Publicizing the Science of God: Milton's Raphael and the boundaries of knowledge.
--Sir Philip Sidney A Defence of Poetry (1595)
Is it not evident, in these last hundred years (when the Study of Philosophy has been the business of all the Virtuosi in Christendome) that almost a new Nature has been reveal'd to us? that more errours of the School have been detected, more useful Experiments in Philosophy have been made, more Noble Secrets in Opticks, Medicine, Anatomy, Astronomy, discover'd, than in all those credulous and doting Ages from Aristotle to us? so true it is that nothing spreads more fast than Science, when rightly and generally cultivated.
--John Dryden An Essay of Dramatick Poesie (1688)
Situated between Sidney's Defence of Poetry and Dryden's Essay of Dramatick Poesie, Milton, "freely ranging only within the zodiac of his own wit," "deliver[s] a golden" world in Paradise Lost but populates it with inquisitive inhabitants not unlike those of Dryden's milieu, inhabitants who find themselves at once intrigued by "useful Experiments" and bounded by the requirement to have those experiments "rightly and generally cultivated." While Sidney's theory posits that the poet "doth grow in effect another nature," Dryden suggests that the brazen world he and Milton inhabit itself appears "almost a new Nature." Within the context of his own age's literary theorists, then, Milton creates in Paradise Lost a golden world while inhabiting a newly-altered brazen one himself. This reduplication of the poetic sense of the newly altered natural world (or, to superimpose Dryden on Sidney, the poetic sense of "another nature" derived from "a new Nature") has complicated Milton criticism that seeks to examine the scientific in Paradise Lost. With a few notable exceptions among recent work, the body of criticism on Milton's epic tends to relegate Raphael--the principal expositor of scientific knowledge in the poem--and his discourse with Adam to secondary or even tertiary points in arguments of larger design. Though often with useful results, the critical inquiry Raphael's discourse on the scientific has garnered usually focuses on what type of science Milton promulgates, more often than not examining whether he sides with classical cosmography or more contemporary theories. Dennis Danielson's recent penetrating study on Miltonic cosmology as a whole is a noteworthy continuation of this interest in the content of Milton's natural philosophy. Though productive, however, this kind of approach, as William Kerrigan observes, "encourages us to regard the poem in a certain fashion--as, let us say, a very nice museum" (263). But just as important as what science Milton depicts is how Milton chooses to depict it. Or, to continue Professor Kerrigan's metaphor, how the museum is operated and to whom admission is granted.
This essay seeks to revisit how Milton handles his representations of science by means of a sustained inquiry into the problematics of Raphael's narration and the social space through which he directs his pedagogical efforts. In particular, I'm interested in the social space of dining in which Raphael conducts his discourse with Adam and the tensions--some might say contradictions--implicit in his pedagogy between liberty and containment, between the incitement to and curtailment of investigation into the created order. Casually dining with Adam and Eve in the cool of their bower while discussing issues of mutual concern, Raphael represents the natural world as inextricably bound, ironically enough, to the concept of circumscription. (1) According to the angel, Adam may inquire and he himself may inform, but only provided that both remain within appropriate bounds. But as preoccupied with keeping Adam within sanctioned limits as Raphael seems, Milton's garrulous "sociable Spirit" (5.221) showcases tantalizing fragments of scientific copia, a move precariously close, in its way, to seductive insinuation. Negotiating between interpretations that position Raphael as wholly inept on the one hand or, on the other, as affable and helpful, this essay will argue that Raphael's significance in Paradise Lost resides in his simultaneous representation of divergent, almost antithetical, philosophies towards scientific knowledge in the public sphere. In this manner, Raphael embodies the central principle of Areopagitica (namely, that humanity must, with some qualification, be able to participate in free inquiry in the public sphere) by, paradoxically, embodying that essay's two greatest extremes, specifically the restrictive licensing and unbounded license between which Milton seeks to negotiate. By overzealously curtailing the range of Adam's inquiry, Raphael contributes to his pupil's downfall by stifling his ability freely to explore the created order via his God-given reason, the angel functioning, in the process, in a manner akin to that of the licensors against which Areopagitica argues. Concomitantly, however, Raphael also participates in scientific discussions set amid the social space of the culinary and in this space piques Adam's curiosity by stimulating his mind to more fantastic contemplations of the natural world than he had previously experienced. In this manner, I argue, Raphael fills a social space in Milton's epic similar to those of the English coffee-houses where public debates over science (among other matters) became an issue of increasing concern for moralists wary of unbounded discourse. By simultaneously expressing the allure of scientific wonders while repeatedly cautioning against inappropriate inquiry into them, Raphael expresses the ambivalence and uncertainty experienced by Milton and many of his more anxious contemporaries in the process of negotiating the terms of public scientific discussion and debate. Raphael's dual functions create a dialectic of restrained scientific inquiry that, in the absence of a definitive model for a religiously-informed science predicated on free inquiry, constitutes that most Miltonic of paradoxes: the advocacy of investigative liberty superintended by an elite few. (2)
The tensions and (if one may go so far) apparent contradictions inherent in Raphael's pedagogy call for a closer examination, for the manner in which the angel fulfills his mission from God reveals a methodology prone to placing excessive restrictions on human curiosity about the natural world, a methodology allusively foreshadowed through the manner in which Raphael issues his warning to Adam regarding the forbidden fruit. Alternately described as "the affable angel" and the "Sociable spirit," Raphael receives a distinct but brief mandate from God in Book Five to "Go, therefore, half this day as friend with friend/Converse with Adam ... and such discourse bring on, As may advise him of his happy state" (229-34). After referencing the free will of humanity, Milton's God then relates the specific message he wants Raphael to deliver:
... whence warn him to beware He swerve not too secure: tell him withal His danger, and from whom, what enemy Late fall'n himself from Heav'n, is plotting now The fall of others from like state bliss; By violence, no, for that shall be withstood. But by deceit and lies; this let him know, Lest willfully transgressing he pretend Surprisal, unadmonished, unforewarned. (5.238-45)
Much critical discussion has ensued from this passage, most of which examines Milton's theodicy and the perennial debates over free will, but I am most interested in the execution of Raphael's mission when compared to the specifics of his mandate. For although Raphael's received mandate lasts only a total of sixteen lines and has nothing to do with the imparting of scientific knowledge, the majority of the angel's discourse centers on natural philosophy. What's more, although Raphael faithfully recounts the details surrounding the "enemy / Late fall'n himself from Heav'n," the specific message he is ordained to deliver--that the enemy will seek to trick Adam into consuming the forbidden fruit, the only means of "willfully transgressing" available to him--gets garbled in the transmission.
