'The guiding hand' : the progression of Milton's thought towards Samson Agonistes
This thesis examines the development of Milton's purpose as his vocation of poetic legislator for his times informed the progress of his vision. In seeing Samson Agonistes as the culmination of a process, it illustrates the narrowing focus of Milton’s theological prescription for a godly society. Before any other concern, Milton desired man to repair his relationship with God, and urges his readers to achieve this; it may be observed throughout his polemical writing, reaching a pinnacle of clarity and urgency in the 1671 volume, and in Samson Agonistes in particular. From the assumption that unity with God's purpose was the informing principle of his writing, all of his other concerns may be observed in their rightful setting. As the foundation of Milton's political vision was virtue, the inculcation of virtue in his readership was arguably his primary motivation. This thesis addresses certain key works in order to assess the progression of this purpose towards Samson Agonistes: Areopagitica as an exemplar of his early brilliance in prose, and as a commentary on the significance of language as a weapon in the battle for truth; Eikonoklastes as a demonstration of the contemporary use of historical narrative for political ends, and as aesthetic as well as political iconoclasm; and the Second Defence as the nexus of poetry and prose in his career, where he rewrites the truth in order to glorify and defend his nation and himself His theological beliefs are discussed in the light of their importance to his vocation and vision of the regenerative potential of man. This is shown to be the guiding principle of his prose and the main subject of the final poems. The 1671 volume is examined as the immediate context of Samson Agonistes. The intertextual resonances reveal the concentration of Milton’s focus upon the paradise within. Samson Agonistes is examined also within the cultural contexts which Milton reworks in order to isolate the potential of man's spirit. Samson Agonistes is finally examined in the light of Milton's perennial concerns as a prescription for specific action. Firmly rooted in the political and theological debates of his life, it is nonetheless a call to inner revolution for his readership.