poem. Theologically, inspiration implies divine action which will enlighten the mortal mind to...

  6. THREE The Thesis & the Theme
    (pp. 21-32)

    THE philosophic intention ofParadise Lostpredicates its thesis and its theme, and the concepts of love, providence, and the Son, which have been mentioned in the last chapter, are their foundations. In its simplest terms, the thesis ofParadise Lostis that “Eternal Providence” (I, 25) can be asserted for man, thereby justifying God’s ways.¹ Milton begins with this as argument and ends with its realization as Adam and Eve leave Eden with Providence as their only guide (XII, 647). The circle is complete. The disorder of time, plot, and action throughout the poem represents the seeming lack of...

  7. FOUR The Hero
    (pp. 33-41)

    SO MUCH has been written about the hero ofParadise Lostthat separate consideration must be given here to the subject. Milton’s execution of this staple of the epic depends, of course, on the thesis, theme, and genre. The question concerning the hero is really various questions: is there a hero in the poem? if there is, who is the hero? if there is no hero, how does one view Satan? and the basic question, what does one mean by “hero”? The existence of a hero inParadise Losthas always been assumed, it seems, although Addison at one point...

  8. FIVE Structural Patterns
    (pp. 42-55)

    PERHAPS ITS vastness, perhaps its overwhelming metaphor, perhaps the sheer weight of its ideas have prevailed in the past against anything more than occasional consideration ofParadise Lostas a well-structured, well-balanced, intricately organized whole. Only in recent years has an assault been made on the determination of its elemental composition through a study of imagery, myth, simile, language, and certain comparisons and contrasts. But the poem also evidences an involved skeletal patterning, the work of an astute master planner. The outlines of Milton’s plan with its balanced quantities, narratives, images, and characterizations all lead to heightened awareness of the...

  9. SIX Numerological Relationships
    (pp. 56-67)

    ANOTHER facet of structuring within the poem lies in numerological relationships, which create geometries and arithmetic metaphors and which suggest mystic emanations arising from its creator. Milton’s mathematical and Pythagorean interests are well known, and thus it is not strange to realize that the first edition ofParadise Losttotaled 10,550 lines, exemplifying the perfect number ten in various ways.¹ The original version of the epic (1667) was printed in ten books. To Pythagoras, ten indicated completeness, the total of all things; it and its multiplicity returned to unity. Ten was equivalent to the perfect circle and also to the...

  10. SEVEN Sources as Meaning & Structure
    (pp. 68-83)

    IN MILTON scholarship, too frequently sources—by which I mean allusive or paraphrased citation as well as analogues—have been pointed out and discussed almost exclusively to demonstrate Milton’s breadth of reading, the wellspring of his language or ideas or characterizations, his indebtedness, or the nature of his humanistic milieu. But the study of a more modern poet like T.S. Eliot, Milton’s sometime antagonist, should have suggested that a wealth of meaning may lie in an allusion or quotation, and that the author employed such sources to invoke a context pertinent to the thought or emotion being communicated. However, few...

  11. EIGHT The Genre
    (pp. 84-99)

    ALMOST consistently, Milton’s poem has been termed tragic despite its hopeful thesis.¹ The concept of man’s Fall with its introduction of sinning into man’s world and its creation of mortality has been too overpowering for readers to remember that this was, for Milton and others, a most fortunate fall. The classification has led to discussion of the tragic hero—usually Satan, whosehamartia(or tragic flaw) was consideredhubris(or overweening pride) as in so many Greek tragedies. Perhaps whenParadise Lostwas first being planned in the 1640s, such interpretations of Aristotle applied, though not with Lucifer as hero....

  12. NINE The Style
    (pp. 100-109)

    AS REMARKED before, one of the touchstones of epic genre is style, which classically requires decorum and certain lexical rules. But the difficulties inherent in discussing style grow out of individual preferences, knowledge, and point of view. No definition of style is quite acceptable, for the components of style, its techniques, and its effects do not seem determinable as a formula to satisfy all tastes. Yet the codifications which Aristotle and other rhetoricians devised have proved useful and have accordingly been “applied” to classify the style of such works asParadise Lost. This technique of definition continues to underlie recent...

  13. TEN The Myth of Return
    (pp. 110-118)

    MYTHIC criticism has risen sharply in recent years. Myth in literature has emphasized the cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth, particularly as seen in the Christ figure. The form that such myth has taken is cyclic, a recurring cycle with its constant return, its circle imagery, and its attendant hope. Myth is seen in story elements, personages, imagery (and symbols), and patterns of narrative. Isabel G. MacCaffrey, in a book devoted to Milton’s epical myth, writes, “As important toParadise Lostas the fable itself are the myth’s circular, returning shape, and its innocence of vision harking back to...

  14. ELEVEN The Myth of Exodus
    (pp. 119-138)

    WE HAVE just looked at the myth of return inParadise Lostin the preceding chapter. But woven into the fabric of biblical thought is also the myth of exodus, made concrete as symbol by the delivery of the Israelites from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. It has been seldom discussed as a recurrent motif in the Bible and not at all specifically as a mythopoeic theme in literature. Exodus myth employs historical eras of life, but not as cycle; they are, rather, stages moving toward a blinding splendor (God). With each stage a dialectic has effected the (at...

  15. TWELVE The Poem as Novelistic Technique
    (pp. 139-155)

    THE STRUCTURE ofParadise Lost, its story and treatment, the techniques of relation and the narrative voice, the repetitions of language and its verbal arts, the portraits drawn (dramatic and psychological), the humor which is often missed, and its extensive myth—all contribute in such a way to the totality of this literary masterpiece which breaks so strongly with conventions while employing those conventions that some critics have not been aware of them. F.R. Leavis, for example, has said, amazingly enough, that “Milton’s inadequacy to myth, in fact, is so inescapable, and so much is conceded in sanctioned comment, that...

  16. THIRTEEN The Poem as Entity
    (pp. 156-172)

    WHAT is the poem that many people read asParadise Lost? Unfortunately, the length of the epic has often caused it to be excerpted to a few books, some other sections, and summaries. This study has been written for the reader who has pursued the full poem, or will; it is not an introduction to the poem but an introduction to ways to approach the poem—not all the ways, but the literary ways. The reader should have his text at hand and should be briefed sufficiently in the narrative to follow discussions without having to reread. A condition an...

  17. APPENDIX: The Dates of Composition
    (pp. 173-177)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 178-194)
  19. Index
    (pp. 195-198)