IMAGES OF KINGSHIP IN
Paradise Lost
 

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1 As students of Milton tend not to be readers of the Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, in which Stevie Davies published a fine article ('John Milton on Liberty') in 1974, they will be taken unawares by the brilliance of her new book on Images of Kingship in 'Paradise Lost'. The problem which Miss Davies confronts is one that has puzzled me for many years: how can one reconcile Milton the pamphleteer, the empassioned champion of republicanism and the liberty of the individual whose imagination was seized by the execution of Charles, with Milton the poet, who in the richest poem in the English language celebrated the monarchy of heaven and rejoiced in the defeat of the Satanic revolutionaries who attempted to overthrow that monarchy? Many good critics have attempted to solve the problem, and the proposed solutions are at best incomplete. Miss Davies offers an utterly convincing solution, which she modestly describes as partial. She has constructed a taxonomy of monarchical images in Paradise Lost. Images of earthly kings, oriental tyrants, and (to my surprise) Roman emperors are shown to be associated with Satan. Images of feudal lords and of the creating father, a literal pater patriae, are associated with the kingship of the Father and Son. Intelligent attention is given to the development of these images in Milton's prose works, and to the process whereby the political principles of the prose are revitalized in the poem. Miss Davies's exposition of this elegantly simple thesis is subtle and poised; her chapter on Imperial Caesar is a critical tour de force. This is an important book, heartily to be commended to scholars and students alike. It will rapidly establish itself as a classic of Milton criticism...
  The Year's Work in English Studies, Vol 64

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... Stevie Davies' Images of Kingship in "Paradise Lost": Milton's Politics and Christian Liberty will contribute enormously [to clarification of the debate about Milton's republicanism and the monarchical symbolism of Paradise Lost]. One only wonders, after following the lucidity of its demonstration of how a critique of monarchy pervades and unifies the poem, providing some of its finest imagery and much of its rhetorical structure, how this fact might ever have been overlooked and why its elucidation was so long coming. Davies, of course, is hardly the first to confront the question of why it is "so tantalizingly difficult to assimilate the image of the good in Paradise Lost to the image of republican liberty, and evil to the corrupted monarchy,". But she is particularly successful in accommodating the poetry to the prose by thoroughly analyzing the "shamefully simple perception that every major character in Paradise Lost is alluded to by Milton as a king": God, Christ, Satan, Adam, Moloch, Death, Chaos and Eve are all described as royalty.

According to Davies, Milton's strategy is to present his political and ethical vision as a challenge "to distinguish one kind of kingship from another," drawing from quite different traditions the massively monarchic associations of Satan and the royalty of the Father and Son. Davies identifies five different image complexes: for Satan, allusions to the idolatrous pretensions of the Stuarts denounced in the regicide tracts, to the Turkish potentates against whom Cromwell tried to unite Europe, and to the tyrannical, self-deifying and incestuous Caesars whose usurpations against the Roman republic provided Milton with a paradigm for English politics; for Divine monarchy, identifications with the good, Christian emperors, idealized concepts of feudal reciprocity, and images of Father-King who, as Creator, had no earthly counterpart; for Adam, in his fall from "naked majesty," comparison to the imperfect and the impious, but not vicious, kingship of the uxorious Solomon.

Davies explains these allusory contexts in fascinating detail, tracing poetic adaptations so precise, original and startlingly appropriate that one feels either that she is being over-ingenious or that we are being granted access to Miltonic riches hitherto unexposed. Consider, for example, her presentation of Milton's dialectical uses of Roman history. There Milton identifies Satan, not only with violent, chaotic barbarians but also with their Roman conquerors' abuses of law and reason, drawing parallels to the Emperors' evolution from military chiefs to complete dictators through pseudo-democratic manipulation of a puppet Senate, and achievement, through the virtu of conquest, of an honor whose hollowness Milton exposes. Davies writes intriguingly of the bridge built by Sin and Death for Satan's return as "a triumphal arch, that classic statement of Roman pride in victory serving as a soaring statement of triumph over the "deep" quelled by the Romans and their superb building skills ... dramatizing "that aspect of evil which is intelligent, constructive, and all the more terrible and dangerous because it directs its energies through strategies". With characteristic perceptiveness, Davies shows how Satan both imitates and violates conventions of the Roman triumph in ways that mock his empire, earning him a "public scorn" not unlike that which sometimes met returning Roman tyrants. She proposes, moreover, that such details ultimately build a providential pattern in which Satan's arch "awesome as it seems ... appears both inglorious and vulnerable beneath the consummate triumphal arch embodied in the very structure of Paradise Lost ... as the poem soars to the image of Christ in victory as its center" in the image of the rare good Emperor's true imperial majesty.

