Not so much a Teaching as an Intangling

  • Stanley Eugene Fish


I would like to suggest something about Paradise Lost that is not new except for the literalness with which the point will be made: (1) the poem’s centre of reference is its reader who is also its subject; (2) Milton’s purpose is to educate the reader to an awareness of his position and responsibilities as a fallen man, and to a sense of the distance which separates him from the innocence once his; (3) Milton’s method is to re-create in the mind of the reader (which is, finally, the poem’s scene) the drama of the Fall, to make him fall again exactly as Adam did and with Adam’s troubled clarity, that is to say, ‘not deceived’. In a limited sense few would deny the truth of my first two statements; Milton’s concern with the ethical imperatives of political and social behaviour would hardly allow him to write an epic which did not attempt to give his audience a basis for moral action; but I do not think the third has been accepted in the way that I intend it.


Reading Experience Paradise Lost Large Perspective Rhetorical Analysis Good Temptation 
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  1. 1.
    Paradise Lost and its Critics, p. 79. Cf. John Peter, A Critique of Paradise Lost (London, 1960), p. 44: ‘the comments [of the epic voice] seem simply biased. … His premises are correct and he deduces from them a perfectly feasible plan.’Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    A. N. Whitehead in The Limits of Language, ed. Walker Gibson (New York, 1962), pp. 13–14. In classical theory, metaphor is the figure of speech whose operation bears the closest resemblance to the operations of dialectic and logic. Aristotle defines it in the Poetics as ‘a transference either from genus to species or from species to genus, or from species to species’.Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    A Garden of Spirituall Flowers (1638), p. 212. See also John Preston, Sins Overthrow or A Godly and Learned Treatise of Mortification (London, 1633), p. 60: ‘But there is great difference betwixt the slacknesse of the Saints, and the wicked backsliding: the godly [61] they may slacke, but it is for a time; he is cold and remisse in the duties of holinesse, but it lasts not, it vanisheth away: on the other side, the wicked lye and continue in Apostacy unto the end; in these it is naturall, but unto the other it is but the instigation of the divell working by some lust upon one of the faculties.’ These are of course commonplace statements, and examples could be multiplied ad infinitum.Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    Robert Cushman, Therapeia (Chapel Hill, 1958), p. 230.Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    See Walter J. Ong, S.J., Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue (Cambridge, Mass., 1958), pp. 263–7.Google Scholar

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© Stanley Eugene Fish 1967

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  • Stanley Eugene Fish

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