The Development of Milton's Prose Style

The Development of Milton's Prose Style

The Development of Milton's Prose Style

The Development of Milton's Prose Style

Excerpt

This study originates in the belief that previous accounts of Milton's prose neither identify what is really unique to him nor adequately describe how his style changes.

Milton's prose should be considered against contemporary stylistic norms for the same genre. Our appreciation of his style has been distorted through concentration on those features which merely distinguish him from writers who were not his contemporaries or who were producing a different kind of literature.

Linguists have observed how style changes with situation. It is patently the case that nowadays the stylistic norms of a newspaper editorial differ from those of the sports-page, those of an academic discourse differ from those of a political treatise, even that those of a lecture differ from those of an essay, albeit an essay on the same subject. Similar sorts of stylistic marking certainly operated at most earlier stages of the English language. Moreover, the norms for each category have changed diachronically with the language. For example, stylistic norms for the twentieth-century political treatise differ from those of the Victorian equivalent as well as from those of the modern academic discourse.

It is misleading, then, to compare Milton with Hooker or Browne, as Hamilton and Stavely have done, in that the former is not a contemporary and neither, strictly, is writing political pamphlets. Again, Emma's procedure of isolating those features which distinguish Milton from T. S. Eliot and Shakespeare has little to recomment it. Stavely also compares Milton with Leveller propagandists. This appears more promising, but still may be misleading. In the context of the whole range of Civil War pamphleteering the style of the Levellers may well be eccentric. Where they differ from Milton, it is just as likely to be their style, not Milton's, that is out of step.

I have designed my study as an essay in historical stylistics. I compare each group of Miltonic tracts with pamphlets by other writers contributing to the same controversies that concerned Milton and representing as wide a range of political and ideological positions as feasible. I have attempted to reconstruct the . . .

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