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Milton’s divorce tracts : a declaration of independence Bradley, Alasdair Ross Maclennan

Abstract

This thesis deals with an aspect of the divorce argument not previously addressed in Milton scholarship - Milton's hermeneutics, and how they change over the course of his divorce tracts. Though his hermeneutics remain fundamentally the same throughout the argument, in the final tract, Tetrachordon, certain principles come to dominate. Milton's combination, and subsequent application, of specific principles warrants particular attention, for through them he would not only justify divorce scripturally but also hypothesize a legal independence which permitted him to defy Parliament's legal authority and to act according to his own polygamous concepts of matrimony. This thesis also studies the considerable influence of John Selden on Milton's thought. Selden's work on natural and Hebraic law was pivotal in the development of Milton's own theories on law, and on marriage and divorce in particular. Such a study of Milton's hermeneutics, and of his subsequent legal theories, has implications for the reading of Paradise Lost. Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes. and for the political tracts justifying regicide. The period of 1643-5 was a tumultuous one for Milton, with his disastrous marriage, with the negative reaction of both Parliament and pulpit to his arguments and, finally, with the onset of his blindness. He entered this period with the confident flush of his success with the antiepiscopal tracts but suffered continuous opposition on virtually all fronts, emerging a very changed man. This thesis examines the stages of that change through close textual analysis of the divorce tracts, and draws conclusions which bear upon the remainder of Milton's life and work.

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