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Historical approaches

  • Margarita Stocker
Chapter
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Part of the The Critics Debate book series

Abstract

Milton’s revaluation of epic values is closely bound up with his revolutionary politics. While humanist critics tended to want to underplay his Puritanism, a movement to restore centrality to his religious and political aims has recently gathered momentum. In this context the crucial problem is that a professed revolutionary, supporting the execution of Charles I, should nevertheless in Paradise Lost condemn Satan as a rebel and endorse the unquestioned authority of Heaven’s King [Ross, 1943]. Related to this ideological conundrum is the literary problem of the War in Heaven, which presents Satan’s insurrection and Christ’s victory. From Johnson onwards, critics have often found this episode a puzzling mixture of epic battle and risible hyperbole. The loyal angels’ resort to mountain-tossing against their opponents made Waldock think that even Milton had to giggle at his fantasy [112; cf. Peter, 1960, 77]. However, Stein thought that the point here was precisely to burlesque militarism [1953, 20–3]; an apparently illogical suggestion, since it is unlikely that Milton would wish to ridicule the loyal angels at any rate. In the work of historical critics a very different picture emerges.

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© Margarita Stocker 1988

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  • Margarita Stocker

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