Monday, 21 August 2017

The Use of Names in Ben Jonson's Plays

The astute choice of a character’s name is something we, as readers, cherish in literature. We only have to recall Dickens’s villains to see how important a name can be in the depiction of a certain personality – the name Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol), for example, with its harsh consonants, immediately hints at unkindness and cruelty, whilst the name Verneering (Our Mutual Friend) at once reveals a sense of superficiality and an obsession with ostentation. When dwelling on the importance of names in literature, we may also recall Virginia Woolf’s feminist novel A Room of One’s Own, the heroine of which is never fully identified apart from as ‘Mary’. Given that this name was, at the time, the most common female name, this naming sets her forth as a universal figure of feminine life. This tradition of the precise selecting of names partly stems back to Medieval morality plays, in which the characters each represent a particular virtue or vice and are named accordingly: in the anonymously-written, archetypal morality play, Everyman, the protagonist is surrounded by characters like ‘Good-Deeds’, ‘Beauty’, ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Strength’. Arguably, it was this tradition that Ben Jonson drew on in the skilled naming of his characters: though their names can be easily overlooked, his specific choices often emphasise particular aspects of his satirical writing. In his three most famous comedies, Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, Jonson uses names to exemplify the idiosyncrasies of his characters before we have even met them, and it is often the naming of his characters that drives his satire or elucidates his plots.

The naming of characters in Volpone is the simplest manifestation of this phenomenon. In the play, Jonson draws directly on the medieval fabliaux tradition and, as Michael Jamieson points out, ‘The people of the play are, through their names, invested with animal symbolism…’ The play is set in Venice, a city which was, to the Elizabethans, seen as a hub of corruption – many audience members would recall the usury of Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The name Volpone, in Italian, literally means ‘sly fox’, and thus the protagonist comes to represent this corruption – his manipulative scheming (evident in his comic asides), like that of Subtle, Face, and Doll in The Alchemist, comes straight out of the cony-catching pamphlets of the Early Modern period. The other characters are likewise elucidated by their names: Corbaccio (‘the raven’), Voltore (‘the vulture’) and Corvino (‘the crow’) are all carrion-eating fowl, hungry not for flesh but for the wealth of the play’s protagonist. This animalism is so extreme that Corvino, for instance, commits to disinheriting his son and prostituting his wife. But this is Jonson’s name choosing at its most simple. More interesting are characters like Sir Politic Would-Be, whose name gives away his role as the ridiculous Englishman abroad, vainly attempting to be politic and sensible, an endeavour in which he fails miserably. Indeed, he is so absurd that he notes in his diary every single action he performs (including urination) during each day, and he characteristically ends the play hiding in a tortoise shell, the victim of one of Peregrine’s clever pranks. Thus, we can see how his name goes towards a satire of the ignorant English traveller, his mind filled with extravagant and bizarre business ideas with which he bores characters and audience alike. Likewise, the name ‘Littlewit’ is ironically telling, making the opening scene of Bartholomew Fair all the more humorous. This garrulous amateur dramatist is infatuated with his own negligible intelligence, constantly endeavouring to present himself as a witty and clever orator. For example, when Winwife employs some relatively clichéd metaphors (‘strawberry-breath, cherry-lips, apricot-cheeks, and a soft velvet head’), Littlewit ironically cannot restrain his admiration: ‘that I had not that before him, that I should not light on’t as well as he! Velvet head!’ Justice Overdo’s name is similarly revealing of his character, predicting the exaggeration and self-satisfied nature of his speeches: ‘Now to my enormities: look upon me, O London! and see me, O Smithfield! The example of justice, and mirror of magistrates, the true top of formality, and scourge of enormity. Hearken unto my labours…!’ He, along with the Puritan Rabbi Zeal-of-the-Land Busy, is just one of the many bourgeois characters of this carnivalesque play whose pretensions to honour, authority and religiosity are mocked by Jonson (who, of course, loathed the Puritans for their critique of the theatre), and it is the naming of these characters that contributes to Jonson’s mockery.

Similar naming techniques are used in one of Jonson’s other satirical comedies, The Alchemist. Sir Epicure Mammon is one of the ‘gulls’ hoping to get rich from Subtle’s feigned magical skill. The name Epicure refers to the Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, famed for an emphasis on sensual pleasure (though this depiction of his philosophy is somewhat inaccurate and exaggerated). The name Mammon is also suggestive, meaning ‘wealth regarded as an evil influence or false object of worship or devotion’. To an extent, then, the name Epicure Mammon is oxymoronic – though his forename implies an emphasis on material and physical existence, his surname seems to refute that, again showing how Jonson uses names to mock certain characters. So it’s no wonder that a character with such a name is so obsessed with the wealth and material riches that he hopes to acquire, which he boasts about to Doll: he shall have ‘glasses / Cut in more subtle angles, to disperse / And multiply the figures, as I walk / Naked between my succubæ.’
Even more witty a choice of name is the name adopted by Jeremy the Butler, who refers to himself as Captain Face whilst he is operating as a member of London’s criminal underworld. The name alone suggests the adoption of a mask, though we don’t find out until Act V that his real name is Jeremy. As Jonathan Haynes points out, ‘All traces of origin are effaced’ by Face’s ‘constant and impeccable role-playing.’ Thus, Face is an ‘impostor’, one of many corrupt characters lurking in London’s underworld: as the Prologue explains, ‘No clime breeds better matter, for your whore, / Bawd, squire, impostor, many persons more.’ (lines 7-8) At the end of the play, though, Face is unmasked. And yet, he is, to some extent, the victor of the play. He is so manipulative and skilful that Lovewit’s neighbours think ‘Jeremie / Is a very honest fellow…’ Moreover, as the name Lovewit would imply, Face’s master appreciates his wit and scheming intellect, and thus Face can use his wit to gain his master’s pardon:

‘Give me but leave to make the best of my fortune,
And only pardon me thi' abuse of your house:
It's all I beg. I'll help you to a widow,
In recompense, that you shall give me thanks for…’

Hence, at the end of the play, Lovewit pays tribute to his servant’s ingenuity: he is ‘very grateful’ to have ‘received such happiness by a servant.’ It’s no surprise that a character called Lovewit would feel obliged to be ‘A little indulgent to that servant’s wit,’ and thus again we can see how Jonson’s use of naming helps not only to illustrate his characters, but to develop and almost foreshadow the plot. And though Lovewit is the eventual winner of the play (gaining a wife and augmented wealth), Face certainly ends up better off than his two scheming companions Subtle and Doll, who are forced to flee once the master of the house arrives unexpectedly. Face is what was known in the Renaissance period as a ‘taker-up’:

