Exiled from Light: Divine Law, Morality, and Violence in Milton's Samson Agonistes

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University of Toronto Press, Jan 1, 2001 - Literary Criticism - 247 pages

Despite considerable general disagreement about the meaning of Milton's Samson Agonistes, literary critics have largely come to view, Samson, as a saintly Christian hero, with attending themes of election, conversion and regeneration. In a challenge to this dominant interpretation, Derek Wood proposes that Milton's protagonist is actually an emblematic embodiment of Old Testament consciousness as a rigorous, incomplete, literalistic and uncomprehending, fashioned by the old Mosaic Law, without the amelioration of Christ's charity and forgiveness.

Wood begins by surveying and evaluating the critical literature on Samson Agonistes of the past fifty years, then challenges these readings through a comprehensive textual and formal analysis. He argues for a thorough understanding of Artistotle's theory of tragedy, in which Milton's practice was anchored and draws cogently on early modern European commentaries as well as contemporary re-evaluations of Aristotle's Poetics to clarify Milton's approach.

Wood's contribution reconciles the orthodox interpretation of Samson as a Christian saint with the revisionist emphasis on his murderous brutality. The author's analysis corrects a number of errors made by previous Milton scholars, shows how Dalila has been consistently misread and decodes the politics of the tragedy in the context of Milton's final years as an aging, failed revolutionary.

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The Critics and Some Problems of Meaning
Intertextuality Indirection and Indeterminacy
Fictional Consciousness and the Authors Voice
Theory Form and Meaning
Sin Regeneration the Hero of Faith
Love and Marriage
Divine Impulsion in the Hero of Faith Charity
The Structure of Samson Agonistes
Milton and Politics in Old Age
Index of Biblical Citations

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About the author (2001)

Derek N.C. Wood is Professor of English at St Francis Xavier University.

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