Amid his copious discourse on hidden spiritual events and the intricacies of cosmology, Raphael muddles the specific warning, leaving the particular focus of his admonishment unclear:
Wherever thus created, for no place Is yet distinct by name, thence, as thou know'st He brought thee into this delicious grove, This garden, planted with the trees of God, Delectable both to behold and taste; And freely all their pleasant fruit for food Gave thee, all sorts are here that all th' earth yields, Variety without end; but of the Tree Which tasted works Knowledge of Good and Evil, Thou may'st not; in the day thou eat'st, thou diest; Death is the penalty imposed, beware. And govern well thy appetite, lest Sin Surprise thee, and her black attendant Death. (7.535-47)
Significantly, Raphael's admonition elides the very verb that would clearly warn Adam against consuming the fruit from the Tree. That Raphael enjoins Adam that "Thou may'st not" but does not append the verb "eat," "taste," or other image of consumption leaves his command ambiguously defined. For, every verb immediately before Raphael's assertion that "Thou may'st not" exists within a subordinated clause, leaving his command only indistinctly tied to eating. That is to say, while Raphael follows with "in the day thou eat'st, thou diest," the syntax of his narration prior to his command places "behold" and "taste" on equal footing, leaving at least the possibility that Adam not only must avoid orally consuming the fruit but also must resist beholding it as well. Raphael's admonition to Adam is problematic, it seems, not only because he elides the specific verb from the statement clearly declaring God's command but also because that elision--by creating indeterminate boundaries for transgression--subtly, if inadvertently, poses to Adam a greater degree of restraint than that found in the divine mandate itself. Thus, at the end of Raphael's warning to "govern well thy appetite" Adam could feasibly be left with the sense that the appetite he must govern extends even to his desire to see, not just taste, the fruit. Raphael delivers God's message in a manner, then, that not only obfuscates the central mandate but also does so in a way suggestive to Adam and Eve that the proper approach to forbidden knowledge may lie in an over-abundance of self-regulation, a scrupulous restraint, that is, that errs on the side of excessive caution. (3)
The imperative for humanity to remain within proper intellectual bounds, neither to speculate too freely nor explore the natural world too deeply, permeates Raphael's narrative of creation and its operations, signaling the angel's concern for moderating appropriate modes of scientific inquiry. Indeed, Raphael's scientific discourse appears in two distinct sections -- the narrative of creation and his response to Adam's interest in cosmology--and the angel brackets (and punctuates) both lessons with repeated admonitions for Adam to govern carefully his intellectual curiosity. Upon Adam's request for Raphael to "Deign to descend now lower, and relate / What may no less perhaps avail us known, / How first began this heav'n which we behold" (7.84-86), the angel replies with a warning and call for moderation:
Yet what thou canst attain, which best may serve To glorify the Maker, and infer Thee also happier, shall not be withheld Thy hearing, such commission from above I have received, to answer thy desire Of knowledge within bounds; beyond abstain To ask, nor let thine own inventions hope Things not revealed, which th' invisible King Only omniscient, hath suppressed in night, To none communicable in earth or Heaven: Enough is left besides to search and know. (7.115-25)
As Raphael cautions against excessive inquisitiveness here, natural curiosity (that is, curiosity which is at once innate and also focused outward toward the natural world) becomes subordinated to, and not an integral part of, the process of glorifying God. Knowledge of the created order, as Raphael relates it, remains most appropriate when coupled with utilitarian functions, ones which "serve / To glorify the Maker"; consequently, Adam's "desire / Of knowledge" may be answered, but only "within bounds." Scientific inquiry, or humanity's "own inventions," Raphael suggests, should err on the side of caution, eschewing investigation into "things not revealed," which God "hath suppressed in night," since "enough is left besides to search and know." Indeed, Raphael registers his concern over appropriately moderating human inquisitiveness at the conclusion of his narration of creation ("if else thou seek'st / Aught, not surpassing human measure, say"), the introduction of his discourse on cosmology ("the great Architect / Did wisely to conceal, and not divulge / His secrets to be scanned by them who ought / Rather admire"), and the conclusion of that discourse as well ("Solicit not thy thoughts with matters hid"). Throughout the angel's visit with Adam, admonitions to remain within limited bounds of knowledge markedly function, then, as predicate and structural frame for Raphael's pedagogy.
So profound is Raphael's preoccupation with demarcating the proper bounds for Adam's curiosity that the angel's very narrative of creation implicitly reinforces his argument for the limiting of human inquiry into the natural world. Most notably, according to Raphael's history, creation itself was an act of circumscription. Milton's God sends forth the Son to
bid the deep Within appointed bounds be heav'n and earth; Boundless the deep, because I am who fill Infinitude, nor vacuous space. Though I uncircumscribed myself retire, And put not forth my goodness, which is free To act or not, Necessity and Chance Approach not me, and what I will is Fate. (7.166-73)
When "th' omnific Word" (7.217) pauses in Chaos, the moment of Creation occurs not as a separation of water from matter, light from dark, but first and foremost as a demarcation of limits:
Then stayed the fervid wheels, and in his hand He took the golden compasses, prepared In God's eternal store, to circumscribe This universe and all created things: One foot he centred, and the other turned Round through the vast profundity obscure, And said, Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds. This be thy just circumference, O world. (7.224-31)
The demarcation between the divine and the natural, between God and the created order (including, as Raphael emphasizes, Adam), exists in the difference between bound/css and bounder/. God alone, "uncircumscribed," and the one "who fill[s] / Infinitude, nor vacuous space," remains free "To act or not" and thus remains unbounded by such vicissitudes brought by "Necessity and Chance." Depicted as boundless, then, Milton's God creates through circumscription, setting the foot of the golden compass down in chaos "to circumscribe / This universe and all created things." Employing the image of a mathematical tool, Raphael presents creation as primarily a process of establishing parameters that mark distinctly separated fields ("Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds, / This be thy just circumference, O world"), and, in doing so. implicitly reinforces his own message of containing and properly directing human inquiry through the structure and presentation of his narrative. However tautological his method may seem, Raphael bolsters his mandate to keep curiosity about nature within bounds by presenting the very creation, order, and structural design of that nature as itself preeminently about boundaries.