‘The taker-up seemeth a skilful man in all things, who hath by long travail learned without book a thousand policies to insinuate himself into a man’s acquaintance. Talk of matters in law, he hath plenty of cases at his fingers’ ends, and he hath seen, and tried, and ruled in the King’s courts. Speak of grazing and husbandry, no more knowether more shires than he, nor better way to raise a gainful commodity, and how the abuses and overture of prices might be redressed.’ – Greene, Notable Discovery

Face can use his wit to adopt multiple different personalities (hence the name ‘Face’, establishing his use of masks) – as Haynes explains, ‘Everyone is spoken to in his own language.’ He can talk to Drugger about tobacco, he can talk to Dapper about his milieu, all the while ready to transform back into Jeremy the Butler. Thus, the barrier between the criminal underworld and straight society becomes permeable for him, whilst it is not for Subtle and Doll. In this sense, Face can be seen as a warning to Elizabethan theatre-goers, his character demonstrating the Trump-like deceptions and manipulations not only of the criminal underworld, but of society in general.

We must remember, though, how aware Jonson was of the dangers of satire – he was, after all, arrested and imprisoned more than once for his satirical work. One of his most interesting satirical works, Poetaster, works completely differently in terms of naming. Jonson’s play sets out, amongst other things, to revenge the criticism he had received from Marston, Dekker and others during the so-called ‘War of the Theatres’ or Poetomachia. But, as he explains in his Apologetical Dialogue, he aims to ‘spare the persons and to speak the vices’. By setting his play in Augustan Rome rather than in London, Jonson champions his own style of Horatian satire (or, at least, the style of poetry to which he aspires), while criticising the Juvenalian satire of Marston and Dekker (though, in bitterly attacking these two playwrights as ‘vile ibids’ in the Apologetical Dialogue, Jonson was hypocritically sinking to the Juvenalian level) – thus, the play can be seen as a general satire of the poetaster figure whilst also criticising Jonson’s rivals. The loathsome Crispinus is often read as a representation of Marston – towards the end of the play, Crispinus vomits up what Tom Cain refers to as a series of ‘Marstonisms’, a pretentious and bombastic lexical flood including words like ‘retrograde’, ‘incubus’, ‘glibbery’, ‘magnificate’ and more. Moreover, the two poems that Crispinus and Demetrius read are undeniable parodies of Marston and Dekker’s work. But still, by choosing not to name Marston in the play, Jonson arguably escapes accusations of Juvenalian, bitter satire.

By (uncharacteristically) avoiding the use of illuminating names, Jonson is also able to compare himself to the great Augustan poet Horace, ‘a self-projection of Jonson’ according to Tom Cain. After all, the two poets were indeed very similar – Horace was often taunted because his father was a freed slave, and Jonson was acutely self-conscious of his step-father’s profession as a brick-layer; Horace had fought in Philippi, Jonson fought in the Low Countries. To an extent, then, Jonson seems to be modelling himself on Horace: in fact, in his Discoveries Jonson advocated exactly that: the ability ‘to bee able to convert the substance, or Riches of an other Poet, to his owne use.’ Thomas Smith even praised Jonson as ‘the elaborate English Horace,’ and like Horace, Jonson often chose to write in a realist style, ‘out of use and experience’ (Discoveries). Thus, Jonson could implicitly compare himself to the great Augustan satirist in an attempt to elevate his style.

There are other comparisons in Poetaster that also ought not to be ignored. The play opens with Ovid composing a poem which turns out to be one of Marlowe’s own translations of Ovid, lines from a banned edition published with Sir John Davies’s epigrams. Marlowe was one of the most loved poets of the day, and Jonson clearly respected him, though Marlowe does not completely escape criticism – compared to the virtues of Virgil and Horace, Ovid is seen as sensuous and arguably blasphemous in his organisation of the Divine Banquet (this, again, would link the Ovid character to Marlowe, who was often accused of blasphemy and atheism, and whose play Dr Faustus presents us with a similarly blasphemous banquet scene in Rome). So by presenting Ovid in such a way that we can’t help thinking of Marlowe, Jonson was able to express his opinions without fear of danger – Thomas More arguably used a similar technique in Utopia, hiding his own beliefs from the reader. Thus, the banishment of Ovid could be compared to the death of Marlowe, and as Tom Cain writes, ‘The Ovid being rejected is as much the Ovid of the 1590s in England [i.e. Marlowe and poets who wrote in a similar vein] as the historical Ovid of Augustan Rome.’ Finally, by setting the play in Rome, Jonson could make a subtle contrast and criticism between the high regard poets were held in under Augustus’s rule, and their relatively harsh treatment in Elizabethan England. It is poets that guide the Emperor Augustus in Jonson’s play, whilst it was libel and informers (like Tucca) that drove the Essex Rebellion of 1601, the year Jonson’s play was first performed.


So it’s clear that names played a huge role in Ben Jonson’s dramatic work. In his later comedies, he used names to elucidate and expound the personalities of certain characters whilst also satirising or ironizing them, whilst in the earlier Poetaster he deliberately avoids the direct naming of his subjects (if we can go so far as to say for sure that Jonson was attempting to satirise Marston and Dekker, amongst others). It is Histrio’s plays that directly mock and bitterly attack individuals: Ben Jonson, posing as the virtuous Horace, suggests he will not wrong ‘men’s fames’ (Trebatius’s words) in his verse. The implication is that Jonson (as Horace), along with Virgil (whom some critics have claimed resembles Chapman), is aloof from that, though it is doubtful whether he really is. Whatever the answer, it’s clear that Jonson thought very carefully about the choice of names in his plays, and through those names he makes his comedies and satires all the more powerful. As Haynes argues, Jonson used his art ‘in society as a weapon, or tool, or organ.’ Whether it was mocking the folly of naïve bourgeois figures like Cokes or Littlewit; whether it was revealing and revelling in the dark scheming of the criminal underworld; whether it was critiquing Early Modern nascent capitalism; or whether it was responding to the attacks of other poets, Jonson made the naming of characters an expressive tool in his work, carrying on and expanding earlier traditions, and influencing the work of writers who came after him.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Masks and Poses in Donne's Holy Sonnets

