Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

The Oxford Handbook of Milton/Milton in Context

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

The Oxford Handbook of Milton/Milton in Context

Article excerpt

Nicholas McDowell and Nigel Smith (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Milton, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 715, hb. £85.00, ISBN: 978-9-1992-1088-6.

Stephen B. Dobranski (ed.), Milton in Context, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 523, hb. £65.00, ISBN: 978-0-5215-1898-7.

The Milton quatercentenary has prompted two collections of essays which could almost have been planned together, so neatly do their aims complement each other. Both are aimed at the intelligent student, while both also include material which any Milton specialist would wish to have.

The Oxford volume provides essays on virtually every one of Milton's texts, even his commonplace book, and the major works receive several essays each. The editors have achieved a consistently high level, and have ensured that each chapter manages the difficult task of saying something worthwhile and original without being idiosyncratic, so that the novice reader is quickly brought up to speed, while the experienced student is provided with food for thought. Amongst the thirty-eight chapters there are some valuable contributions on unexpected topics, such as Estelle Haan's two essays on Milton's Latin. On the shorter poems, John Leonard writes perceptively on the endings of Milton's sonnets, as does Gordon Tesky on the early English poems. How to treat Paradise Lost is a challenge for both editors and contributors, but the collection offers a thoughtful piece by Karen Edwards on the different worlds within the poem (a topic which she revisits in the Cambridge collection), while Martin Dzelzainis writes a fresh analysis of the poem's politics. One of the most outstanding pieces in the collection is R. W. Sergeantson's essay on Samson Agonistes, which takes up and moves forward the recent debate on the ethics of Samson's act by locating the question in the context of seventeenth-century debates on the legitimacy of individual action against tyranny. On the prose works, there are particularly good chapters by Stephen Fallon on The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, Joad Raymond on the rhetoric of Milton's Defences, and Timothy Raylor on the intellectual contexts for Of Education. …

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