For all of Raphael's admonitions for Adam to remain within specified intellectual bounds, however, Raphael's discourse with Adam remains troubling if for no other reason than its utterly tantalizing nature. (4) When Adam first meets Raphael, he offers the affable angel food, demurring that it may be "unsavoury food perhaps / To spiritual natures; only this I know, / That one celestial Father gives to all." (5.401-03). Here, Adam neither questions nor prompts Raphael but rather shows both the humility and, what's more, the emphasis on being "lowly wise," on simply praising without inquiry, that Raphael will later counsel. Raphael, however, responds with a lengthy exposition on angelic nourishment and digestion and, in the process, opens up occluded knowledge for Adam to behold, despite his dearth of curiosity on the matter in the first place. "For know," Raphael commands, "whatever was created, needs / To be sustained and fed." Perhaps just as important as the lengthy account of digestion that ensues is the syntax of this introduction to Raphael's first lesson to Adam. For Raphael not only opens Adam's simple reliance on humble utilitarianism ("only this I know ...") with the imperative to acquire knowledge ("For know") but he also elides God's function from the creative act by employing the passive voice ("whatever was created, needs ..."), an elision that not only effaces God from the primary syntactical position but also transposes the created order into that place. Raphael's speech seems designed--despite all its calls for scrupulous circumspection--to pry open Adam's mind and to arouse his curiosity over his position in the created order by inviting speculation about the natural world.
Indeed, Raphael's anxious admonitions to know "within bounds" become even more problematic with his ensuing discourse which lays out myriad scientific conjectures in all their tantalizing detail only to conclude by encouraging Adam to be content with utilitarian knowledge. Adam avoids posing a specific question and instead simply muses aloud over the operations of the cosmos. The crux of his reasoning and, hence, the focus of his implied query centers on "How nature wise and frugal could commit / Such disproportions" by having:
... the sedentary earth, That better might with far less compass move, Served by more noble than herself, attains Her end without least motion, and receives, As tribute such a sumless journey brought Of incorporeal speed, her warmth and light; Speed, to describe whose swiftness number fails. (8.32-38)
Adam, manifesting his humble nature, wonders why all the vast expanse of the universe would exist for the earth's (and, thus, his) benefit alone, especially if the earth, sedentary and therefore unproductive, should not work for its benefit. The essence of Adam's implied query, then, concerns moderation and proportion in the universe, and therefore not only fits with Raphael's pedagogical focus but also reveals Adam's preoccupation, the ultimate end of his computations. Adam's epistemology is governed by his desire to understand why he, so lowly and minute, should deserve such lavish attention and such a stately palace in which to reside. Raphael's response initially addresses this central concern but does so by peppering his explanation with savory bits of scientific theory both unknown to and unsought by Adam in the first place. What's more, the angel concludes with fantastical ruminations Adam never voiced about the plurality of worlds and the possible population of those worlds--theories that not only do not answer Adam's implied query but also introduce ideas to him that he himself never articulated. (5)
Raphael begins by acknowledging the allure of scientific inquiry ("To ask or search I blame thee not, for heav'n / Is as the Book of God before thee set, / Wherein to read his wondrous works, and learn / His seasons, hours, or days, or months, or years" (8.66-69)) but quickly shifts to emphasizing Nature's inscrutability and the divine design behind it ("the rest / From man or angel the great Architect / Did wisely to conceal, and not divulge / His secrets to be scanned by them who ought/ Rather admire" (8.71-75)). Raphael's answer would have been complete with his assertions that (1) the earth has virtues in itself that may make it worthy of such universal attention and that (2) Nature's vastness may function "That man may know he dwells not in his own; / An edifice too large for him to fill, / Lodged in a small partition, and the rest / Ordained for uses to his Lord best known" (8.103-06). However, simultaneous to these calls for simple explanations and limited knowledge. Raphael invokes fascinating scientific theories, alluding to calculations that "gird the sphere / With centric and eccentric scribbled o'er, / Cycle and epicycles, orb in orb" (8.82-84), speculating "what if the sun / Be centre to the world, and other stars / By his attractive virtue and their own / Incited, dance about him various rounds" (8.122-25), observing incongruous astronomical phenomena such as retrograde motion (8.127), and. perhaps most intriguing of all, suggesting life on other planets (8.144-72). For all of Raphael's declarations in favor of utilitarian knowledge, the angel is well-versed in scientific theory and holds little compunction about sharing fragments of these conjectures with Adam, facilitating his pupil's continued consideration of the natural order even as he would otherwise anxiously limit it. (6)
Raphael's admonitions against inquiring too deeply into the natural world, admonitions not delivered from the mandates of Milton's God and ones that run counter to the angel's own preoccupation with scientific theories, seem even more problematic given the angel's method of communicating spiritual truths. After their first meeting and meal, a "sudden mind arose / In Adam, not to let th' occasion pass" without receiving intelligence of divine matters, "Of things above his world" (5.451-55). Raphael delivers his response in three distinct, though compact, stages. First, he assures Adam that from God
All things proceed, and up to him return. If not depraved from good, created all Such to perfection, one first matter all, Endued with various forms, various degrees Of substance, and in things that live, of life; (5.470-74)
Second, Raphael not only assures Adam that all things derive from God and thus are pure, but also that these forms exist in varying degrees of excellence. Charting a series of resemblances between various created forms, Raphael argues that "more refined, more spirituous, and pure, / As nearer to him placed or nearer tending / Each in their several active spheres assigned, /Till body up to spirit work, in bounds / Proportioned to each kind" (5.475-79). Raphael, in his third and I would argue most significant rhetorical maneuver, alludes to the interior botanical functions of the natural world when he uses a scientific analogy to teach Adam a spiritual truth:
So from the root Springs lighter the green stalk, from thence the leaves More airy, last the bright consummate flow'r Spirits odorous breathes: flow'rs and their fruit Man's nourishment, by gradual scale sublimed To vital spirits aspire, to animal, To intellectual, give both life and sense, Fancy and understanding, whence the soul Reason receives, and reason is her being. Discursive, or intuitive; discourse Is oftest yours, the latter most is ours, Differing but in degree, of kind the same. (5.479-90)
While the progression of Raphael's reasoning may strike us as unremarkable enough--the perfection of created things, the gradual increase of purity with the ascension to higher spheres, and the complex web of analogues and resemblances were all common ideas (7)--Raphael's methodology itself is problematic for he demonstrates before Adam what he will, in a few moments, specifically caution against. That is to say, Raphael prefaces his forthcoming admonitions against exploring the natural world beyond one's ken with his first lesson to Adam, a lesson that teaches (1) all things in the universe are created pure (the opposite of which, it will be remembered, Adam has no way of comprehending), (2) the higher one advances through the very spheres of the natural world the closer one gets to God, and (3) one may understand spiritual truths through the analogues and similarities found in the (rather non-utilitarian) knowledge of how the natural world operates. As Harinder Marjara rightly notes, "Raphael expresses the belief [of the similitude between angel and man] not as a moral and theological idea, but as the culmination of his scientific discourse on the vertical transmutation of matter, and makes an explicit use of the imagery of feeding, growth, and generation to drive home his point" (239). (8) Significantly, however, this conflation of theological and scientific knowledges remains an uneasy marriage not because of post-Enlightenment assumptions of the incommensurability between the two but because --according to the philosophy soon to be espoused through Raphael's pedagogy--an epistemology dependent on the natural world would be insufficient for fully ascertaining metaphysical truths. (9)
