UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The epic and tragedy of Paradise lost : together with an appendix ; Samson Agonistes, an internal tragedy Dumaresq, William Wayne

Abstract

Concerning literary theory, this thesis promotes the view that Milton acceeded to the idea that in literature there exists a hierarchy of forms (ranging in order of value from the epic to the tragedy, from the tragedy to the comedy, and from the comedy to the lyric). The principal consideration throughout the work is whether the epic or the tragedy is the highest of all literary forms. Milton's debt to Plato and Aristotle is discussed, and his disagreement or agreement with Aristotle's evaluation of tragedy as superior to the epic is debated. This argument gives rise to an even wider problem, that of the relative merits and influences of Platonism and Aristotelianism and how those two forces, sometimes complementary, sometimes opposed, influenced Milton and the sixteenth-century Italian critics whom Milton acknowledges as worthy critics for a poet to follow, A further chapter is devoted to a fundamental point in literary theory which arises out of the previous considerations the proper place of the concepts of the general and the particular in poetry and in art generally. Milton's own attitude to particularization and generalization is, of course, the object of the speculation. The argument of the thesis, following upon this lead, devotes itself for a chapter to the manner and result of Milton's attitude, as it is shown by the construction of Paradise host. The consideration of his construction thence leads to what is probably the key to the understanding of the epic as a wholes the unequalled accomplishment of the most complete time-scheme found anywhere in poetry. The core of the thesis is presented in the consideration of Book IX of Paradise Lost, which is recognized as the tragedy within the whole epic, self-contained, and offering therefore itself as the answer to those (like Aristotle) who object to the lack of concentration and the overly diffuse nature of epics in general, The final chapter of the thesis points in a new direction. This question is asked: What is the value of Paradise Lost? And several of the emotional tests of value are considered, because of its integration with the thesis as a whole, there has been added a consideration of Samson Agonistes, with special reference to Aristotle, in the form of an Appendix.

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