In his poem ‘Jordan’, George Herbert criticises the convoluted nature of Renaissance poetry and urges poets towards straightforward expressions of emotion, particularly religious emotion. He questions ‘Is there in truth no beauty?’ and opens the poem’s third stanza with the memorable line: ‘Shepherds are honest people; let them sing…’ With the pastoral reference and the use of the word ‘honest’, Herbert also seems to be condemning the insincerity of 17th Century courtly life contrasted with a sense of rustic innocence. John Donne himself was acutely aware of this artificiality, evident in his sonnet ‘Oh, to vex me…’ (often printed as the last sonnet in the sequence) in which he reveals the variety of masks he adopts in his poetry. He questions whether he can really demonstrate the real truth of his soul ‘By circumstances, and by signes that be / Apparent in us…’ He looks back at his past and sees only a succession of skilfully-adopted poses: ‘to day / In prayers, and flattering speaches I court God: / To morrow I quake with true feare of his rod.’ He showed a similar awareness in his sermons, as when he discussed the dangers of rhetoric and the power of words ‘to shape that beliefe’ and ‘to powre it into new molds… to stamp and imprint new formes, new images, new opinions in it.’ In his Holy Sonnets, Donne does exactly that: he uses his poetic skill to shape various different identities for himself.

Indeed, Donne’s whole life seems to have been divided into a dual identity. A clear split has been forged between the young and lustful Donne of the Songs and Sonnets and the old and devout Donne of the Divine Poems. This division was partly driven by the mature Donne’s desire to distance himself from the sensuousness of his early poetry, a distance reinforced by Izaak Walton’s biography of Donne, in which he compared the poet to a latter-day Augustine, the saint whose conversion at the hands of St. Ambrose became an influential Christian paradigm. But this division is unhelpful in a number of ways, not least because it is based on the false assumption that the religious poems were written much later than the Songs and Sonnets, an assumption with very little evidence to support it. Moreover, the poems themselves undermine the so-called ‘myth of two Donnes’ in that, throughout the Holy Sonnets, we see the same wit and performance for which the Songs and Sonnets are renowned. As P.M. Oliver points out, ‘Donne’s religious writing… demonstrates a striking continuity with the amatory and satirical verse he had already written.’ True, the matter of the religious poems may be different, but their manner and style are very similar. Like the love poems, the divine poems are often ‘witty, individualistic performances.’ This does, however, leave us with some problems: the idiosyncratic wit and rhetorical skill of the poet often undermines the masks he is attempting to adopt, and to that extent the authenticity of emotion in the Holy Sonnets must be called into question.

Donne adopts two major poses in the Holy Sonnets: the first is that of the submissive and despairing sinner, terrified that his transgressions will lead to his damnation. The second mask he adopts is that of a man assured of his own election, unafraid and almost swaggering. The first mask, that of fear, despair, and melancholy, is typical of devotional verse: Gerard Manley Hopkins adopted a similar personality in his ‘Terrible Sonnets’. The melancholy pose was also typical of the Renaissance man, hence the abundance of young men painted as forlorn youths tortured by unrequited love. Donne himself had one of these portraits commissioned in which he is depicted in darkness with his arms folded – a standard symbol of melancholy – and a large-brimmed hat shading his face. Just as he adopted this pose as a pitiful lover, so in the Holy Sonnets he adopts the pose of pitiful sinner. For example, the fourth sonnet opens with the impassioned exclamation: ‘Oh my black Soule!’ and ends with the embracing of a mournful pose: ‘Oh make thy selfe with holy mourning blacke, / And red with blushing, as thou art with sinne…’ His repentance, then, seems to be a mask in itself, and thus we can infer that the poem’s opening exclamation is no more than an artificiality. Indeed, a number of the poems seem to come across as theatrical and dramatic representations rather than sincere expressions of despair. In her introduction to the divine poems, Helen Gardner notes this ‘almost histrionic note’ and attributes it to ‘the meditation’s deliberate stimulation of emotion.’ The emotions of the poems seem almost fabricated at points, as is suggested by the repetition of ‘oh’ and ‘alas’ in the sequence. These exclamations seem particularly out of context when they follow relatively collected and rational meditations, as in ‘Father, part of his double interest…’ After meditating on the doctrine of the Bible and the various commandments God has given, Donne exclaims: ‘thy last command / Is all but love; Oh let this last Will stand!’ The ‘oh’ makes it seem like the speaker is emotionally involved, but as Oliver points out, ‘the level rationality of the preceding lines’ makes it hard to see the speaker as ‘desperate or hysterical.’

There are similarly histrionic notes in the Songs and Sonnets, again showing why the amatory-religious divide is unhelpful. For example, in ‘The Flea’, when his mistress has crushed the flea with her nail, Donne melodramatically exclaims: ‘Cruel and sudden, hast thou since / Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?’ Here, Donne is adopting a tone of sadness in order to inspire the pity of his mistress. Arguably, the Holy Sonnets use a similar tactic, attempting to inspire the pity of God through a pose of despair which often comes across as melodramatic. ‘This is my play’s last scene’ opens very sensationally, with the word ‘last’ repeated four times in the first four lines alone. It’s no wonder, then, that Gardner pointed out the ‘note of exaggeration’ which, ‘in stimulating feeling… may falsify it, and overdramatize the spiritual life.’ But this melodrama is not the only aspect of the Songs and Sonnets which has crept into the religious verse. Throughout the divine poems there are idiosyncratic paradoxes, conceits and puns which, though typical of Donne, seem somewhat out of place in devout religious poetry. For example, in ‘A Hymne to God the Father’, Donne mourns his sinfulness with an authentic voice of fear and despair: ‘Wilt thou forgive that sinne where I begunne, / Which was my sin, though it were done before?’ And yet, the first two stanzas end with a paradoxical pun on his name, jarring with the serious tone of the previous lines: ‘When thou hast done, thou hast not done, / For, I have more.’ This mixture of wit and gloom is something that Wilbur Sanders criticised in the Holy Sonnets as a flaw, though perhaps it shows the tension in Donne between a yearning towards seriousness and an inability to completely escape his jocular self. Hence, in the words of Sanders, ‘the personality becomes the prey of inner division.’