The whole process of Raphael's narrative seems designed to arouse curiosity and provoke imagination, and for all the angel's overt advocacy for scrupulous oversight of free inquiry, Raphael's discourse with Adam constitutes a sustained series of openings. Raphael concludes his divinely ordained mission at the end of Book Six, and Book Seven begins with Adam and Eve listening attentively, "filled / With admiration, and deep muse to hear / Of things so high and strange, things to their thought / So unimaginable" (7.50-54). When Milton's narrator describes Adam who "soon repealed / The doubts that in his heart arose; and now / Led on, yet sinless, with desire to know / What nearer might concern him" (7.59-62), we are left to wonder who or what leads him on. It seems clear that whether we read it as Raphael's tantalizing narrative or Adam's curiosity the source is the same since the former generates the latter. Indeed, after his dilation of the creation events detailed in Book Seven, Raphael concludes with a direct invitation for further inquiry: "if else thou seek'st / Aught, not surpassing human measure, say" (7.639-40). While Raphael provides another warning on boundaries with the qualification "not surpassing human measure," he encloses that warning, ironically enough, with two openings; "if else thou seek'st / Aught" and "say." If Book Seven closes with Raphael suggestively opening for Adam an avenue for further inquiry, Book Eight further figures Raphael's methodology in such a manner that it comes to seem precariously like the process of temptation. "The angel ended," opens the narrator in Book Eight, "and in Adam's ear / So charming left his voice, that he a while / Thought him still speaking, still stood fixed to hear; / Then as new waked thus gratefully replied" (1-4). Such imagery of a preternatural voice insinuating itself by charming the ear conjoined with the image of a stupefied listener about to wake echoes the assault on Eve that precipitated Raphael's visit in the first place. For Gabriel finds Satan "squat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve; / Assaying by his devilish art to reach / The organs of her Fancy, and with them forge / Illusions as he list, phantasms and dreams" (4.800-03). From the end of Book Six through the commencement of Book Eight, then, Milton punctuates Raphael's discourse with rhetorical apertures that serve as avenues for the insinuation of potentially subversive suggestion.
If Raphael stokes the curiosity of his human auditors, the angel also inadvertently primes the couple for their fall by overzealously governing their exploration into the natural world (the effects of which, as Raphael's own discourse indicates, would reaffirm divine truth) and by frustrating their divinely-acquired desire to know. For, Raphael's speech not only disarms the couple by its very mode of rapturous eloquence but, in doing so, facilitates the future rhetorical insinuation by Satan. Moreover, the excessive circumscription suggested by Raphael's admonitions makes the couple more susceptible to the loosening of strictures promised by Satan's sophistry. Indeed, Satan's reasoning seems to invoke the whole of Raphael's pedagogy when the tempter asks "what forbids he but to know, / Forbids us good, forbids us to be wise? / Such prohibitions bind not" (9.757-60). (10) Capitalizing on the fatal flaw inherent in Raphael's pedagogical approach, Satan's rhetoric turns the excessive restrictions suggested to the couple by Raphael to his advantage, thereby translating the angel's instruction into a precursor to transgression.
While the multivalent problematics of Raphael's scientific discourse make it tempting to read him as tempter, I do not think they indicate, to appropriate Blake's famous valuation of Milton, that he was "of the Devil's party without knowing it" (353). To be sure, Raphael does contribute to the couple's fall; his role in priming the pair for their demise seems so thorough that he functions, as Milton's appellation for him may punningly suggest, as the "half able" angel. But if Raphael's mission fails, it is in large part because he, like Adam, is in a position of not knowing--not knowing fully the intricacies of nature's inner workings, not knowing the appropriate boundaries for scientific inquiries, and, in light of these, not knowing how best to govern his public interaction with Adam. His complicity in their fall, I would suggest, is an unknowing and guiltless one. Endowed with curiosity and lacking full knowledge of the workings of the universe, Raphael, too, must ascertain the appropriate mode of (and forum for) scientific inquiry. "How [shall I] last unfold" wonders Raphael, "The secrets of another world, perhaps / Not lawful to reveal?" (5.568-70). In short, running counter to readings that posit Raphael as a "deft teacher, clever at leading the discourse on by a natural progression to his central theme" (MacCallum 141), and in opposition to readings that interpret the angel as a wholly detrimental force," I would position Raphael in a space analogous to that inhabited by Adam and Eve, a space of unknowing in which he must negotiate the often conflicting demands of curiosity and humility, inquisitiveness and the maintenance of purity
IRONICALLY however, Raphael fails in his mission precisely because he simultaneously participates in both extremes against which Milton contends in Areopagitica: the extreme of excessive regulation of knowledge and the extreme presented by the largely unregulated discourse of the public sphere. Central to Raphael's function in Milton's epic is less whether he is overzealous in his restrictions or too liberal in his speech and more the simple fact that he is simultaneously both. Milton thereby avoids the facile maneuver of simply having such overbearing licensing contribute to transgression by conjoining this representation with its antithesis, namely Raphael's discursive participation in the unmonitored, unregulated public sphere which also contributes to the couple's fall. In this manner, Raphael's discourse participates in what Peter C. Herman has astutely called Milton's "poetics of incertitude" (21), a poetic sensibility that, rather than attempting to synthesize divergent, even irreconcilable values, frequently holds them in productive tension as the positive condition of one's aesthetic. Indeed, so crucial are the "unresolved choice[s]" and repeated occurrences of such contrasting opposites to the tenor of the poem that, as Herman following Albert C. Labriola observes, the "deep structure" of Paradise Lost helps create a "cumulative effect" upon the reader which "instill[s] a pervasive sense of uncertainty" (44-45), an uncertainty reflective, in part, of Milton's own as he confronted, amid the century's upheavals, a public sphere seemingly perpetually resistant to the proper balance between oversight and liberty. (12) Both a personal and yet civic dilemma, this negotiation of conflicting ethical demands, as Stanley Fish has noted in a persuasive reading of Aeropagitica, perplexes precisely because "it leaves mysterious the process by which purity or even its near approximation can be achieved" (How Milton Works 201). Milton, it would seem, embodies in Raphael--and articulates through the earnest angel's pedagogy--the very ethical tensions that infuse the poet's other work, (11) tensions brought into stark relief by a public sphere he desired to keep both unrepressed and yet, somehow, free of scandalous license.
