Date of Degree
Literature in English, British Isles
Milton, Shakespeare, Influence, Comus, Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes
Dear Son of Memory establishes new lines of inquiry into Milton’s engagement with Shakespeare, exploring explicit verbal allusions to Shakespeare’s plays in Milton’s works, as well as echoes of characters, scenes, and themes. It argues that Milton viewed Shakespeare sympathetically, rather than as a rival and it therefore revises the legacy of Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” model, which still dominates scholarship in Milton studies today. More specifically, this project offers evidence from Milton’s early poems to show that Milton regarded Shakespeare as a fellow vatic poet and a friendly influence who helped him to dramatize the two central tenets of his own Protestant vision: the vital importance of Christian mercy, and the need for trust in, and obedience to, a loving God’s providential design.
Chapter 1 re-examines the two texts that scholars generally recognize as the places where Milton most clearly engages with Shakespeare: “On Shakespeare” and Comus. In “On Shakespeare,” Milton transforms panegyric imagery to demonstrate his appreciation of Shakespeare and to figure him as a fellow visionary poet. In Comus, Milton draws upon The Tempest to dramatize the Lady’s Christian faith and the Attendant Spirit’s divine origin. Milton models his Attendant Spirit on Shakespeare’s Ariel and his Lady on Shakespeare’s Miranda, Christianizing the role of both. This argument challenges critics who have interpreted these texts as Milton’s anxious reactions to Shakespeare’s imaginative power instead of as a resource for articulating Milton’s own poetic vision. Chapter 2 analyzes verbal and thematic echoes between the soliloquies of Adam and Eve in books nine and ten of Paradise Lost and the soliloquies of Hamlet and Brutus. Milton revisits these Shakespearean soliloquies in order to show the mind’s proclivity to doubt and error, but, unlike Shakespeare, Milton suggests that erroneous logic fueled by personal desires can be overcome, and that a relationship with God can be re-established.
Chapter 3 explores how Milton employs verbal echoes of Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra in Samson Agonistes to problematize Samson’s heroic actions. Samson’s Chorus recollects the dragon imagery associated with Coriolanus, and the Chorus (and Samson himself) invoke the stately ship imagery associated with Cleopatra. Samson also recalls Shakespeare’s Romans (and Shakespeare’s Egyptian queen) in his explicit desire for public fame and his dread of shame. Echoing the concerns of Shakespeare’s pagan characters, Samson introduces irony, and hence fosters ambiguity, about his final regeneration. Thus, through Milton’s representation of Samson, he questions the ideologies of masculinity that glorify martial violence. Finally, chapter 4 examines how the scene from Milton’s Samson Agonistes where Dalila confronts Samson echoes the scenes from Shakespeare’s dark comedies Measure for Measure and The Merchant of Venice where the heroines of those plays argue for mercy before a male judge. This echo, I argue, lends moral force to Dalila’s arguments for a peaceful resolution. Samson, however, is unreceptive to Dalila’s offer and he thus aligns himself with Shakespeare’s angry male interpreters of the law like Angelo, Shylock, and Leontes. By recalling these Shakespearean antecedents, Milton aims to suggest the specious nature of Samson’s heroism and emphasize the need for mercy and forgiveness.
Fox, Bradley, "Dear Son of Memory: Milton's Engagement with Shakespeare" (2018). CUNY Academic Works.