This seems to be the underlying flaw of many of the sonnets: though at times they present us with an apparently sincere sense of grief, fear and despair, this is often counteracted by a strange frivolity, as when he plays verbal games with colours at the end of ‘Oh my black Soule!’ Their other major drawback is that they are often dominated by what Sanders calls ‘blatant theological sophistry.’ This is no more evident than in ‘What if this present were the world’s last night?’ In the octet, the speaker focuses on the picture of Christ crucified and wonders whether Christ will ‘adjudge thee unto hell’ even though he ‘pray’d forgivenesse for his foes’. The sestet opens with a direct response: ‘No, no…’ This audacity in itself is odd, and somewhat hard to believe: perhaps Donne used his poetry as a method of self-assurance. He then argues that the beauty of Christ’s image on the cross ‘assumes a pitious mind.’ But Donne, as a Calvinist, knew that this could not be true, since Christ could not be merciful to everybody: the elect would receive God’s pity, whilst the non-elect would feel his wrath and eventually be damned. Indeed, Universalism (the theory that everybody could be saved) was condemned as a heresy in Constantinople in 553 and again at the Protestant Augsburg Confession of 1530, and so it’s incredibly unlikely that Donne could have believed this sophistic argument. Thus, Christ’s image cannot assure pity for everybody. Moreover, Donne’s reference to his idolatrous past is telling since, as Stanley Fish points out, ‘The assertion that he is not now in his idolatry is undermined by the fact that he here says the same things he used to say when he was.’ So it’s clear, then, that as Sanders says, ‘the consolation does not console’ – Donne’s verbal ability to assure himself of his safety seems to undermine itself, revealing his manifest casuistry. Fish goes on: ‘as the poem concludes, he is no more assured of what he assumes than anyone else, neither of the ‘piteous minde’ of his saviour, nor of the spiritual stability he looks to infer from the saviour’s picture.’

The same can be said for Donne’s famous sonnet ‘Death be not proud’. Throughout his life, Donne was obsessed with the idea of death: as a young Catholic in Protestant England, he was taken to see Catholics martyred, an experience that stayed with him into his elderly years. He also wrote tracts on the morality of suicide, and, most famously, is said by Walton to have ‘preached his own Funeral Sermon’ known as ‘Death’s Duel’, a sermon he gave in the final days of his life. He was terrified by the idea that death takes away our individual essence as humans:

‘[T]hat private and retired man, that thought himself his own for ever, and never came forth, must in his dust of the grave be published, and (such are the revolutions of the grave) be mingled with the dust of every highway and of every dunghill, and swallowed in every puddle and pond. This is the most inglorious and contemptible vilification, the most deadly and peremptory nullification of man, that we can consider.’ (‘Death’s Duel’)

In the sermon, he defeats this fear by concluding that every man must ‘lie down in peace in his grave, till he vouchsafe you a resurrection…’ The sonnet ‘Death be not proud…’ follows a similar line, though it is much more bravado in its argument. He addresses personified mortality as ‘poore death’ and bravely says: ‘nor yet canst thou kill mee…’ Death, he says, is ‘slave to Fate’ and asks ‘why swell’st thou then?’ This question in itself, though, supposes that death still assumes a large portion of Donne’s thought, swelling beyond reason into an irrational fear. The poem ends with a theatrical and yet hollow flourish: ‘death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die’. Despite the bravado of this statement, Donne’s declaration is vacuous – as John Stachniewski argues, the fact that it ends with the word ‘die’ ironically demonstrates that death still has power in the poem. Similarly, when Donne says ‘valiantly I hels wide mouth o’rstride’ we see him adopting a peculiarly audacious stance resonating with the precarious assertiveness of ‘Death be not proud’. Thus, whilst these sophistic arguments may have worked in seducing mistresses with wit and humour, they seem incredibly out of place in an eschatological context of salvation or damnation. They may show Donne’s poetic and rhetorical skill, but as Fish notes, ‘The effort of self-persuasion… fails in exactly the measure that his rhetorical effort succeeds.’

In his poem ‘Metempsychosis’ Donne reflects upon the stretching of ‘reasons… to so nice a thinness through a quill / That they themselves break, do themselves spill…’ This stretching of reason is frequently dramatized in the Holy Sonnets, the strength of the sophistic arguments often driven to a ludicrous extent, revealing their weakness. But this is not to say that the poems themselves are weak: this may have been part of Donne’s intention. Perhaps the meaning of the poems is to be found in their note of feigned assurance. As Stachniewski suggests, ‘the argument of Donne’s poems is often so strained that it alerts us to its opposite, the emotion or mental state in defiance of which the argumentative process was set to work. The poem’s meaning lives in the tension between the argument and the emotion.’ Perhaps in ‘This is my playes last scene’ we are not meant to believe with such assurance that Donne’s sins will fall away to Hell whilst he goes up to Heaven. We are, perhaps, urged to question this argument. And so, this self-conscious casuistry is a subtle and effective way of establishing the poetry’s dominant emotions, doubt and fear.

It’s clear, then, that Donne’s poetic style largely stayed with him throughout his career. The same use of wit and paradox can be seen in the Holy Sonnets as was seen in the Songs and Sonnets. It’s also clear that Donne’s poetry is largely a succession of poses, and this is something he himself seems to have been aware of. The sonnets often begin with a pose of despair and then move onto a pose of self-assured certainty. It’s no wonder, really, that the pose of despairing sinner seems, as Gardner says, ‘exaggerated’ to the modern reader given that we no longer live in a country dominated by Calvinism and the fear of God’s wrath – perhaps, then, we can look past this histrionic note as understandable. Moreover, perhaps this tone of feigned emotion simply demonstrates the impossibility of expressing such strong feeling in words. It’s somewhat harder to excuse the strange use of wit and paradox, which seems to undermine Donne’s apparent despair, revealing it to be just a pose (though that’s not to say he never felt despair, just to say that the despair expressed in the sonnets comes across as somewhat feigned). Similarly, the paradoxical sophistry destabilises any sense of self-assurance and comfort, revealing the mask of boldness adopted by the poet. But, as I argued earlier, perhaps this sense of failed assurance was intentional. Though Donne forces his fierce emotions into the restricted sonnet form, and though he apparently attempts to mitigate his despair with theological sophistry which he surely cannot fail to doubt, other emotions inevitably seep out. Just as the highly-wrought passions of ‘Batter my heart…’ seem almost to break free from the strict rhyme scheme and metre (the initial trochee ‘Batter’ being an obvious example), so the despair of the other Holy Sonnets is never really soothed. Perhaps Donne was partly right when he said: ‘Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce, / For, he tames it, who fetters it in verse.’ But, as we read the sonnets, we get the sense that Donne never truly succeeded in ‘taming’ his grief and his fear completely. Each line is bursting with tension, uncertainty, and doubt, and it is this that gives the sonnets their excitement. 