If, as I have been asserting, Raphael functions on one level in a manner similar to the overly strict licensors against which Areopagitica argues, Milton also positions the angel among the ranks of the censors through the very rhetoric of consumption Raphael employs. Indeed, the rhetoric with which Milton discusses the importance of properly engaging scandalous forms of knowledge in both Paradise Lost and Aeropagitica, rhetoric consistently figuring knowledge as food, is worthy of further investigation. For, although the metaphoric employment of food in the two texts further aligns Raphael with the misguided licensors of Areopagitica, the imagery of eating and the social space of dining also position him as a figure quite the opposite. While in Areopagitica, Milton concerns himself with the book trade, focusing his attention, therefore, on the dissemination of knowledge via the printed word, Raphael, in more metaphoric terms, examines the natural world as the "Book of God ... wherein [we may] read his wondrous works" (8.67-68). Milton, however, represents the reading and interpretation of both sets of texts as a form of consumption and digestion --a common trope to be sure, but one that, as I hope to demonstrate, reveals not only the figurative imagining of the process of learning but also the literal social spaces in which much learning, discussion, and debate took place.
Raphael's figuration of knowledge as food and the manner in which he manipulates that trope stands in marked contrast to the central thrust of Milton's own reasoning articulated through the same trope in Areopagitica. While Raphael's more overly-cautious admonitions to limit one's degree of inquiry into the unknown most immediately invite Milton's famous rejoinder to licensors that he "cannot praise a fugitive and cloister'd vertue, unexercis'd and unbreath'd, that never sallies out and sees her adversary" (515), Milton also, in leading up to that famous passage, invokes St. Paul, extrapolating from his lessons on eating meats sacrificed to idols, and. in doing so, signals an ethos markedly more capacious than that evinced during Raphael's more scrupulous moments. "To the pure all things are pure," Milton argues:
not only meats and drinks, but all kinde of knowledge whether of good or evill; the knowledge cannot defile, nor consequently the books, if the will and conscience be not defil'd. For books are as meats and viands are; some of good, some of evill substance ... and best books to a naughty mind are not unappliable to occasions of evill. Bad meats will scarce breed good nourishment in the healthiest concoction; but herein the difference is of bad books, that they to a discreet and judicious Reader serve in many respects to discover. to confute, to forewarn, and to illustrate.... I conceive therefore, that when God did enlarge the universall diet of mans body, saving ever the rules of temperance, he then also, as before, left arbitrary the dyeting and repasting of our minds. (512-13)
Extending Paul's teachings on meat sacrificed to idols, Milton transposes intellectual inquiry and unrestrained access to information into the position of the scandalous food, aligning his argument with the tenor of Paul's epistle by emphasizing the purity of "will and conscience" as the sole determinate of good or evil. Arguing that confident temperance, not anxious avoidance, should lie at the center of intellectual engagement--for, after all, one would not outlaw food to prevent gluttony--Milton tweaks his argument slightly to note that, unlike food, even "bad books" can promote virtue in the "discreet and judicious Reader." Milton's formula that "knowledge cannot defile ... if the will and conscience be not defil'd" explicitly contradicts the hermeneutic assumptions Raphael possesses and articulates (often in the form of mandates, sometimes in the form of subtle inculcation) to Adam in his more cautious pedagogical moments. Whereas in Areopagitica Milton argues that God "left arbitrary the dyeting and repasting of our minds," Raphael, as we have seen, remains much more inhibiting, and, invoking a similar metaphor of consumption, debases excessive intake of knowledge by likening its effects to the production of gastrointestinal excess:
But knowledge is as food, and needs no less Her temperance over appetite, to know In measure what the mind may well contain. Oppresses else with surfeit, and soon turns Wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind. (7.126-30)
Ignoring the fatal flaw of his particular application of the food-as-knowledge analogy--namely, that knowledge, for it to be knowledge, that is, something consumable and able to feed and sustain human curiosity, must, by definition, be always changing, always new, and always progressing-- Raphael settles the focus of his lesson on "temperance over appetite." But rather than advocating the temperance of Areopagitica, the temperance articulated most notably through Milton's famous misreading of Spenser (a misreading that culminates in the dictum "that he might see and know, and yet abstain"(516)), Raphael's version of temperance comes precariously close to prohibition, a temperance designed for stasis, for remaining content with knowing "in measure what the mind may well contain." According to Raphael's reasoning, any superfluous inquiry transforms "wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind." (14) By aligning investigation of the natural world with flatulence, Raphael maligns the quest for nonutilitarian knowledge in an attempt to keep Adam within the borders of sanctioned learning, the location of which Raphael himself is unsure about. (15) By advocating a temperance at times disturbingly more semblative of willful ignorance than informed abstinence, Raphael's pedagogical method, one that subtly but markedly rewrites the knowledge-as-food trope, casually yet significantly disturbs the delicate balance found throughout Areopagitica by frequently capitulating to an unwarranted--and, indeed, potentially damaging--scrupulosity.
