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Milton Now pp 175-194 | Cite as

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

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

Abstract

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,

Keywords

Paradise Lost Erect Penis Rational Deliberativeness Rape Fantasy Moral Mistake 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  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
  3. Sackville: Attribution in Restoration Poetry: A Study of Rochester’s Poems of 1680 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), 86–7, 168–72. Love rates it as D2 for likeness.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Susan Bordo, The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999): 87.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Evolutionary psychology sometimes wants to reiterate this; for a critique, see Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender (London: Icon Books, 2010).Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Pierre Bourdieu, Masculine Domination, trans. Richard Nice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 5–6.Google Scholar
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  8. 10.
    Harold Weber, The Restoration Rake-Hero (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986).Google Scholar
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    Elaine McGirr, Lighteenth-Century Characters: A Guide to the Literature of the Age (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 29–30.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
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  12. 15.
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    Before March 1672; Rochester refers to it as a recent composition in a letter, which might allow us to think it a response to the 1671 Paradise Lost. The Complete Poems of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, ed. David M. Vieth (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1968), 187. All quotations from Rochester are from this edition, unless otherwise specified.Google Scholar
  17. 22.
    On the abject, and its role in masculine anxiety and self-definition, see Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982); on masculinity and liquid,Google Scholar
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    From The Riverside Milton, ed. Roy Flannagan (Boston and New York: Houghton Mfflin, 1998), book 9, lines 445–57. All subsequent references to Milton’s poetry are to this edition, and will be cited parenthetically by book and line number.Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World (London: Penguin, 1984).Google Scholar
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    On the figure of the green girl, see Diane Purkiss, “Thinking of Gender,” in The Cambridge Companion to Andrew Marvell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 68–86,Google Scholar
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© Catharine Gray and Erin Murphy 2014

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  • Diane Purkiss

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