Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Babblers vs. Nimrods: Milton on Gods Gatekeeping Ethics

Here's my final research paper. I plan to submit it to the 2014 English Symposium, “Mightier than the Sword: The Power of Literature and Literacy,” so please feel free to send any critique you may have my way.

A Teaser...

For many historians, the pamphlet wars of the seventeenth century largely define the English Revolution as the first modern revolution “complete with a nascent public sphere, people beginning to perceive themselves as public actors, and, most importantly, a free press that empowered both” (Wheeler 340). It was in this context that Milton’s political pamphlets—including Areopagitica, which defends the very principles the seventeenth-century pamphleteering depended on—was published. The novelty of widespread, printed public debate was not lost on those of Milton’s era. Bookseller George Thomason, Milton’s friend, collected some 22,000 pamphlets 
and other publications between 1640 and 1660 to commemorate their historical significance (Pooley 231). In contrast, Royalist detractors—publishing their criticism in pamphlets, ironically—often used post-Babel babble as a symbol for the budding public sphere and to “restore authority to the King’s language” (Holston 18).
When read in this context, Book XII appears to riff on Royalist Babel rhetoric. The “hoarse and incoherent warfare” (Abrams 1506) of the pamphleteers may bear a striking resemblance to Babel’s confusion, but as Paradise Lost identifies the Tower of Babel as a throne or royal palace—“what food will he convey up thither to sustain himself and his rash army,” Adam asks the archangel, deriding Babel’s royalists—Milton suggests Britain, like Babel was set in confusion by God to curtail “authority usurped, from God not giv’n” (XII.66-76). Book XII justifies even artless political pamphlets, “though to the tyrant thereby no excuse” (96). Evidently Milton believed man’s fall from Eden was not the only felix culpa in the Bible.

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