The variant applications of the food-as-knowledge metaphor in Milton's polemic and Raphael's discourse not only further position Raphael as akin to a licensor rebutted in Areopagitica but also belie the importance of the function and social space of food vis a vis the discussion of intellectual matters. Indeed, in addition to Raphael's initial discourse with Adam on angelic nourishment. Milton repeatedly draws attention to the fact that their conference occurs in the social space of dining. God sends Raphael to "Converse with Adam, in what bow'r or shad / Thou hnd'st him from the heat of noon retired, / To respite his day-labour with repast, / Or with repose" (5.230-33). Exercising the requisite hospitality Adam invites the angel "in yonder shady bow'r / To rest, and what the garden choicest bears / To sit and taste, till this meridian heat / Be over, and the sun more cool decline" (5.367-70). A few moments later, the narrator, echoing this conflation of conversation and food, observes "A while discourse they hold; / No fear lest dinner cool; when thus began / Our author" (5.395-97). "Thus when with meats and drinks they had sufficed," the narrator concludes, "Not burdened nature, sudden mind arose / In Adam, not to let th' occasion pass / Given him by this great conference to know / Of things above his world" (5.451-55). Food and the social space of eating become, therefore, not only a metaphor for knowledge acquisition but also representative of the physical spaces in which such acquisition can occur.
By conjoining the social space and function of dining with intellectual discourse, Milton aligns Adam and Raphael's discussion of scientific matters with the burgeoning public sphere of his own milieu by presenting to us an apt analogue to the English coffee-house. Juxtaposing their discussion on mid-seventeenth-century book licensing with the spread of public scientific debate through the coffee-houses, Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer remind us that such "public meeting-places were also treated with suspicion. However ineffectively, surveillance included the control of the new coffee-houses [which] soon became linked with the spread of Dissent and the new philosophy" (292). After a concise survey of "subversive ideologies" circulated through coffee-house debates--including, most famously, "Hobbism [which] was also branded a 'coffee-house philosophy'" --Shapin and Schaffer note that such places and the debates they spawned through their open forums for discussion proved so potentially disruptive that "In the terrible year of 1666, Clarendon contemplated suppressing such meeting-places. Their importance for political debate was a further illustration of the suspicion of public dispute. England's 'natural governors' attributed great power to any rival form of knowledge" (293). (16) By facilitating comparatively open discussions on scientific theories, the coffee-houses of mid-seventeenth-century England collapsed the scientific with the political--at least in the minds of some authorities--through such comparatively unmediated discourse. Indeed, the pedagogical function of the coffee-houses (a function that, unlike the book trade, remained largely unpoliced) consistently rankled its critics by fomenting debate and critical inquiry. (17) Raphael's participation in a similar space of critical inquiry and his repeated attempts to moderate the discussion within that space figures both the popular appeal of such social spaces and the resultant anxieties produced by that appeal for those concerned with an ordered commonwealth.
Since the subversive energies of the coffee-house found their most palpable manifestation in the looming threat of the breakdown of social distinction, it is no surprise that Milton suggests egalitarian strains of thought while simultaneously qualifying them as he presents Adam and Raphael's interaction over a meal. Thus, not only do Adam and Raphael converse "as friend with friend" (5.229-30), but Raphael, again calling attention to the social space of the eatery, further suggests their potential equality through the metaphor of consumption and digestion:
... time may come when men With angels may participate, and find No inconvenient diet, nor too light fare: And from these corporal nutriments perhaps Your bodies may at last turn all to Spirit, Improved by tract of time, and winged ascend Ethereal, as we, or may at choice Here or in Heav'nly Paradises dwell. (5.493-500)
Commenting on Raphael's utopian vision of angelic-human concourse, John Rogers notes that the angel reinforces stasis as much as he ostensibly suggests mobility. "Inflexible stratification," Rogers argues,
is as much the focus of Raphael's vision as ontological mobility: the 'things' of Raphael's nature, like the citizens of Milton's projected society, are circumscribed by 'assign'd' spheres and 'proportion'd' bounds. Milton's pained political resignation to a doomed politics of minority rule finds a sanguine cosmological justification in Raphael's hierarchical continuum of body and spirit. (111)
Rogers correctly observes that Milton predicates Raphael's words on a sense of "inflexible stratification" born out of political necessity, but, at the same time, it is worth noting that Raphael does not emphasize stasis to the exclusion of mobility; rather, he leaves the two in suspension with each other. Thus, as much as Raphael invokes stratification through images of assigned spheres, proportioned bounds, and delineated taxonomies, he also suggests the very permeability of those boundaries over time. Indeed, Raphael will later echo these allusions to equality between humans and angels when he describes God's intent at the moment of creation for humans, one day, to join in such fellowship. God's ultimate desire, Raphael notes, is for humans to live innocently: "till by degrees of merit raised / They open to themselves at length the way / Up hither, under long obedience tried, / And earth be changed to Heav'n, and Heav'n to earth, / One kingdom, joy and union without end" (7.157-61)). Moreover, Adam and Raphael currently share an uncommon communion through the largely unmoderated space of the culinary. As Habermas notes, one of the "institutional criteria" of the English coffee-house was that it "preserved a kind of social intercourse that, far from presupposing the equality of status, disregarded status altogether. The tendency replaced the celebration of rank with a tact befitting equals" (36). (18) The emphasis on stratification in Raphael's discourse noted by Rogers, I would suggest, represents less the definitive, normative evaluation Milton places on their respective levels of social distinction and more the ambivalence with which Milton approaches egalitarian discourse in the public sphere as a whole. (19)
If Milton suggestively explores the possibilities of a largely unregulated public sphere, its implications for open scientific debate, and its potentialities for leveling social distinction, yet does so in a manner that retreats from complete egalitarianism, perhaps the most salient example of this paradigm occurs with Eve's departure between Raphael's two narrations to Adam. Although Raphael's discourse on science and Habermas's investigation of the public sphere coincide in informative ways, both texts contain intriguing fissures of their own that reveal the problematics of the burgeoning public sphere. For in Milton's text, Eve absents herself from Raphael's second narration on science, a self-removal that has troubled many critics, whereas Habermas's text makes gender distinctions along political and religious lines while eliding the specifics of the role of women in scientific discourse. Between Raphael's account of creation and his response to Adam's interest in astronomy (when "our sire ... seemed / Ent'ring on studious thoughts abstruse"), Eve:
Rose, and went forth among her fruits and flow'rs, To visit how they prospered, bud and bloom. Her nursery; they at her coming sprung And touched by her fair tendance gladlier grew. Yet went she not, as not with such discourse Delighted, or not capable her ear Of what was high: such pleasure she reserved, Adam relating, she sole auditress ... (8.44-51)
If we continue to consider Raphael and Adam's discourse as a microcosm of the Habermasian theory of the public sphere. Eve's removal may be read as a cultural imperative. As Habermas notes, "Women and dependents were factually and legally excluded from the political public sphere, whereas female readers as well as apprentices and servants often took a more active part in the literary public" (56). Raphael's narration of creation, predicated on the textual basis of the Christian Scriptures, amplifies existing knowledge derived from literary means, whereas the angel's rejoinder to Adam participates in (and itself constitutes) more speculative natural philosophy. While Habermas limits his discussion of gender to the literary and the political, as John Rogers has so brilliantly elucidated, such speculative natural philosophy as that practiced by Adam and Raphael remained inextricably linked with the political public sphere or, to use his now-famous phrase, "the matter of revolution." Given Milton's repeated reaffirmation of Eve's interest in and aptitude for scientific knowledge, Eve's engagement with scientific inquiry is not negated--for she retires to her nursery of "fruits and flow'rs, / To visit how they prospered, bud and bloom" (8.44-45, italics added)--a move suggestive of a mind inquisitive about the natural world (Duran 192). The distinguishing feature for Eve, however, is that her involvement with scientific inquiry must be removed from the public and into the private sphere. Established knowledge derived from the textual means of Christian Scripture and tradition remains accessible to Eve participating in a form of literary public sphere while the potentially politically volatile implications of speculative natural philosophy necessitate her removal to a space of private interrogation.