Davies demonstrates Milton's architechtonic powers anew in a number of such structures: in the true and false apparitions of Christ and Satan as sol iustitae, in the contrast between God and the Son's fatherly ministrations and the absence of kinship bonds between Satan and the devils, and the chiasmus linking Moloch in Book I with Nimrod, his bloody counterpart. How well Davies captures a glint of Milton's archetypal vision:

Once Satan has been established as the archetype of vitiated kingship, which displays itself in overpowering but tawdry magnificence while it feeds on unnatural, predatory cruelty, the image is extended through a kind of family chain of subsidiary kings, invading all time and all space from Moloch to Pharaoh to King Charles[;] ... [t]he image of the king ... is therefore a species of graven image. Milton in Paradise Lost, like the good Josiah who purged Israel, smashed with the power of the sacred muse the idolatrous images that obscure the truth uncovering the blood that is the true coat of King Moloch, King of Death, King Satan, and in another manifestation King Charles ... .

Davies' judicious assessment of Milton's precise appropriations of his iconographic sources is particularly rewarding when applied to such a major critical conundrum as the disturbingly feudal character of Heaven. Davies recognizes the coronation rite behind Christ's exaltation but advises us that Milton discovered it in its ancient roots to be an act of covenant in which a people freely accept a king in return for his recognition of their rights. Davies points to the ubiquitousness here of the feudal circle, that Arthurian round table which signified both order and equality, but she emphasizes as well the symbols omitted, those odious hall-marks of royal pre-rogative excoriated in the prose:

Milton as a court poet stripped court ceremony of materialism. He gained his most spectacular effects by substituting persons for things, spirit for matter, while retaining structures recognizable in the material world. There is no sacramental oil for the annointing, only a deep unseen act of the spirit; no throne for the Son save his Father; no crown save the thorns of his future death; no orb save his creatures; no investitures save with his Father's brightness; and a scepter –ultimately – only in his dying. Yet, in the deeper sense, all these coronation factors are present.

Davies' ability to delineate such complex Miltonic strategies derives partly from her clear grasp of the fact that what Merritt Hughes called "'Irreconcilable hypotheses' compose the very basis not only of Milton's poetry but of his political thinking itself." Davies' understanding of such conflicts, however, is determined by the focus of her study, which she informs us is not political or historical but rests solely on "the images of Paradise Lost as distinct from concepts they embody" and "has as its main aim a desire to understand how Milton's poetry absorbs and recreates the political material on which it draws", this aim is admirably realized.

In her awe, however, at the genius of Milton's attempt to aesthetically resolve historically based conflicts, between hierarchy and equality, for example, Davies may over-estimate his success, precisely because a purely literary study may tend to underestimate the depths of the chasm which Milton's words struggle to bridge. Davies recognizes some of the problems created by Milton's God's moments of seeming despotism and is not unaware of gender and even class biases. Within the confines of this study, however, the possibility is not considered whether such contradictions might create such a profound split in the poem as to undermine and confuse its attack on tyranny. The transformation of real social conflicts into symbolic paradoxes might be a function of religious language Milton's poetry shares, but his own experience of such conflicts may have been too intense to allow him full committment to the arduously constructed but ultimately elusive verbal solutions in Paradise Lost which Davies analyses so well. Milton's confident insistence on the self-defeating character of tyranny and the ultimate triumph of justice celebrated in those oddly feudal festivities of heaven will continue to jar against its own hierarchies and against the revolutionary despair of its quietistic deferral of apocalypse to the distant divine judgment. Milton's faith may falter on that revolution's own unchallenged assumptions, and the massive but finally abstract power relegated to his God may have to fill the abyss in which the unrepentant republican, disillusioned but undefeated, can no longer envision any solution to tyranny. As moderns still trying to resolve the problems Milton so brilliantly exposed, it may be that we must be grateful to him for the inadequacy of his paradoxes to hold and for the providential structures, so ably illuminated by Davies, intended to put him in his place and roam right out of Paradise Lost into contemporary imagination with all the disruptive energy of these unresolved contradictions.

  Jackie DiSalvo, Milton Quarterly

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This exercise in literary criticism, explicitly set apart from political theory, seeks "to understand how Milton's poetry absorbs and re-creates the political material on which it draws". The author is interested in the imagery rather than sociological or political concepts as she studies Milton's use of political material in working out the complex allusions in Paradise Lost – " a great, fluid structure of symbolism into which images, allegories, and concepts melt or blend with other areas of allusion" to yield meanings which "transcend any specifically political constituent". She reads the work not as a polemic to be interpreted "rationalistically", but as a poetic masterpiece with imagery more powerful than its subjects. Paradise Lost "assimilates and transforms political structures". The whole poem, "a great chain of vitiated kingship" across time and space, illustrates the engendering of "new forms of evil in history". "The fraudulent emperors of history are set against the one true Emperor" and His divine kingship. Appropriately, the introductory chapter warns against political interpretations which are commonplace in the secondary literature on Paradise Lost. The critique of secular monarchy is surely present in the poem, but the reader must not allow it to obscure the larger themes (God and man) or the genius of their poetic treatment.

