Milton and the Terms of Liberty.
Studies in Renaissance Literature 7. Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer, Inc., 2002. 240 pp. $60. ISBN: 0-85991-639-1.
Milton and the Terms of Liberty gathers together a number of essays originally delivered at the Sixth International Milton Symposium held in York, England in 1999. Principal themes of that conference were Milton and the millennium and Milton and the republican tradition, as well as the ways Milton's political ideas responded and adjusted to the changing circumstances of the nation during his turbulent age. Not all the twelve essays collected in this volume focus on Milton's evolving notions of political liberty or explicitly examine "the terms of liberty" in the seventeenth century; however, those that do in their various ways, illuminate the topic with fresh attention to historical, political, and classical contexts.
The volume opens with an elegant and substantial essay by Quentin Skinner ("John Milton and the Politics of Slavery") which argues that Milton's political tracts draw extensively upon neo-Roman ideas of liberty and servitude. Skinner makes a persuasive case for Milton's indebtedness to anti-monarchical Roman writers--for example, Sallust and Tacitus--and he examines parallels between Milton's arguments and those of the leading Parliamentarian pamphleteer, Henry Parker. Readers familiar with Skinner's recent book Liberty Before Liberalism (1998) will recognize his arguments about the neo-Roman theory of states, though in this essay Skinner devotes more sustained attention to Milton's concerns with popular sovereignty. This masterful essay adds to the recent scholarship on Milton's republicanism and it deserves to be widely read and admired; my one reservation about the essay's exclusive focus on Milton's "neo-Roman" republican outlook is that this tends to overemphasize the secular dimensions of Milton's politics and anti-monarchical writings, ignoring altogether their radical religious dimensions and contexts.
There are a number of other stimulating essays in this book that will enrich Milton scholarship, enliven its debates, and illuminate further the historical and polemical contexts of Milton's writings. In a piece on "Milton before 'Lycidas,'" Thomas N. Corns questions the current tendency to read Milton's radicalism back into his earliest poems; Corns has no doubt about the radicalism of Milton in 1642, but he aims to politicize the young Milton (especially before 1637) by drawing extensively upon recent historical scholarship that shows a more diverse range of religious and political discourse during the 1620s and 1630s. Bringing together aesthetic and political concerns in "Prosody and Liberty in Milton and Marvell," John Creaser does a fine job of showing how Milton's individualistic pursuit of liberty is expressed in his flexible use of verse forms. Other essays more fully address Milton's prose works and their political contexts. In an essay that is both historically rich and sensitive to verbal nuances, Joad Raymond examines the "word-play around king as a name and a thing" (94) during the Republic as well as the Protectorate when that word-play--and the anxieties it expressed for Milton and his contemporaries--shifted onto the quasi-regal Cromwell himself. In a piece that considers the uses of martial language by both Milton and his Royalist contemporaries, Christopher Orchard illuminates particularly well the Royalist discourse of resistance. And in an especially astute essay, Stephen Fallon uses the polemical attacks on Milton by Alexander More to reveal the uneasy "equipoise of confidence and anxiety in [Milton's] self-representations" (123) of the Latin Defences.
Several of the most substantial contributions address the writings of Milton's later career. Janel Mueller makes a powerful case for a topical reading of the imagery and language of Samson Agonistes, as she richly situates the drama in the context of London experience and culture between 1662 and 1667, including the suffering of plague victims in 1665 and the destruction of the Fire of London in 1666. Katsuhiro Engetsu perceptively discusses Paradise Regained in relation to Milton's last work of controversial prose, Of True Religion (1673), in order to reconsider the brief epic's political critique of the politics and spiritual corruption of Charles II's court. And Barbara Lewalski, in a fine piece devoted to both the poems and prose works of Milton's last years, examines his role as an active "oppositional educator" (175) who most certainly did not withdraw from politics to a "paradise within."
Milton and the Terms of Liberty is a first-rate collection of studies. Not all its essays explicitly address the "terms of liberty" as Milton understood or defined them, and some attempt to give the book tighter thematic coherence would have been welcome. Nevertheless, the quality of the book's essays is very high indeed; they deserve to be widely read and debated by scholars and students of Milton's England.
University of Wisconsin, Madison
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2004|
|Previous Article:||John Donne: Man of Flesh and Spirit.|
|Next Article:||Mammon's Music: Literature and Economics in the Age of Milton.|