“Warring Chains of Signifiers”: Metaphoric Ambivalence and the Politics of Paradise Lost

  • Peter C. Herman


The critical traditions generated by the epic similes and metaphors of Paradise Lost demonstrate how the paradigm of Miltonic certainty has guided interpretation, and once more, the conflict between Bentley and Pearce both sets and exemplifies the pattern. In Milton’s “Paradise Lost”: A New Edition (1732), Bentley objected to the metaphors in Paradise Lost on the grounds of incongruity. Faced with the seeming inappropriateness of the epic similes at the end of Book 4, Bentley huffs “What are sheaves bound up in a Barn to the Phalanx, that hem’d Satan? Where’s the least Similitude? Besides to suppose a Storm in the Field of Corn, implies that the Angels were in a ruffle and hurry about Satan, not in regular and military Order” (sig. T4v). The metaphors offend Bentley’s sense of what constitutes an appropriate or legitimate comparison, and so he often either emends them or tries to drop them altogether. Responding to Milton’s comparison of “the flying Fiend” to ships far off (2.636–43), Bentley unleashes his usual scorn: “This long and tedious Comparison is so silly here and pedantical, quite improper for the Place; that I am willing to believe it spurious, and to charge the Editor with it, as often before” (sig. I3v). What really bothers Bentley is that everything takes place in the dark, and so he concludes his objections with this rhetorical question: “And why is all this done Nightly, to contradict the whole Account?” (sig. I3v).


Paradise Lost Classical Epic Alternative Tradition Epic Hero Military Order 
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Copyright information

© Peter C. Herman 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter C. Herman
    • 1
  1. 1.San Diego State UniversityUSA

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