Having thus set forth her objective, the author takes up successive images in six chapters of approximately equal length (30 to 40 pages each). The first, "Kings of This World," gives primary attention to Old Testament rulers such as Nimrod, Moloch, and the kings of Israel and Judah. Chapter two treats the Turkish Sultans and barbarian kings (including the Pharaohs). Next come the Roman emperors and the feudal lords. The last two chapters, on "The Father-King" and "Naked Majesty" bring together Christ and Adam. The universal struggle between God and Satan, and the figure of Charles I, are prominent throughout.

On the whole, this is an admiral piece of scholarship. The interpretation is calm and modest, sensitive and cautious. In preparing a guide to the reading of the poem, a means of entering directly into Milton without pretending to exhaust his imagery, the author prefers under- to over-statement. The argument is simple but carefully wrought; passages are quoted and then explored with few (well-chosen) concurrent references to Milton's other works and to the secondary literature. The book is not a guide to scholarship on Milton, but to Milton himself. It results from the author's own reflections, richly fed by discussions with several generations of undergraduates at the University of Manchester, where she is Lecturer in English Language and Literature.

Documentation is not allowed to overwhelm the argument; there are only ten pages of reference notes. But the writing is well-informed by a thorough grasp of the Renaissance context and comprehensive learning in the primary and secondary materials. There is a well-constructed 13-page bibliography and a detailed index. The author has used the Fowler edition of Paradise Lost (1968), as supplemented by the Columbia and Yale collections of Milton's works.

  The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol XV No. 4 (Winter 1984)

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Stevie Davies examines the paradox that Milton, an ardent republican and regicide, presents God as an absolute monarch in Paradise Lost. She observes that in the epic, not only God, but Satan, the Messiah, and even Adam are hailed as king. She shows how Milton alludes to various kinds of sovereigns, drawing something from the moral ambience, style of visual display, and social organization of each. The title of the book is somewhat misleading because it is neither a study of the political implications of doctrine, nor a detailed political reading of Paradise Lost after the manner of Christopher Hill. Instead it describes the transmutation of political material into poetry. With great cleverness and tact, Davies describes how Milton selects and combines features from power figures of several different kinds – kings, sultans, moguls, imperial Caesars, and feudal lords – and then parcels them out as needed to his demonic and divine characters. It is to Davies' credit that she refrains from making heavy-handed political identifications, but rather shows Satan to be a grand archetypal symbol towering alike over Charles II and Nimrod while suggesting and prefiguring them.

Davies' book is significant, less for fresh historical data adduced than for the arrangement of annotations old and new into arresting perspectives. While it is not surprising that allusions to republican Rome cluster around the Son and references to imperial Rome about Satan, Davies brilliantly marshals these allusions so as to make us locate Satan's relations with Lady Sin in the tradition of Caligula and imperial degeneracy and to make us view the bridge to earth constructed by Sin and Death as a grand triumphal arch. In Milton's work, it is argued, allusion to sultans and moguls from the East carries with it an unambiguously evil association, apparently because the Turk was then a real military threat to Christendom. Nevertheless, these Eastern references have providential allusion built into them. For example, the riches of "Ormus and of Ind," to which Satan's state is likened at the beginning of Book II, would have indicated to a contemporary reader that Satan was doomed, since he would know that the famed Ormuz market had been destroyed by British forces in 1622.

Davies' most original chapter argues that heaven is an idealized version of feudal society – an organization that requires mutual service from lord and vassal – and the mutual pledging of faith. She finds that the grand scene of origination in Paradise Lost (Book V, II. 600 ff.) is based upon medieval coronation ceremonies in matters ranging from phrase and formula to the seating plan of the assembled angels and the drink and dancing afterward. Some features of course are missing. There is no unction pot at the coronation of the Son, and there are no serfs at all in Milton's heaven, only barons like those at Runnymede, who are knit into an intricate pattern of mutual honor – or rather – love and responsibility. Davies' considerable skill at exposition begins to falter on the abundance of heavenly joy and does not manage to convince us that Milton poetically animates the conventional conflation of fatherhood and kingship. The final chapter on the "naked majesty" of Adam and Eve, however, is masterly. Paradise is an adapted feudal realm in which the animals present their fealty to man; the first couple compromise a commonwealth of two, in which power is neatly balanced. Here, as in heaven, godlike "rule is a cooperation between ruler and ruled, a mutual keeping of faith". Images of Kingship is a rich and provocative book.

  Journal of English and Germanic Philology, LXXXIV:1 (Jan. 1985)
 

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This entire presentation Copyright © Stevie Davies