Literal figures of speech : the book and the body politic in Milton's Areopagitica

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Dobranski, Stephen B.

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This paper will explore the tropic structure of Milton's pamphlet in an effort to understand Milton's idea of authorship. To whom does Milton grant the creation of a book: to the author who writes it, to the reader who must interpret it, or to the publisher who finds it an audience? The problem some modern readers encounter with Areopagitica lies in their misunderstanding of the passage cited above; many modern readers impose onto the speech some kind of post-Romantic notion of the writer as a solitary creator. One must remember, however, that Milton composes Areopagitica in 1644, more than 150 years before Wordsworth, writing as a representative of late eighteenth century Romanticism, will locate the origin of a poem in the individual writer over the external world. Milton's pamphlet instead reflects the values of his seventeenth century culture; in his speech he envisions writing as a process of co-authorship. When taken out of context, the above passage heralding a writer's 'progeny' may appear to argue for an author's autonomy. Yet, with a more careful inspection of Milton's figures of speech and legal citations, one discovers that even while emphasizing the role of the writer, Milton never entirely excludes the contributions of the reader and publisher. If Milton seems to argue more adamantly for a writer's contribution over the importance of these other agents, he does so to offset the views of a society that marginalizes the writer's role.