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Religion in Marlowe’s 'Jew of Malta'

Whilst Marlowe was writing, anti-Semitism was rife across the entirety of Europe. The Renaissance period saw the rise of increasingly xenophobic, anti-Jewish fears somewhat comparable to the prejudice against Islam in the Western world today, fed on and augmented by President Trump. We only have to look at the work of the so-called Old Masters to see how widespread these anti-Semitic sentiments really were. Not only were Jesus and his followers stripped of their Jewish identity and transformed into anachronistically Christian figures, but also, on the rare occasion that Jews were actually depicted in Renaissance art, their portrayal was far from complimentary. Albrecht Durer’s Jesus Among the Doctors is a case in point: the Jew that stands to the right of Jesus is almost caricature-like with his grotesque grin and hooked nose. Given the pervasiveness of this anti-Semitism, it’s no wonder that Marlowe’s Barabas is likewise presented according to the bigoted values of the age. He is, in fact, a complete caricature of the selfish and cruel Jew. And yet, what’s interesting about Marlowe’s play The Jew of Malta is that Jews are not the only group to receive criticism. Indeed, almost every religious group, Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, seem to be at the receiving end of Marlowe’s reproach. This can be said for the majority of Marlowe’s work, much of which is dedicated to the analysis and condemnation of religious doctrine and hypocrisy. So, with reference to Marlowe’s work and in particular The Jew of Malta, I intend to explore Marlowe’s views on religion as presented through his plays.

I must, of course, begin this essay with an analysis of the loathsome and Machiavellian character of Barabas. The prologue of the play, delivered by Niccolò Machiavelli himself, describes how Barabas ‘smiles to see how full his bags are crammed, / Which money was not got without my means.’ Immediately, then, he is presented as a typical machiavelle figure of Renaissance drama, characterised by the same scheming villainy encapsulated by Iago (Othello) and Edmund (King Lear) in Shakespeare’s plays. The words ‘my means’ refers to the philosophy set out by Machiavelli in his famous work Il Principe – a proto-self-help book preaching expediency over morality and the appearance over the reality of virtue. Barabas fills this role perfectly, almost all of his actions recalling Satan’s words in Book 4 of Milton’s Paradise Lost: ‘Evil be thou my Good.’ For example, he distances himself from the man with a conscience who ‘for his conscience lives in beggary.’ It is by acting without a conscience, Barabas implies, that he has acquired his huge fortune. This lack of conscience links directly to his greed and self-interestedness, obvious in the equal weight he gives to his wealth and to his daughter when he exclaims: ‘O girl! O gold!’ This levelling comparison clearly influenced Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice when he had Shylock exclaim “O my ducats, O my daughter…” Barabas’s selfishness is also evident in his asides during the conversation he has with the other Jews in Malta. He says: ‘Assure yourselves I’ll look – unto myself.’ He cares only for himself, even bringing about the murder of his daughter’s lover to get his revenge on Ferneze. But, in the words of Harry Levin, these asides also serve to show Barabas’s Machiavellian emphasis on appearance, distinguishing between ‘deeds and words.’ He hides his true intentions from the other Maltese citizens, but treats the audience as his confidantes and thus implicates us in his crimes.

Though we may have some pity for Barabas in his cruel treatment by the Maltese governor and his similarities to Job, our sympathy quickly dissipates as he develops from a simple miser to a murderous villain. As Levin points out, Barabas ‘is a man with a grievance, but his retaliation outruns the provocation.’ Though he may begin as a revenger, he very quickly turns into the villain himself. This murderousness is clear in the famous speech Barabas gives when purchasing Ithamore as a slave: ‘As for myself, I walk abroad o’ nights, / And kill sick people groaning under walls; / Sometimes I go about and poison wells…’ Whether these claims are true is uncertain. It’s possible that this speech is only made in order to entice Ithamore, whom Barabas seems to have already discerned as a villain who, like him, hates Christians. Perhaps, also, Marlowe was simply playing on and parodying the extreme hatred for Jews in Europe. Whatever the answer, it’s undeniable that Barabas fulfils these murderous claims – by the end of the play, he has poisoned and killed the whole of a nunnery (including his own daughter), caused the death of two friends, slaughtered numerous Turkish soldiers, and much more. As the play progresses, his hands grow more bloody and his heart blacker, becoming exactly what European society expected a Jew to be. So it’s clear that Marlowe is playing on these early modern prejudices to present us with the frightful image of a Jew who really only cares for himself and his revenge.

And yet, it’s not just Barabas who is presented as a loathsome figure – almost every character in the play, apart from Abigail, is selfish and unsympathetic. And though we may strongly dislike Barabas, we are watching ‘the tragedy of a Jew’ - Barabas is our tragic hero, and to an extent we see the play from his perspective, often taking his side against the play’s other characters. Our sympathy for Barabas is stirred when he has his wealth seized by Ferneze the governor, under threat of Christian conversion. During this scene, Barabas launches a succession of bitter attacks against Christianity, beginning with the words: ‘Will you then steal my goods? / Is theft the ground of your religion?’ Here, Barabas points out the hypocrisy of their actions, going against the commandment ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ When Ferneze attempts to justify the cruelty of the Christians, he explains that Jews are infidels and that they ‘stand accursèd in the sight of heaven.’ This idea, that the Jews are to blame for the death of Christ (the ‘first curse’) and are therefore born sinful, was a typical trope of the period. Though the audience of the time may also have held this belief, it’s clear that Marlowe did not, or else he would not have allowed Barabas to respond in such cogent terms, appealing as he does to our sense of justice: ‘Shall I be tried by their transgressions? / The man that dealeth righteously shall live…’ Though we know that Barabas is far from righteous, we still sympathise with his argument that men should be judged according to their actions, not according to the actions of their ancestors. This can also be read as a Marlovian argument against the Calvinistic doctrine of Original Sin which held that all humans are born sinful due to Adam’s fall. And so, in this episode it is the Christians who are presented as heartless, with ‘policy’ (trickery or duplicity) as their profession, using scripture to confirm their wrongs. Arguably, it is this unjust and hypocritical treatment that leads Barabas to ‘make bar of no policy’ and adopt the same cruel attitude as the Christians have towards him.

