Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A working thesis (finally)

At this point this is still a very rough thesis, but I think I finally have one that is able to move forward.  So I've mentioned in previous blog posts that I'm interested in looking at archetype of the "overreacher" in Milton's Satan.  Milton certainly didn't invent the overreacher, though his Satan has come to be perhaps the prime example of one, such that it would influence later works like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Byron's Manfred.  So here is my working thesis (more or less):  Milton followed the literary tradition of the overreacher (as seen in works like Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great and Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare's Macbeth, and the story of Icarus) in order to use it as a template to represent his personal experiences and the historical context that he had lived through.  It's interesting to look at Paradise Lost through the lens of the Cromwell, the Interregnum, and the Restoration.

This is what I have currently as far as a thesis.  If anyone has any research that they think might fit well with this, please let me know.


  1. I like the intertextuality both forwards and backwards. One thing to keep in mind is that overreaching has a negative moral connotation, whereas "ambition" is a more ambiguous term. Milton wouldn't have allowed to think of himself as an overreacher, though being ambitious would be more acceptable and is in the tradition of Renaissance self-fashioning. I don't think Milton used the negative connotation of overreaching in reflecting on his own life. But it is intriguing to see him in a line with Macbeth (or perhaps Machiavelli). The Christian component also complicates things, as Milton was very centered on Christian morality and would have found Machiavelli or Macbeth repugnant. Good topic.

  2. I agree with Dr. Burton that Milton wouldn't have seen himself as an overreacher per se. We can't ignore, however, the fact that ambition is presented as one of Satan's and Eve's central vices in Paradise Lost. It (or pride, ambition's sister) can be seen as the prime cause for each of the respective falls, and though Milton presents himself (or at least the nameless poet) as one who aspires toward greatness, the fact that he is writing a work about fallenness would seem to suggest that he is trying to sort out his own views on his personal condition. His similarities with the Satan figure lend to this point of view as well. The way I see it at least is that no one really wants to be an overreacher: they simply feel like they have some sort of goal they have to accomplish in life--a 'divine call'--and that sometimes forces them into compromising situations (as with Macbeth's revenge or Milton's political activism).

    1. Also, you might look into Harold Bloom's chapter on "Milton's Hamlet" in The Anatomy of Influence. I have the BYU library's copy right now, but seeing as we live 30 seconds from one another, you'd be welcome to borrow it for an evening or browse through it or whatever.

      Bloom, Harold. The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life. New Haven, CT: Yale U P. 2011. Print.