Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Peter in Lycidas

    This post will be my last brief analysis on Lycidas before I move onto some other aspect of Milton's career or vocation as a poet. I'd like to get into his political and religious viewpoints that we find in his published tracts when Britain was tearing apart due to the coming civil war. But for now let's look at lines 109-115 of Lycidas:

The Pilot of the Galilean lake,
Two massy Keyes he bore of metals twain,
(The Golden opes, the Iron shuts amain)
He shook his Miter'd locks, and stern bespake,
How well could I have spar'd for thee, young swain,
Anow of such as for their bellies sake,
Creep and intrude, and climb into the fold?

    Milton has Peter, the apostle, in view when he wrote the above lines. The keys are instruments that bind and loose or open and shut the gate. He was given the power to include or exclude those who would be seeking to enter into Heaven. But why would Milton choose Peter in the midst of this pagan pastoral scene?

    Here Peter speaks with authority. He has the power either to allow or disallow Milton's companion entrance into the kingdom of Heaven. This authoritative sternness that bellows out from the apostle is in contrast to the mellow harmony of the mythological figures that we find in the rest of the poem.

    The Christian audience breathes a sigh of relief when we encounter Peter, who speaks directly to the young swain. Setting aside the debate of whether Peter was exclusively given the keys of the kingdom, I think that he is used here as a relief from the figures that we find in the Greco-Roman myths, which we pick up on as we read this highly elusive poem.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Last Lines of Lycidas

Let’s look at the last section of the poem (lines 186-193):

Thus sang the uncouth Swain to th' Okes and rills,
While the still morn went out with Sandals gray,
He touch'd the tender stops of various Quills,
With eager thought warbling his Dorick lay:
And now the Sun had stretch'd out all the hills,
And now was dropt into the Western bay;
At last he rose, and twitch'd his Mantle blew:
To morrow to fresh Woods, and Pastures new.

    I feel that Swain refers to a Sheppard here due to the pastoral context, but it could also refer to a young person. Milton, at this point, identifies himself as the speaker of the poem: an untrained sheppard that sung his song about his fellow poet, who is now in heaven. Milton takes on the identity of a sheppard, even though he lived in the city (London) rather than the country. And he saves this reference about his identity until the end of this short (193 lines) poem.

   So Milton, the unready poet, rises at the end of Lycidas to find something new. He has already finished this pastoral poem, and so, after that, he embarks in 1638 on a tour of the Continent. He travels through France and Italy to meet up with other influential people such as Hugo Grotius and Galileo. So once Lycidas is written, then Milton travels through Europe to visit her famous people and places such as Florence and Rome. So after work, he leaves for his grand tour. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Intro to Lycidas

Milton wrote this poem because of the drowning of Edward King, a fellow poet who drowned in 1637 off the coast of Wales. He serves as the inspiration for Lycidas, which is a poem about how he was cut off too early in his life. So this is a lament in the form of a pastoral, a poem that shepherds would write about. And I feel that Milton is anxious to become a poet with lasting value, so he feels compelled to write in a grandiose fashion, which Samuel Jonson, the 18th century critic, derided as vulgar and disgusting.

Milton recalls his masque, Comus, at the beginning of the poem. Comus was a play that was performed in 1634 before the court. And he uses this work a springboard to launch his argument for his dead friend, who is lamented and compared to Orpheus, a mythological poet who was cut off in his prime. So Milton alludes to Classical myth throughout his works, so if you want to find out about these ancient mythological references, I’d suggest reading the Metamorphoses by Ovid to get a handle on them. You will find that the poem reads better if you are aware of this material. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

the Autumn of Milton

    A few years back, I spent the summer fixated on Shakespeare due to a book on the subject of the characters within his plays. The book focuses on what made Shakespeare's characters come alive from the reader's prospective. I liked it because the author was able to draw from all of Shakespeare's plays to give you a sense of what made Hamlet, Falstaff, Rosalind, and so on different from the other play-makers of his time. The book is Shakespeare: Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom.