So when Barabas says to his daughter that ‘religion / Hides many mischiefs from suspicion’ we can’t help but agree. The Christians of Malta have used their religion to justify their cruelty against the Jew, even though that cruelty goes against the New Testament credo ‘Love thy neighbour.’ Marlowe also takes care to demonstrate the vices of churchmen themselves, with Friar Jacomo and Friar Bernardine fighting over Barabas’s wealth. They care nothing for the cleansing of his soul or for his conversion – they care only for the goods he promises them. Indeed, Jacomo is so covetous of Barabas’s wealth that he stabs Bernardine, a fellow Christian. So Marlowe, here, is mocking and criticising the greed of the church and their hypocrisy. There are numerous other instances of this throughout the play. For example, when Abigail dies, she asks Friar Bernardine to ‘witness that I die a Christian’ and he simply replies: ‘Ay, and a virgin, too, that grieves me most.’ He breaks Church law when he reveals the contents of Abigail’s dying confession, and hopes to use what she has told him as blackmail. Once this scene has taken place, we can’t help but recall Ithamore’s earlier question: ‘have not the nuns fine sport with the friars now and then?’

It’s clear, then, that Christians and the Church also come under attack in this play. Indeed, the play’s conclusion reinforces Abigail’s beautiful lament that ‘there is no love on earth, / Pity in Jews, nor piety in Turks.’ She’s certainly right that Ithamore (the main representative of the Turks in the play) and Barabas are wicked. Abigail’s mistake, though, is to think there is love, pity, or piety in the Maltese Christians, who reveal themselves to be just as sinful and scheming as Barabas himself. Barabas is only killed at the end of the play because he is out-manoeuvred by another schemer, Ferneze, who, despite his religion, shows no mercifulness whatsoever at the play’s conclusion. As Barabas calls out ‘Help, help me, Christians, help!’ and asks ‘Governor, why stand you all so pitiless?’ Ferneze explains that he has no pity for him at all, wishing to see his ‘treachery repaid.’ Again, this demonstrates his religious hypocrisy – as a Christian, he ought not only to forgive and show mercy, but also to see it as God’s role to ensure justice, not his own. Thus, Ferneze abandons his religious morality (which he seems never really to have had) and uses Barabas’s own tactics against him. We might conclude with Levin, then, that ‘Morally, all of them operate on the same level, and that is precisely what Marlowe is pointing out.’ Every religious group is shown to be vicious and hypocritical, and various Christian doctrines come under attack, notably the idea that ‘Faith is not to be held with heretics,’ which Barabas himself uses against the Christians.

What’s most interesting, though, is that, whilst Marlowe was simply following theatrical clichés and contemporary bigotry when he presented Barabas in such a negative light, such an attack on Christians and Christian doctrine was rarely seen on stage. Perhaps this goes some way to reveal Marlowe’s own religious views. Indeed, as Paul H. Kocher suggests, Marlowe was ‘one of the most highly subjective playwrights of his age.’ Thus, the outright criticism of Christianity in The Jew of Malta may be suggestive. Moreover, Christianity is repeatedly questioned in Marlowe’s other works, notably Dr Faustus. Though the play is set within an undoubtedly Christian framework, and though Faustus is inevitably damned for his transgressions, we cannot help sympathising and even admiring his revolt against religion. We too desire to know the answer to eschatological questions like ‘who made the world’ and we too appreciate human beauty. Thus, the beautiful speeches Faustus gives cannot help inspiring our approbation. Indeed, Faustus’s paean to Helen (‘Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?’) is one of Marlowe’s most powerful speeches, urging us to appreciate the strength of Faustus’s emotions when he tells the spirit: ‘thou art fairer than the evening’s air.’ W.W Greg argues that, sharing Faustus’s aesthetic appreciation, we allow ourselves to sympathise with him. Moreover, the fact that Marlowe’s verse reaches its pinnacle during a description of Helen, a symbol of pagan Greece, is surely indicative of his own feelings.

We don’t have to look far to find proof of these doubtful feelings in Marlowe’s biography. As Kocher pointed out, criticism of religion (and Christianity specifically) seems to have been ‘the most absorbing interest of his life.’ The first hint that Marlowe may have had an aversion to Christianity came when, having studied at Cambridge under an Archbishop Parker scholarship, Marlowe did not take holy orders as expected. More convincing are the allegations of atheism that Marlowe received a few years after his death: Baines, Aldrich, Cholmley and others all accused Marlowe of similar crimes, largely revolving around the preaching of atheism and the jesting at religious scripture and doctrine. Marlowe, like Machiavelli of the prologue, seems to have seen religion as no more than a ‘childish toy’.

Hence, when Faustus says that ‘hell’s a fable’ we cannot help recall Baines’s statement that Marlowe ‘perswades men to Atheism willing them not to be afeard of bugbeares and hobgoblins.’ And when Tamburlaine briefly comments ‘The God that sits in heaven, if any god,’ (my italics) it’s hard not to attribute this doubt to Marlowe himself. After all, given that Marlowe never intended to write two parts to Tamburlaine’s story, it’s odd that Tamburlaine is not punished for his crimes and his blasphemous aspirations in Part 1, and it’s doubtful whether his death in Part 2 can be seen as retributive justice rather than the natural result of mortality. Despite killing thousands of innocents, no god punishes Tamburlaine, suggesting Marlowe’s doubts as to whether there is any god at all. Moreover, when Barabas jests at Christian doctrine and blasphemes against Christ (for example, by marking his hidden jewels with a cross), it cannot escape our notice that Marlowe probably made similar jests and blasphemous remarks during his own lifetime, and thus that Marlowe is, to some extent, talking through Barabas. I hope, then, that I have shown how Marlowe’s own doubts and possible atheism are demonstrated in his work. Given the corruption of the Catholic Church in the Early Modern period (Anthony Kenny described Pope Alexander VI as ‘the most villainous man ever to have occupied the Roman See’), and given the oppressive nature of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, it’s no wonder that an intellectual like Marlowe had difficulties in accepting Christianity. Like the characters he created, he struggled to see past the hypocrisy of churchmen, the contradictions in religious doctrine, and the restraints that Christianity (or indeed any religion) placed on its followers. 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Opposition and Ambiguity in Milton's 'Paradise Lost'

