Date of Award

9-1993

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Supervisor

W. G. Roebuck

Language

English

Abstract

John Milton's presentation of his epic, Paradise Lost, represents an attempt to extend to the seventeenth-century reader an explanation of a world in need of understanding. In religion, politics and science there was perceived, justifiably, an uncertainty due to transition and innovation. An epic, by definition, purports to relate the decisive, paradigmatic event of human history. Utilising the Bible as his primary source, and with the addition of other forms of discourse as diverse as classical allusion and contemporary science, Milton attempts to render the chaotic calm, the inexplicable explicable, through a belief system proffered in the form of myth. Thus, Paradise Lost can be read as both emerging from a sense of anxiety in the seventeenth century, and as an attempt to alleviate that anxiety.

The extraordinary complexity and density of Paradise Lost would seem to require a careful, close reading of the text. Thus, it is necessary to thoughtfully select representational passages from Milton's epic in order to observe how this seventeenth-century anxiety is being addressed. A consideration of these passages will reveal patterns and strategies delineating how certain devices and aspects of the text can be read metaphorically. In turn, these metaphors can be seen as being in service of the myth which Milton is presenting to assuage the anxiety of the contemporary reader. The two aspects of the text to be discussed in this thesis are space and time.

The metaphorical strategies that John Milton applies toward his creation of myth are evident in any number of the disparate aspects which constitute Paradise Lost. Space and time, while crucial, are representative elements of an overall, comprehensive scheme on the part of the poet. Space, and the dermition of this term, undergoes a significant metamorphosis in the text. Paradise Lost is a text which contains cosmic themes, and the historical evolution of the understanding of space as "a distance between two separate points" to space as "the firmaament beyond the Earth's atmosphere" is demonstrated in this text. Milton is eager to derme knowledge and the limits placed on the acquisition of knowledge in order to provide his reader with a means of understanding reality. Both dermitions of space, described above, provide the poet with opportunities for his pedagogy. Time, along with being a concept naturally complementary to space, is of utility for understanding the structure of Milton's myth. How the poet addresses the anxiety inherent in an awareness of human mortality, combined with discussing the importance of linear time in relation with human history, is instructive. The prelapsarian world was one of circular time, with with the possibility of change being viewed optimistically. The postlapsarian world initiates linear time. This concept of human history as linear, and the consequences that this linear time has with respect to man's mortality, are incorporated in Milton's retelling of the Christian myth.

McMaster University Library

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