By negotiating between license and licensing (to borrow again from Areopagitica), Milton complicates and nuances the ethical dilemma confronted by Adam and Eve, and he does so, in part, by mediating their knowledge of what constitutes transgression through a messenger who himself possesses incomplete knowledge and is unsure of how to act within a fledgling public sphere. As Dayton Haskin notes, "by the time Milton wrote Paradise Lost he had broken with some interpretive dispositions expressed in Areopagitica, in particular with the notion that difficulties of interpretation were a function of human depravity and were introduced into the world 'from out the rinde of one apple tasted'" (188). In fact, by extending the interpretative problematics represented in the figure of the tree vis a vis the boundaries of transgression to include the more complex, socially varied milieu of the public sphere, Milton puts the hermeneutics and heuristics of Adam and Eve to a more rigorous and sophisticated test. In short, by forcing Adam and Eve to face a garrulous angel instead of a mute tree, Milton creates a golden world with the hermeneutic and heuristic problematics of his brazen one. Milton places Adam and Eve. he takes pains to show us, in his garden. (20)
The simultaneous drive towards and away from free inquiry into the natural world that Raphael embodies echoes, then, not only the tensions inherent in the bounded liberty Milton advocates in Areopagitica but also the dialectic inherent in the burgeoning public sphere and the scientific indeterminacy prevalent therein. Since this indeterminacy extends to both the content of contemporary natural philosophy as well as its appropriate methodology, Milton's writings, both prose and poetry, negotiate between the practice of rational investigation into the created order and the process of worshipping a transcendent deity. The attempts to merge faith and erudition, while apparently less problematic for Milton personally, become challenged by the non-Puritan (and, in many respects, non-circumscribed) public sphere developing through the coffee-houses of Milton's age. Milton's representation of Raphael and Adam's discourse becomes unsettled not only by the poetic exigencies of representing a newly altered brazen world in the medium of a golden one but also by the socio-political constrictions of the milieu from which the golden world is derived. Thus, Adam and Raphael must negotiate the limits of scientific inquiry while tantalized by the secrets it promises, and Eve, admitted to the literary public sphere, must absent herself from the potentially volatile scientific one. Milton situates the inhabitants of his golden world, angels included it would seem, within the same problematic epistemological and ontological space he, as an erudite Puritan in a burgeoning public sphere, occupies. Consequently, Raphael's discourse, like the argumentation of Areopagitica, perpetually oscillates between publicizing the knowledge of God and anxiously worrying over the potentialities such publication presents for transgressive behavior.
(1) It is significant, I think, that Milton situates Raphael's initiation of scientific discourse in the semi-private, semi-public space of Adam and Eve's bower. As Jurgen Habermas notes, "The sphere of the public arose in the broader strata of the bourgeoisie as an expansion and at the same time completion of the intimate sphere of the conjugal family" (50).
(2) Critiquing Areopagitica's call for increased liberty in the public sphere, Francis Barker observes that "Milton was never opposed to censorship," noting that "in 1651 he served as a licenser of news books" (67). Barker also argues, however, that while Milton advocated a degree of licensor oversight, his "call for censorship (slightly reduced in scope) ... places that moment in the production and distribution of discourse after it has 'come forth'" (68). For additional analysis of Milton's conflicted response to licensing and liberty, see also Dobranski 104-53.
(3) One could argue that Raphael here reduplicates and intensifies the interpretative difficulties inherent in Adam and Eve's mandate to abstain from eating the fruit of the tree. As Dayton Haskin argues in Milton's Burden of Interpretation, "In Paradise Lost, when Milton represented aspects of the unfallen world in language akin to what he had once used to describe interpretative difficulties, he asked readers radically to reconsider the boundaries conventionally constructed between so-called fallen and unfallen modes of existence and to imagine that before the Fall Adam and Eve were already faced with the burden of interpreting a partially tangled text" (188). Haskin continues to explain how his reading "augments], therefore, the important study of Victoria Kahn [which] has provided a valuable corrective against the facile inference that prelapsarian interpretive difficulties show that 'Adam and Even are somehow fallen before their acts of disobedience.' She has shown that in Milton's Eden 'signs' (including the prohibition) are inherently ambiguous from the start and not 'a consequence of the fall but the precondition of any genuine ethical choice.' Without the prohibition boundary line for their imaginations to encounter, Adam and Eve would not face indeterminacy, which is boldly included by Milton as a constituent of their prelapsarian experience of choice" (188-89). If we accept Haskin's (and Kahn's) line of reasoning, it is possible to read Raphael's blurring of the prohibition as a product of his own experience with indeterminacy as an unfallen angel. For a more optimistic reading of Raphael's instruction, see Duran 95-100.
