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Milton and the non-orthodox reader; chiefly a study of the human elements in Eden Sandison, James Macleod

Abstract

In my reading of Milton criticism I have discerned what I feel to be a major deficiency, a deficiency consequent upon a too narrow approach to Paradise Lost. Whether they are anti-Miltonists who claim that Paradise Lost offers little to the twentieth-century - except the first two books; or orthodox Christian critics: who read Paradise Lost with an extreme doctrinal bias; or critics favourable to Milton and not narrowly doctrinal - the major Milton scholars, by succumbing to Milton's stated intentions when those intentions come into conflict with the impressions of the poetry, have easily adopted the traditional attitude towards the action in Eden: they accept the dictum that Adam and Eve are not human, until! the Fall. They give Milton little credit for humour, for the creation- of domestic comedy. Professor A.J.A. Waldock (Paradise Lost and Its Critics)) has correctly noticed that Milton's statements of intention do not always match his performances. By reading the poem in the light of his thesis, I have in this paper -after my first chapter on Milton criticism - attempted to show how Milton the poet has transcended Milton the doctrinaire by creating In Eden a good deal of domestic comedy. It is my belief that Adam and Eve are individuals - and human - before the Fall, and that when we view them (and Raphael) as real people acting and interacting in character, we will see that the action in Paradise is instinct with the humour of domestic comedy. In the second chapter, although I have stressed the humour in the middle books, I have not neglected the pathos that accompanies this humour. In my third chapter I have tried to show how this reading of Eden - a reading which succumbs to the poetical impressions rather than to the doctrinal statements - has its effect on the poem as a whole, how it makes the poem rather a human tragedy than a divine comedy. The final chapter is summary impart; but in the last section: I endeavour to mitigate the impression- that the thesis might have created - that Paradise Lost is merely a tragedy of two individuals - by stressing the poetical power of the element of myth In the poem. This thesis is written in the belief that any approach to Paradise Lost which stresses - favourably or unfavourably -the doctrine of the poem as against the poetical impressions (when the two clash) will have little appeal to the non-orthodox reader, and will miss the vital humanity with which Milton has invested his epic.

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