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Interpreting SAMSON AGONISTES

Interpreting SAMSON AGONISTES

JOSEPH ANTHONY WITTREICH
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 429
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztvq7
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  • Book Info
    Interpreting SAMSON AGONISTES
    Book Description:

    Joseph Wittreich reveals Samson to be an intensely political work that reflects the heroic ambitions and failings of the Puritan Revolution and the tragic ambiguities of the era. He sees in the work not the purveyance of Medieval and early Renaissance typological associations but an interrogation of them and a consequent movement away from them.

    Originally published in 1986.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5417-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xxx)
    J. W.
  4. CITATIONS
    (pp. xxxi-2)
  5. CHAPTER I SAMSON AGONISTES AND THE STATE OF MILTON CRITICISM
    (pp. 3-52)

    No sooner had Raymond Waddington told us what we could all agree upon—thatSamson Agonistesis a drama of regeneration—than Irene Samuel declared she could not agree, and in such a way as to remind us of the Johnsonian proposition: “this is the tragedy which ignorance has admired, and bigotry applauded.”¹ It has been suggested that we will never know exactly what Johnson meant inasmuch as published commentary on Milton’s tragedy hardly existed at the time. Some commentary did exist, however, both visual and verbal, with illustrative criticism (a good index to any text’s status in the culture)...

  6. CHAPTER II SAMSON AGONISTES AND THE SAMSON STORY IN JUDGES
    (pp. 53-115)

    The history of the Old Testament, of the formation of certain books into a canon, is, in part, the history of what happens when prophetic literature is invested with priestly understanding. Prophecy is lost in the appropriation, which is to say that the prophetic word loses its urgency and hence its bearing on the moment at hand; its relevance to the present is displaced by binding the text to the past, the future, or both. One set of questions involves; what did it mean for this particular set of books to become bound, and binding? under what conditions did their...

  7. CHAPTER III THE JUDGES NARRATIVE AND THE ART OF SAMSON AGONISTES
    (pp. 116-173)

    The Samson story, it has been said, “demonstrates Israelite narrative art at its zenith.”¹ This claim should be made for the Book of Judges as a whole, for its meaning is located not in individual tales alone but spreads out through the entire structure. The salient features of this narrative are comprehended within the body of Renaissance exegesis but were not then the preoccupation they would become for later commentators. A prospect on history, a series of inset histories, another prospect on history that, this time, juxtaposes current actualities with earlier idealisms, the Book of Judges is also remarkable for...

  8. CHAPTER IV THE RENAISSANCE SAMSONS AND SAMSON TYPOLOGIES
    (pp. 174-238)

    If the Samson story had been decontextualized in order to pave the way for New Testament contextualizations, two versions of which are afforded by the sixteenth-and seventeenth-century prayer books, there was during the Renaissance, especially among typologists, a parallel effort to offer recontextualizations from materials that had been repressed by Reformation theologians but that now acquired new importance and relevance, particularly in the world of politics. By the seventeenth century, the Samson story had achieved the status of myth in a double aspect, its patterns and images providing fictions and metaphors for literature and its conceptual ideas receiving their full...

  9. CHAPTER V SAMSON AMONG THE NIGHTINGALES
    (pp. 239-295)

    Joseph Summers has reminded us of how C. S. Lewis taunted both students and friends: “Don’t you rejoice with that chorus [inSamson Agonistes]”:

    While their hearts were jocund and sublime,

    Drunk with idolatry, drunk with wine

    And fat regorged of bulls and goats,

    Chanting their idol, and preferring

    Before our living dread who dwells

    In Silo, his bright sanctuary,

    Among them he a spirit of frenzy sent,

    Who hurt their minds,

    And urged them on with mad desire

    To call in haste for their destroyer . . . ?

    “The young friend would protest, ‘No! No! It’s unchristian,’ and...

  10. CHAPTER VI MILTON’S SAMSONS AND SAMSON AGONISTES
    (pp. 296-328)

    It is within the context of shifting attitudes toward Samson that Milton writesSamson Agonistesand that it should be interpreted—or reinterpreted. Or, better, contextualization should nudge us into adjusting our interpretations ofSamsonin a way that shows it to accommodate more than one perspective on its protagonist; that reveals its tragic power emanating from the ambiguities in which the Samson story came to be lodged and which obfuscate the moral clarity (i.e., platitudinous Christianity) Milton is sometimes thought to have imposed upon that story. Not just in later centuries, but in Milton’s own time, decidedly different views...

  11. CHAPTER VII SAMSON AGONISTES IN CONTEXT
    (pp. 329-386)

    The wisdom of puttingParadise RegainedandSamson Agonistestogether in the same volume, writes John Shawcross, “is the commerce which is thus established between them”: “Perhaps we have misreadSamson Agonistesso ineptly because we have not fully acknowledged the interrelationships of the two works.”¹ And Balachandra Rajan comments similarly: “How little in the impressive outpouring of Milton scholarship bears explicitly on this problem” of intertextual connection.² The poems in Milton’s 1671 volume, for a long time, seemed resistant to the sort of criticism that both Shawcross and Rajan would sponsor; for on the one hand they clearly embody...

  12. INDEX
    (pp. 387-395)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 396-396)