The story of the Fall is one of opposition and conflict, centred around the battle of good and evil, faith and temptation. Michelangelo’s Fall of Man epitomises this opposition with its two separate depictions of Adam and Eve. On the left, Adam and Eve are shown in the throes of temptation, about to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge; and on the right, Adam and Eve are shown in their post-Lapsarian state, banished from Eden by the Archangel Michael. These two opposing presentations of pre-Lapsarian and post-Lapsarian man are divided by the evil figure of the wily serpent, the manifestation of wickedness in the Genesis story. John Milton, in adopting this story as the material for his epic poem, likewise adopts this emphasis on opposition and duality, with two main conflicts highlighted throughout: firstly, and most importantly, the conflict between good and evil, and secondly, how that conflict manifests itself in the two different states of humankind, sinless and then, after ‘Man’s first disobedience’, sinful. And yet, Milton’s presentation of these conflicts is not so straightforward as we might expect – there are ambiguities throughout. With the dubiously heroic portrayal of Satan and the rather ominous and seemingly cruel portrayal of God, we are forced to question, as readers, whether the line between the abstract concepts ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is really so finite. Likewise, with the hints at sinfulness and wantonness in Eve and in Eden before the Fall, and conversely, with the sense of man’s retained goodness after the Fall, Milton stresses the elusiveness of sinlessness and sinfulness, whilst also preparing us for the inevitable – first, the Fall of Man, and second, Man’s salvation through the death of Christ. In this way, Milton plays on these oppositions and conflicts in the poem and uses ambiguity to increase our anticipation and thrill as readers.

The epic poem begins with Milton declaring his intentions, to ‘assert Eternal Providence, / And justify the ways of God to men.’ Less than ten lines later, we are introduced to Satan, first referred to as ‘Th’infernal Serpent… whose guile’ is ‘Stirred up with envy and revenge.’ Thus, the poem begins with the aforementioned opposition of good and evil, the just ways of God as Milton perceives them, contrasted with the envious deceptions of his foe, the fallen angel Lucifer. This conflict is repeatedly emphasised in the poem – Christ is presented to us as the archetype of goodness in whom ‘the fullness dwells of love divine,’ whilst Satan declares his mission in completely opposing terms: ‘To do aught good never will be our task, / But ever to do ill our sole delight, / As being the contrary to his high will…’ This conflict between good and evil is stressed again and again, as when Milton observes how all Satan’s malice will serve ‘but to bring forth / Infinite goodness,’ a direct reversal of Satan’s wish to ‘out of good still to find means of evil’. Indeed, throughout the poem, there are echoing phrases like these that serve to recall earlier lines and give emphatic poignancy to their contrasting sentiments. For instance, in Book I, Satan exclaims: ‘hail, horrors, hail / Infernal world…’ whilst Book III opens with Milton’s similarly alliterative interjection, ‘Hail holy Light.’

We might also see this contrast in the epic poem’s contrasting elements of creation and destruction in the poem. Whilst God (the representative of ‘good’ in the poem) is the force of creation in Milton’s cosmos, Satan is the force of destruction – having already ‘sought / Evil to others’, he is now pictured ‘In meditated fraud and malice, bent / On man’s destruction.’ This opposition between creation and destruction is made particularly potent in Milton’s beautiful description of God’s creative acts, with all aspects of this new world revelling in fresh life. For example, the mountains heave their ‘broad bare backs’ into the clouds and the rivers hasten ‘with glad precipitance’. When we first see Eden, it is described (through Satan’s eyes) thus: ‘In narrow room Nature’s whole wealth, yea more, / A Heav’n on earth, for blissful Paradise / Of God the garden was, by him in the east / Of Eden planted…’ Here, Milton is drawing on the teleological argument to highlight God’s goodness as it manifests itself in the beauty and harmony of the natural world. As Helen Gardner notes, these descriptions of Edenic splendour demonstrate God’s kindness and are ‘inspired by Milton’s passionate belief in the goodness of the natural world as it was created and his delight in the principle of life...’ And yet, Satan’s evil prevents him from appreciating that beauty and goodness: he ‘Saw undelighted all delight’. I also ought to mention briefly the contrast between Satan and Abdiel (perhaps a manifestation of Milton himself), whose heroism we cannot help applaud as Milton describes him: ‘Among the faithless, faithful only he; / Among innumerable false, unmoved, / Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified…’ There is, then, clearly an opposition created in the poem between good and evil, between creation and destruction, and between faithfulness and faithlessness.

And yet, it’s hard to deny that, at some points, that good/evil division becomes blurred. Indeed, though in the first book Milton’s vocal interruptions colour our view of Satan as evil, Satan is still one of the most charismatic and apparently heroic figures in the poem, if not in the entirety of English literature. Who has ever read the aphoristic line ‘Awake, arise, or be forever fall’n’ without feeling an overwhelming sense of admiration for Satan’s heroic ambition and ‘fierce passion’? As Hazlitt remarks, we cannot help applauding Satan and his Promethean valour: ‘After such a conflict as his, and such a defeat, to retreat in order, to rally, to make terms, to exist at all, is something; but he does more than this – he founds a new empire in hell, and from it conquers this new world…’ Satan’s charm and irresistibility may come, in part, from the fact that his speeches were the first of the work to be written, originally part of Milton’s plan for a dramatic tragedy – hence, Gardner comments, ‘The intensely dramatic handling of the figure of Satan is a main cause of the extraordinary hold he has on the imagination.’ Moreover, we often find ourselves agreeing with Satan’s view of God as a cruel monarch who ‘Sole reigning holds the tyranny of Heaven.’ After all, when God is first introduced, he is seen ‘High throned above all heighth’ and he later ‘Commands all the angels to adore him’. Given Milton’s own religiously individualist and politically republican stances, it is no wonder, really, that he ‘wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God’ – in the words of Samuel Johnson, Milton had an ‘envious hatred of greatness,’ ‘a sullen desire of independence’ and a ‘pride disdainful of superiority’. Thus, the beginning of the poem, whether intentionally or not, tempts us to agree with Satan that it is ‘Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav’n’. The lines between good and evil are blurred, and though we know that Satan’s speeches only ‘bore / Semblance of worth, not substance,’ we cannot help being attracted towards him.

