Studies in Spenser, Milton and the Theory of Monarchy

By Ruth Mohl | Go to book overview
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THE THEME OF "PARADISE LOST"

THE FACT that the theme or central meaning of Paradise Lost has been and still is far less generally understood than we may suppose has been indicated by scholars and critics alike.1 Professor E. M. W. Tillyard, in 1930, without stating his own choice of theme, noted that critics of earlier generations have concerned themselves with almost every other phase of the epic except its central meaning, assuming perhaps that "the meaning appeared too simple to need discussion,"2 since Milton himself seems to tell us all we need to know about it in his opening lines. In 1941 Logan Pearsall Smith's little volume on Milton and His Modern Critics raised the hopes of many that some day the peculiar, often ridiculous assumptions of such modern critics of Milton as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Middleton Murry, Herbert Read, and Frank Leavis would be adequately answered. In a warning against superficial assumptions of all kinds Professor A. S. P. Woodhouse, in 1944, discussed the true bases for expository criticism and said that it is "fatal to assume that Milton is merely rehearsing and embellishing the Hebrew-Christian myth of the fall or that Paradise Lost is, in Raleigh's phrase, 'a monument to dead ideas.'"3 In 1944, also, Professor Douglas Bush, in the Messenger Lectures on the Evolution of Civilization, at Cornell,4 warned against the "ex-cathedra utterances" of such critics as T. S. Eliot and Lord David Cecil, against the mistaken nineteenth-

____________________
1
Cf., among others, E. M. W. Tillyard, Milton ( London: Chatto and Windus, 1930), pp. 237 ff.; A. S. P. Woodhouse, "The Approach to Milton", Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, XXXVIII ( May, 1944), sec. 2, 201-13; Logan Pearsall Smith, Milton and His Modern Critics ( Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1941), pp. 45 ff.; Douglas Bush, Paradise Lost in Our Time ( Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1945), chap. i; Douglas Bush, English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century, 1600- 1660 ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1945), pp. 379 ff.; A. J. A. Waldock, Paradise Lost and Its Critics ( Cambridge [Eng.]: University Press, 1947), pp. 1-24.
2
Tillyard, op. cit., p. 237.
3
The Approach to Milton, loc. cit., p. 206.
4
Published under the title of Paradise Lost in Our Time.

-66-

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