(4) This, of course, is not a new observation; William Empson noted in Milton's God, for example, that the "long description of the alternative theories is likely to drive the curiosity of our parents in the direction which Raphael forbids" (158). However, a sustained inquiry into the dialectic created by Raphael's revelation and his admonitions to abstain from excessive investigation into the created order has yet to materialize. For Milton's reservations about scientific curiosity leading to God, see Calloway.
(5) Compare Howard Shultz, who places the onus on Adam, making him culpable for exhibiting excessive curiosity (174).
(6) As Denise Albanese notes, "while circumscribing access [to nature's inner workings], Raphael still gives Adam the discursive right to the telescope, to become the prosthetic observer whose gaze punctuates and contextualizes the poem" (146-47).
(7) Milton is often thought to have evolved these ideas in original ways. For his materialist monism in the context of seventeenth-century philosophy see Fallon; for Raphael in Book Five, 102-06.
(8) Marjara continues later to argue that "the scientific unity of the body through all levels of natural functions, including intellectual, is not only assumed but made explicit by Raphael. The chain that links sensation to rational faculties begins with 'nourishment' in both angels and human beings .... Milton goes even further and explicitly avows the dependence of reason on the lower sensuous faculties." (269).
(9) If making knowledge of the natural world off limits complicates the understanding of spiritual truth, Raphael's more scrupulous advice jars with not only his own provocative teaching elsewhere but also the stated purpose of the epic as well. Diana Altegoer argues that "this intuitive reason, this lowly wisdom [that Raphael invokes], proves to be problematic within the confines of Milton's argument in Paradise Lost. After all, Milton's aim, by this great argument, is to assert eternal providence and justify the ways of God to men. Indeed, in Areopagitica, Milton argues that God encourages us in our 'disputing, reasoning, reading, inventing, discoursing, even to a rarity and admiration, things not before discoursed or written of,' and gives us minds that can wander beyond all limit and satiety. Yet, despite this, Adam must confine his imaginings to the moral realm of ethics and behavior. Nature must be adapted to receiving useful information, and must be made 'virtuous.'" (149-50). Likewise, Peter Lindenbaum cites a fundamental flaw in Raphael's mandate by emphasizing how excessive reliance by Adam on the angel would constitute a form of heresy by the standards of Areopagitica. As Lindenbaum argues, "the poem everywhere insists upon freedom of choice, both before and after the fall, and is concerned to promote the discipline and industry that produce an educated meritocracy.... [T]here is a distinctly republican cast to the whole epic with its insistence upon responsibility for one's own decisions, upon earning one's own freedom and knowledge through a constant process of self-correction. One must be actively engaged at all times in establishing what is politically correct and morally true, just as, in Areopagitica, a man may become a heretic in the truth if he accepts that truth merely on the advice of his pastor or the Assembly" (159-60).
(10) As Stanley Fish notes, "It is the nature of sophistry to lull the reasoning process; logic is a safeguard against a rhetorical effect only after the effect has been noted. The deep distrust, even fear, of verbal manipulation in the seventeenth century is a recognition of the fact that there is no adequate defence against eloquence at the moment of impact" (Surprised by Sin 6). That Raphael participates in a version of this eloquent sophistry--or, to put it more charitably, is a precursor to such sophistry--is rarely noted.
(11) See, for example, Abate.
(12) On Milton as "fill[ing] Paradise Lost with larger and smaller instances of unresolved, aporetic choices that reflect his own unresolved, aporetic state," see also Herman 59.
(13) For Milton's representation in his earlier works of "virtue as either powerful or feeble, capable of teaching how to climb, or so weak that 'Heav'n itself would stoop to her,"' see Herman 57-58.
(14) For an extended discussion of this passage, see McCluskey.
(15) Adam, ironically enough, not only swallows Raphael's teaching but digests it thoroughly, for he concludes his inquiry into scientific matters by declaring in a similar vein that only utilitarian knowledge has worth and "what is more, is fume, / Or emptiness, or fond impertinence" (8.194-95).
(16) In similar fashion, Habermas notes that "already in the 1670s the government had found itself compelled to issue proclamations that confronted the dangers bred by the coffeehouse discussions. The coffee-houses were considered seedbeds of political unrest..(59).
(17) For a brief, though useful, consideration of the pedagogical function of coffeehouses and their association with universities, see Robinson 77-84.
(18) Habermas continues to argue that "the parity on whose basis alone the authority of the better argument could assert itself against that of social hierarchy and in the end can carry the day meant, in the thought of the day, the parity of 'common humanity' ... Not that this idea of the public was actually realized in earnest in the coffee-houses ... but as an idea it had become institutionalized and thereby stated as an objective claim. If not realized, it was at least consequential" (36).
(19) My claim for a purposeful suspension of two extremes in this passage is further bolstered by Mary Ann Radzinowicz's reading of the same moment. Radzinowicz argues that Milton's "model of an ideal state is a class structure with unfixed status for every individual and plenty of room to rise 'improved by tract of time'" (136). The presence of these equally tenable, clearly conflicting assertions, I would suggest, signals a tension designed to reveal the implicit challenges of negotiating a undefined and indefinable public sphere.
(20) In arguing this, I do not mean to echo Coleridge who saw Milton's golden world as an act of vengeance on his brazen one precipitated by a failed republicanism. Coleridge asserts that: "He was, as every truly great poet has ever been, a good man; but finding it impossible to realize his own aspirations, either in religion, or politics, or society, he gave up his heart to the living spirit and light within him, and avenged himself on the world by enriching it with this record of his own transcendent ideal" (97). While Milton certainly incorporates the frustrations of his own public sphere into the microcosm he creates in the bower, his poem represents less a final definitive act of poetic victory and more an expression of the very tensions with which he himself is engaged.
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Barker, Francis. "Areopagitica: Subjectivity and the Moment of Censorship," John Milton.
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Calloway, Katherine. '"His Footstep Trace': The Natural Theology of Paradise Lost." Milton Studies 55 (2014): 53-85.
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--. Paradise Lost. Ed. John Leonard. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.
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|Publication:||Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2015|
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