Milton Now pp 175-194 | Cite as

What Do Men Want? Satan, the Rake, and Masculine Desire

  • Diane Purkiss
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


If John Milton is ever to succeed in his epic task of justifying the ways of God to men, prior questions need to be addressed: what do men want? When we think of “justification,” we might think of reason, but what will give men pleasure? What will satisfy them? The education that Paradise Lost attempts might well be premised on right reason, but most of its critical cruxes come about when our own “baser” longings intersect and cross over that rational deliberativeness. Desire and attraction play central parts in the poem; though Milton does indeed try his best to foreground the superior charms of thought and rationality, he is no more successful than the liberal and Whig satirists whose visions of liberty and of what men want he in part sets out to correct. The vision in question might run like this:

I Rise at Eleven, I Dine about Two,

I get drunk before Seven, and the next thing I do;

I send for my Whore, when for fear of a Clap,

I Spend in her hand, and I Spew in her Lap;

Then we quarrel and scold, till I fall asleep,

When the Bitch, growing bold, to my Pocket does creep.

Then slyly she leaves me, and to revenge th’affront,

At once she bereaves me of Money and Cunt.

If by chance then I wake, hot-headed and drunk,


Paradise Lost Erect Penis Rational Deliberativeness Rape Fantasy Moral Mistake 
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  1. 1.
    Text is from The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, ed. Harold Love (Oxford: Clarendon, 1999), 274–75, lines 1–14. Subsequent references to this poem are to this edition and will be cited within the text parenthetically by line number. In one manuscript the title is “The Debauch.” Love also has some verses on Rochester which read like a cut-down version of this poem.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Neither Vieth nor Love attributes the poem definitely to Rochester, though both agree that it may be about him; for a short discussion of the alternatives, see Kirk Combe, “Rakes, Wives and Merchants,” in A Companion to Restoration Drama, ed. Susan J. Owen (Oxford: Blackwells, 2001) and A Martyr for Sin: Rochester’s Critique of Polity, Sexuality, and Society (New York: University of Delaware Press, 1998). Vieth attributes it toGoogle Scholar
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© Catharine Gray and Erin Murphy 2014

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  • Diane Purkiss

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