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.

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