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Milton "Lycidas" : an evaluation of eight approaches and the proposal of a ninth approach Winter, Keith J.


The history of the literary criticism of "Lycidas" contains wide-spread disagreement and is punctuated with numerous altercations. The reputation of the poem has been built largely on the denial of the denials of its sincerity and unity. The point upon which most critics do agree is that "Lycidas" is undoubtedly one of the most problematic poems in the history of English literature. This power of "Lycidas" to intrigue the critics and to incite disagreement is best seen, I feel, in the longstanding controversy over whether the poem contains a unifying principle and , if so, what is it. After reading through about two hundred articles on "Lycidas", I noticed that there were eight broad approaches to the poem. These are: imagistic, archetypal, technical, biographical, literal, mannerist, musical, and irrelevance of intention. This thesis is an attempt to evaluate the unifying principle implicit or explicit in each of these eight approaches. The aim of this thesis is not to explicate the entire poem, but to find a satisfactory unifying principle. For each of the eight approaches I have selected the one critic, or at most three, who best typifies this approach. In the course of the discussion eight major fallcies will be offered as grounds for delimiting the eight unifying principles. There are: the faulty syllogism, the literal fallacy, the biographical fallacy, the fallacy of mistaking the author's intentions, the formal fallacy, the selective fallacy, the psychological fallacy, and the reductionsist fallacy. I do not wish to imply a one to one correspondence between the eight approaches and the eight fallacies; some approaches contain only one fallacy, whereas other contain several. After evaluating the eight broad approaches to "Lycidas", this thesis will advance the conclusion that the unity of the poem is larger, more organic, more synthetic than that suggested by any of the eight approaches. The central unity of the poem is a buttressing principle in which the metaphorical, thematic, literal, biographical, manneristic, archetypal, and technical features of the poem mutually reinforce one another and fuse together into a total aesthetic impact.

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