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Literary Collections Essays

The Prison and the Pinnacle

edited by Balachandra Rajan

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Dec 1973
Essays, Poetry, 17th Century
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    Publish Date
    Dec 1973
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This volume brings together five papers read at the University of Western Ontario in 1971 to mark the tercentenary of the publication of Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. It commemorates what tradition has regarded as Milton’s final poetic communication.


In the first essay, Arthur Barker describes Milton’s progress towards his last two poems, placing his ideas and ideals within a seventeenth-century context. Closely argued, the essay relates Paradise Lost to Samson Agonistes, and both works to Milton’s earlier poetry and prose. Barbara Lewalski, in a seminal essay, explores the complex ways in which the ideas of time and history contribute to Paradise Lost: to develop its thematic subtleties, advance its dramatic action, and assist in the characterization of the principal personages. The editor’s essay reveals how in Samson Agonistes Milton dramatized his idea that an ethic of self-reliance must be made to join hands with a theology of dependence.’ He also explores, for the first time, the proposition that Milton published Paradise: Regained and Samson Agonistes, together because he meant to say something through the juxtaposition. Irene Samuel rejects the usual reading of Paradise Regained – that it concerns an identity crisis – and proposes that its central concern is the choice of a life style. In the concluding essay, Northrop Frye contends that ‘Milton intended Paradise Regained to be a Christian conquest of the Classical genre of dramatic tragedy.’ He argues that both poems express the central revolutionary attitude, in social and religious contexts, that Milton held and expressed in his prose writings.


The variety of approaches in this volume demonstrates the breadth of the poet’s vision and advances our knowledge of Milton along very original lines.

About the author

Balachandra Rajan was a professor emeritus in the Department of English at the University of Western Ontario.

Balachandra Rajan's profile page

Other titles by Balachandra Rajan