Milton and the Baroque

Milton and the Baroque

Milton and the Baroque

Milton and the Baroque

Excerpt

The placing of Milton within a baroque setting is, in itself, no longer a novelty. Since historians began (a little reluctantly perhaps) to acknowledge that literature cannot be isolated from the dominant artistic movements of each era, the relationship between Paradise Lost and the continental baroque has become widely recognised. The authoritative assertion of theme, the adoption of a 'Grand Style', and the monumentality of the work as a whole provide at least initial evidence of a connection with that European mode; and the perceptive studies by Wylie Sypher and Roy Daniells have in recent years made the baroque attribution an integral part of the Milton scene.

Nevertheless, the reader intent on the epic itself may well ask what has been gained by that knowledge. It may be of some historical interest to know that Milton was not alone in his artistic endeavours, that contemporary architects and painters were also creating works in the Grand Style; but for literary purposes, such information would appear to be merely academic, a further footnote added to the lengthy list of possible sources or parallels to the poem. The complaint is, I think, justified, for the most stimulating part of such comparative investigation linking literature with the visual arts is not in the establishing of these larger period settings, but in the stage beyond that. It occurs when this contact between the arts sets off a flash of recognition, a realization that the way a painter solved a problem posed by his era can throw fresh light on the writer's technique too. And conversely, when the writer solves the problem differently from the painter, we may through that change be made aware of some basic element distinguishing the verbal art of poetry from the visual effect of a canvas. In either instance, we return to the literary work with an understanding which could not easily have been obtained within the exclusively literary sphere.

Any theory generated by such art parallels is, of course, valueless until it has been substantiated by a careful re-reading of the literary . . .

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