    We could understand why Shakespeare is different by contrasting his characters with the characters of the Ancient Greek plays who changed as a result of the will of the gods. But the characters that we find in the plays of Shakespeare change as a result of overhearing themselves. This inward change comes about through the interactions between characters as well as by the soliloquies that change their own intentions as they speak them. So this technique gave Shakespeare an edge over rival playwrights like Marlowe and Ben Johnson.

    But I'd like to do a series on John Milton, who lived after Shakespeare's time. He was a poet, who also wrote about his political events such as the execution of the king. He was a proponent of personal liberty to the point of arguing for divorce in his tracts. I like Milton because we have more biographical information about him than Shakespeare, who seemed to live a mostly private life. And I suspect that if you are going to be inventing inwardness for your characters, you won't have much time for writing about your life.

    However, Milton did not have this problem because he writes about his life in plain prose through his political tracts. Of course, we cannot separate religion from politics during this time period because church and state were not separate. But I will not be focusing on the historical times of this poet, since I'd like to focus, rather, on what he wrote. So next time, I will be looking at Lycidas, a poem about his friend who drowned in 1637 in the Irish Sea.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Horatio at Home

    In literature, a character often feels at home, if they are with the people that they are familiar with. They tend to speak more freely, especially if they are with their friends. If we find such characters with those who offer comfort to them, then we recognize that they will freely talk about their motives with each other.

    In general, characters speak freely so that their traits become perceptible to us as readers. So if we would like to look into how a character is to be seen from the point of view of the writer, then we should look at where the character is at home or among good company. The following example will show this general tendency:

When Hamlet decides to see the ghost, then Horatio then warns him (I.iv, 69-76):

    What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff
That beetles o'er his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form,
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason
And draw you into madness? think of it:
The very place puts toys of desperation,
Without more motive, into every brain
That looks so many fathoms to the sea
And hears it roar beneath.

    The above lines represent Horatio as an interpreter of Hamlet, who is hard to understand at times, due to his ambitious preoccupations. These motives are shown to us more clearly by Horatio, who presents the prince as a victim of an occult experience. The ghost of Hamlet's father will tell him exactly who it was that killed him, but Horatio cautions the prince about the ghost beforehand. So Horatio feels comfortable about reassuring Hamlet about the coming encounter with the ghost.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

on Working with a Textual Tradition

    My last post was about how proponents of a certain textual tradition of the Bible don't have any meaningful answers if confronted with questions in a public debate setting. So I have agreed that this particular view of how textual criticism should be done is shortsighted. Those who identify with the Reformed Confessions, take this ecclesiastical text position as a sort of QIRC that one fellow confessor from California had pointed out in his book years ago. This quest to narrow the field of textual critical studies is an example of how our modern folk deal with those who would promote a different tradition than that of which they are used to.

    So, in sum, we could point to the use of I John 5:7 in the catechisms and, therefore, conclude that John wrote down this verse for the church. The above argument, however, does not consider the history of textual transmission because it takes the outcome of a council in ways that they themselves have not intended their work to be taken. In other words, those who would claim that a council had determined the textual critical methods of investigating the original readings of the Bible would not be able to be critical of their own textual tradition. So they would accept the Comma Johanneum without question.

    If the proponents of the ecclesiastical text take issue with this analysis of their position, then they would have to engage with the textual sources the Westminster divines had used. Then the question becomes one of relevancy, since modern textual critics don't accept their position on textual critical methods. They are happy with text that the church had handed down to them and, perhaps, that is what they want to have.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

on the Ecclesiastical Text of the Bible

    I have recently seen a video that was put up about two months ago on James White's YouTube account. I didn't get a chance to see it until now, due to my obsession with Anglish, which I'd like to put away for now. James White seemed very concerned that the proponents of the ecclesiastical text, however that is defined, don't have any leg to stand on when it comes to public debates with those who are familiar with textual criticism. So I'd like to take a moment to address the issue of having an objective methodology for criticizing the ecclesiastical text of the Bible.

