Milton aspiring : belief, influence, and Shakespeare
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Abstract: Over the last several hundred years, literary criticism has paid generous attention to the works of John Milton and his greatest and, in space and time, closest predecessor, William Shakespeare. However as Alwin Thaler observed almost a century ago, “strangely enough . . . it has neglected the relationships between them.” Exploring the literary, ideological, and political reasons for that neglect, this dissertation searches out the ways that Shakespeare influenced Milton and, more specifically, how that influence contributed to the young Milton’s self-fashioning of the poetic identity he desired for himself: to be the vates poet of the English people. The influence of Shakespeare on the young Milton exemplifies a certain version of imitation that G.W. Pigman III has termed “dissimulative,” expanding on common notions of influence, particularly when authors with seemingly disparate approaches to their art still draw from one another in a way that is intentionally difficult to detect, however powerful. Each of the four chapters offers a reading of one of Milton’s early poems alongside one or more germane works by Shakespeare never before been read in the context of Milton’s early poetic development. Chapter 1 explores the two authors’ competing metaphysical notions of time by reading Milton’s mid-winter birth poem, On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, hereafter referred to as the Nativity Ode, alongside Shakespeare’s play set around the “Festival of the Epiphany,” Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will. Chapter 2 explores the two authors’ competing notions of language, how it works and what it should do, by reading Milton’s A Masque to be Presented at Ludlow Castle, hereafter referred to as Comus, alongside Love’s Labour’s Lost and Measure for Measure. Chapter 3 explores the young Milton’s notions of poetic fame, the proper social role of the poet, and opposing approaches to employing poetry as a means to immortality by reading Lycidas alongside a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The final chapter states a never-before suggested claim about Milton’s early verses “On Shakespeare,” namely that the young poet’s work contains layers of irony: while praising and imitating, Milton is also obliquely criticizing his latest and greatest predecessor.