There are similar oppositions in the presentation of Adam and Eve as they are seen before and after the Fall. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve are
‘Two of far nobler shape erect and tall,
Godlike erect…
And worthy seemed, for in their looks divine
The image of their glorious Maker shone,
Truth, wisdom, sanctitude severe and pure,
Severe, but in true filial freedom placed…’

They are presented to us as the image of perfect innocence – even their sexuality contains in it a certain pure nobility, repeatedly described with the word ‘mysterious’ which, in Milton’s time, had more to do with divinity than secrecy. Indeed, Milton even defends their open sexuality, saying that ascetics and Puritan hypocrites often defame ‘as impure what God declares / Pure, and commands to some, leaves free to all.’ Moreover, before the Fall, there was no sense of ‘guilty shame’ or dishonour in embracing sexuality. This pre-Lapsarian innocence is explicitly and immediately reversed after Adam and Eve eat the divinely prohibited fruit, when they engage at once in the ‘carnal pleasure’ against which Raphael warns them in Book VIII. They are described ‘As with new wine intoxicated both,’ the fruit inflaming in them ‘Carnal desire’. Adam casts ‘lascivious eyes’ on Eve, and ‘in lust they burn’. Likewise, Eve’s ‘eye darted contagious fire’. These repeated references to heat and fire highlight not only the sensuous and wanton nature of these desires, they also recall the burning fires of Pandemonium, and thus implicitly link this sexual depravity to the evil of Satan. And it’s not just in their sexuality that their post-Fall corruption reveals itself – they also grow blasphemous and proud, ‘and fancy that they feel / Divinity within them breeding wings…’ After eating the fruit, Eve even contemplates how the fruit may ‘render me more equal, and perhaps, / A thing not undesirable, sometime / Superior; for inferior who is free?’ The final question here again recalls Satan’s rhetoric when, in Book V, he questions how unequals can really be free. Not long after, the two are filled with ‘high passions, anger, hate, / Mistrust, suspicion, discord, and shook sore / Their inward state of mind, calm region once / And full of peace, now tossed and turbulent.’ Thus, Milton is keen to highlight the immediate change in his two human protagonists after they commit their first sin.

But there are ambiguities in this shift, too. Even before the fall, there are suggestions of sin and wantonness in both Eden and in man, prophetic suggestions of what is to come. This is largely insinuated through Milton’s descriptions of Eve’s hair, and as Jason Scott-Warren argues, ‘Milton makes Eve’s naturally curly hair indirectly responsible for the Fall of Man.’ Eve’s hair is described as ‘Disheveld, but in wanton ringlets wav’d, / As the Vine curles her tendrils’. This directly links Eve with the serpent, who is described as both ‘sly’ and ‘insinuating’ even before Satan has adopted the serpent’s form (demonstrating the evil already present in Eden before the Fall). The word ‘insinuating’, as Scott-Warren points out, comes from the Latin word ‘sinuare’ (notably containing the word ‘sin’) which means ‘to bend’ or ‘to curl’, thus linking Eve’s curling tresses to the serpent’s curling body. Thus, we are here given a premonition of Eve’s temptation and her eventual sin, highlighted in the word ‘wanton’ as used to describe her ‘ringlets wav’d’. This word is also used to describe the trees of the garden, which require ‘More hands than ours to lop their wanton growth…’ And finally, the river of Eden is described as curving and curling in ‘mazie error’. All of this combines to insinuate from our very first sighting of Eden that sin and the possibility of sin is indeed already present, despite the apparently innocent purity of Adam and Eve.

Milton also highlights the retained goodness in Adam and Eve even after their fall – unlike Satan, who knows there is ‘no place / Left for repentance’, Adam and Eve commit themselves to penitence and remorse. Milton describes how they ‘fell / Before him reverent, and both confessed / Humbly their faults, and pardon begged, with tears / Watering the ground, and with their sighs the air / Frequenting, sent from hearts contrite, in sign / Of sorrow unfeigned, and humiliation meek.’ This repentance is wholly ‘unfeigned’, distinct from Satan’s false and superficial protestations of sorrow in Milton’s sequel, Paradise Regained. As Johnson says, Adam and Eve are ‘amiable’ after the Fall ‘for repentance and submission.’ But it is not just in their repentance that we sympathise with them. It is also in the pure and wholly virtuous love that they show towards one another – for example, they both wish they could take all the punishment on themselves (Eve wishes ‘that all / The sentence from thy head removed may light / On me’). But it is Milton’s beautiful expression of their love that leaves us most sympathetic: Adam says to Eve, ‘How can I live without thee, how forgo / Thy sweet converse and love so dearly joined, / To live again in these wild woods forlorn? / Should God create another Eve, and I / Another rib afford, yet loss of thee / Would never from my heart…’ Eve reflects these sentiments when she tells Adam in such honourable terms, ‘thou to me / Art all things under Heav’n…’ Thus, as Waldock argues, we cannot help sympathising here, not only because they are now imperfect, mortal humans like us, but also because they are ‘following here the highest moral value we know – Love.’ And finally, we can only admire their dignity in accepting the loss of their paradise and embracing the ‘Paradise within’ as they ‘Through Eden took their solitary way.’

So it’s clear that Milton was keen, in this poem, to employ established oppositions and conflicts, whilst also manipulating them and making us question their validity. Just as Satan and God are held up against each other and yet both presented relatively ambiguously, so pre- and post-Fall humanity are explicitly contrasted though depicted in a nuanced way, with both sin and honour present before and after the Fall. Milton did this for a number of reasons, but it is largely due to the fact that the story of Paradise Lost was universally known, so Milton plays games with this idea of foreknowledge throughout. Satan is presented as tempting and almost admirable in Book I not only as an indication of Eve’s later temptation and seduction, but also as a warning to us to demonstrate how easy it is to be charmed by rhetoric, thus encouraging us to sympathise with Eve in her Fall.

In the same way, the descriptions of Eden and pre-Lapsarian Adam and Eve are littered with subtle insinuations of their future wantonness, thus preparing us for the Fall that we know is already inevitable. Because we’ve been prepared for the event by all these subtle references to sin, the simple climax of the poem needs no adornment to give it weight: ‘So saying, her rash hand in evil hour / Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck’d, she eat…’ As Gardner points out, ‘When at last we come to it, with the weight of the poem behind it, the undramatic presentation of this simple act of disobedience is profoundly dramatic.’ And finally, Adam and Eve are shown to retain their goodness after the Fall in order to prepare the Christian reader for what was to come – not only the goodness of Noah and Moses, but more importantly, the redemption and salvation of man through Christ’s death, as narrated by Michael. It is perhaps in this sense that Coleridge referred to Milton as ‘the deity of prescience,’ in that Milton is recounting a story that all his readers knew, and thus he fills it throughout with portentous and fateful hints to add to the story’s unfolding excitement. So, by blurring these traditional lines of opposition, Milton not only surprises his readers, he also makes his poem more dramatically effective. He has indeed fulfilled his wish that he might ‘leave something so written to after-times, as they should not willingly let it die.’