  First, we are not criticizing the Bible based on its literary value, but rather on how are we going to get the same text that the Prophets and the Apostles had wrote down for their audience. That should be the goal of textual criticism, but that is a very broad outlook, so I'd like to the focus on how the proponents of the 'ecclesiastical text' might go about establishing the key passages that Dr. White has cited in his video. If you have not yet seen the video, it's here for your interest:


    So I think that those who promote the 'ecclesiastical text' are wondering how on earth can Dr. White do textual criticism, if he doesn't use the text of the Bible that we're familiar with. If you don't have 'the text' that the church has handed down to us, how do you begin to examine it at all? This question is asking for a textual tradition that could be accepted by those who are part of the church. So I feel that those who want to go back to the time of the Reformation would have a skeptical climate of opinion toward James's direct questions of how the ecclesiastical text might be founded.

    In response to the skepticism, the proponents would say that we have what the text of the Reformers had, but there has been much development since those early days. Wouldn't it be nice to live in the 16th century, when the science of textual criticism was just budding? To have the work of Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza, and so on, however, wouldn't answer the question of how the text of the Scriptures is established, which is a process that requires sharp criteria, if you are going to do meaningful criticism of the text. So we should appreciate the work of those men, but we should also consider how they came to their conclusions in establishing what the Apostles wrote to the church.

    If we are going to find out what textual tradition we should use to do textual criticism, let's take a bird's eye of the field. We have many manuscript traditions that show how the text has come down to us. But the church dose't have to be the keeper of these documents to feel that we have the 'true' text of the Bible. For instance, if 19th century statists were influential in preserving the text of the Word of God, could we not use their insights to understand where our Book has come from? So I'd say that the proponents of this undefinable text of the church have to, at least, give an attempt to answer the questions that were raised in the video.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Dialogue on Society

Volt: So how do we find our place within society?

Hans: From the fact that we are citizens of a political state, then we could find our place within society.

Volt: But you would not even know that you are a citizen without being told as such.

Hans: The recognition of being a citizen is dependent on actually being a citizen, which is predicated on an already existing political state.

Volt: All right; you receive your citizenship from the state, but what are you in relation to your society?

Hans: I am saying that once we recognize our own political state, then we can be effective members of its society.

Volt: You, sir, don’t know you place within society.

Hans: How could you say that I don't know? I have lived within society all of my life.  Do you have any evidence that I have not lived within society?

Volt: Here is what I mean: once you live among its members, you will find your place.

Hans: But I…But what is my place?

Volt: Your place is to see that its members decide who you are going to be in relation to them.

Hans: But what of my personal dignity?

Volt: They will respect that once you show yourself to be a dignified member among them.

Hans: I guess that I feel that have a lot to learn.

Volt: That’s all for today’s lesson.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

How to Converse with the Dead

Here is a passage from Hamlet (III, ii, 17-36)):

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion
be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special o'erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone,
or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful
laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the
censure of the which one must in your allowance
o'erweigh a whole theatre of others. O, there be
players that I have seen play, and heard others
praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely,
that, neither having the accent of Christians nor
the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so
strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of
nature's journeymen had made men and not made them
well, they imitated humanity so abominably.

    This is apart of the 'Speak the Speech' advice give to his players, who have to preform before the royal audience in Elsinore. These are the stage directions given by Hamlet to instruct the players in how to act well in the play, the Murder of Gonzago, that is going to be preformed. So I'd like to focus on the meaning of two things within the above speech: 1. 'holding up the mirror up to nature' and 2. 'imitating humanity'

    1. Hamlet says that the play-actor shows what is the heart of his audience by merely speaking his lines. This simple direction seems too simple because Hamlet is an experienced play-actor, while his players are novices, who are forced to keep up with the demands of the playwright. So the nature of the players are their relative youth and inexperience.

    2. The irony of Hamlet is that he points out the flaws of other players that he had seen. These were poor players, who did not act well because they sometimes missed their cues. When it was their turn to act, they failed because they did not deliver their lines with the gusto that Hamlet is demanding from his players. So it's human to wander away from what you are supposed to be doing.

