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Milton's 'Samson Agonistes'

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Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Mon Feb 21, 2011 11:34 am    Post subject: Milton's 'Samson Agonistes'  Reply with quote

I finished Milton’s SAMSON AGONISTES but have to admit that it was a duty rather than an unalloyed pleasure, I read it because it is by Milton and I wanted it under my belt along with ‘Paradise Lost’ and the rest of his more reader-friendly poems. It’s written in imitation of Greek tragedy, observing the Unities and having a small cast of characters, a chorus, and the crowning moment of drama happening off-stage and reported by a Messenger.  But Milton never wanted it to be performed on stage. If it were, I can imagine that it might make a rather unsatisfactory experience.  The most famous lines occur near the beginning – ‘O dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon, / Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse….’ But for the most part I found the relentless iambics heavy going. I kept hoping for the verse to lift itself into the kind of glory that we know Milton is supremely capable of.  It really, for me, only blazed into life in the Messenger’s speech relating the destruction of the Philistines and their temple.  For most of its length the protagonists talk AT each other, the scenes never rising into dramatic confrontation.  It’s been suggested that the events of ‘Samson Agonistes’ were intended by Milton to reflect the conflicts of the Civil War and the Commonwealth but, as the dates of composition are disputed, this is conjecture.  For my part I wish that Milton had gone the whole hog and written a proper play for stage performance.  After all he was born in the time of Shakespeare and lived through the great age of Elizabethan and  Jacobean drama and must have been aware of what the medium was capable of.  And he had already written the beautiful masque ‘Comus’ in which he marries the poetic and the dramatic beautifully.  
I suppose I'm just a Philistine.  Help, the ceiling's falling in.

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Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll read Samson Agonistes this weekend, and get back to you.

I was quite a Milton fan when I last read this, and I remember I loved it at the time. I have cooled off a bit since, because I find Milton's grand style a bit unremitting: I have come to prefer a quieter, more conversational tone. (I must be the only one on earth who prefers Wordsworth's blank verse to Milton's! But then again, Wordswroth himself was a huge fan of Milton.) So I really don't know what I'll make of it this time round.

See my blog:

(Go on! - You'd like it!  - Honest!)
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