   Thus, while we wander from our duties, we could take the time to remember our place on the stage. We will never be like Hamlet because he does not want us to be like him. He demands exact conformity to his directions, which we will never measure up to. So we concede that we have enough of the words that we have been taught from him as players on his stage.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Natural Law Ethics

    Natural law ethics could be described as the attempt to find values within nature, which is the image of what should be. That is a very sketchy definition of nature, but then from this understanding of what nature is, one could set up a way of carrying out those values to other image-bearers, who are those who hold to these values. (The values are concepts which are shown through actions.) So this is a theistic account of how we understand ethics through natural law theory, which is on the internet somewhere.

    So once we look at nature, we will then look for a certain 'oughtness' about how things work within nature. This 'oughtness' is a feeling that we have when we see how nature should act. Down below, there will be a distinction between how things should be and how things ought to be. Let's call this the difference between how we feel about something and how things actually are in themselves.

    For example, if there is a glass of water on the table, then one could look at how the water is settled within the glass, and then from there conclude that the water acts in such a way that it should be settled within that glass. However, this is a fallacy because nature does not tell us anything about how things should act, but rather those, who have a sense of how nature should be, are the ones who make a judgement about how nature should act.

    Thus, our judgments depend on nature to give us an idea of how things ought to be, but we already have an idea of how things should be. And as we look to nature for how things ought to be, let us keep in mind that 'should' tells us about our feelings that we have about nature, while 'ought' is how things are to be in our world that is sensible to the image-bearers within it. So we get knowledge about the world through how we interact with it, since nature is the source of science, but math guys have to give you a schema to find out how to understand science.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Kentucky Woman

This is nothing less than Calvin’s doctrine of the lesser magistrates (Institutes 4.20.22-32), which I would urge upon all and sundry as relevant reading material. And as Calvin points out, after Daniel — a Babylonian official — disobeyed the king’s impious edict, he denied that he had wronged the king in any way (Dan. 6:22-23).

John Bugay wrote the above on a blog that has helped me out in my thinking and writing:

    Now, this controversy over a Kentucky woman, who did the right thing in my estimation, is about being blamed for not issuing marriage licenses in her respective state. She had an issue of conscience that would not allow her to perform her duties, so she has been put in jail, I believe, over this issue of gender-blind marriage, which to me is nonsense.

    My question is: does the lesser magistrate, in this context the Kentucky clerk, have the right to not follow the law, if that law does not seem right in her estimation? If you do not think that a law is right, does that obligate you to disobedience? When is civil disobedience justifiable?

    Let’s say that there is a law that says that it’s lawful for persons to do evil. Now this is just a thought experiment, so do not object yet, you lawyers! There is a point to this thought: when the law says to perform an evil action, will you do it? Yes, that is what the law says, but what does your instinct tell you?

    So if there is a law that you feel has no binding authority on your behavior, should you not be punished for your crime? Yes, because you have decided that the law is useless in the sense that it has no authority over your conscience because you feel that it would not be right to follow such a law. Why follow an unjust law?

    Thus, if you are a lesser magistrate, and if there is, I hate to say it, an evil-law, then you should disobey that law because that particular law is unjust. So when a society becomes oppressed by evil-laws, then that society will become weak with ill rule, so that another one will take its place over time. This is a bleak conclusion that could be overturned with magistrates who follow this line of thinking.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How to Read and Why

    The book ‘How to Read and Why’ was published by Touchstone in 2000 by Harold Bloom, an excellent literary critic, who wrote this book to give many examples from imaginative literature, or fictional writing, to show you why reading matters. He begins his book by giving us some guidelines to read well:

1.       Clear you mind of jargon.
2.       Read to improve your own interests, not those of your neighbor.
3.       A scholar is a candle, which the love and desire of all men will light.
4.       One must be an inventor to read well.
5.       Look for irony as you read.

    These principles of reading serve us as a reminder that we read for ourselves, while writers write for others. However, the opposite happens also, but the propose of reading fiction is to become better at overhearing ourselves as we seek what the author, Bloom, calls the Sublime, which is a hard pleasure to capture. Thus, we read fiction to enjoy our own interests, but you have to read a lot if you are going to become an interesting person.