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История литературы / 18. Samson Agonistes

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John Milton (1608 – 1674) was an English poet & political writer. His most popular work is “Paradise Lost”, which was written in 1667. Then in 1671 he wrote “Paradise regained” & “Samson Agonistes”, which were published in one volume. Shakespeare died at 52 & Milton at this age was reborn as a poet. Long time he tried to write a play. (theatre was popular) He wanted to write a play about the nature of original sin. As a Renaissance man, he wanted to investigate the issue,to prove that Adam and Eve had no choice. For 10 more years he dictated his works to daughters. Paradise Lost (1667) is the culmination of his life's work. It took place between the Restoration period and The Great plague. His early poems, the exquisite "L'Allegro," "Il Penseroso," "Lycidas," and the sonnets would all secure him a place among the finest English poets. But it is Paradise Lost which makes it impossible for you to ignore Milton. He wrote Paradise Regained afterward, but it has nothing like the stature of Paradise Lost. Milton's final work, Samson Agonistes, is a Greek drama as impressive as Paradise Lost in everything except size. "Par Reg" is less intense, less titanic & doesn't have the dramatic vision of life. "SA" shows Milton's using of all his strength & the experience of all life&he was able to give the world a sacred tragedy. As to Samson he is the only human being who struggles against his own sin & he sinned against his God & was punished a lot. He is the only human being now who tries to imitate Crist from "Paradise Regained" in order to expiate his sin. It makes the whole trilogy one whole. Samson is LIKE Milton. Milton's purpose was to free his country, he was blind like Samson. He had an unhappy marriage & had been delivered into the hands of godless enemy. If we look at the "SA" we can see a parallel. Milton's wife left him. Milton wanted to be a hero for his country, he tried to fight for his country & defeat the monarchy. Samson trusted Delaila, but it's not clear if he loved her. M is a hero & he wanted people to understand that country needed a character. Oliver Cromwell could be the leader. Milton & Samson are spiritually different. Samson is a philosopher who tried to interpret God's words. He mediated upon his own sins. Milton had never admitted that he's summoned it. Themes: 1) Patriotism - being sentenced to death, Samson tries to save his people. 2) the theme of sacrifice.3) theme of women, their behavior, betrayal, their role in life. This is a typical tragedy-conflict, suffering, people die or got blind. Samson-patriotic, suffers,gets blind & die in the end. This is a poem, in which we see strong spirit. The poem has little excitement&it depends on delicate psychological ideas & accents. Here Milton once again shows: that he is not defeated. Milton is the last Renaissance poet, who could embrace the vision of the epoch. Samson Agonistes draws on the story of Samson from the Old Testament, agony of soul, body, it tortures Samson., because he is disobedient. He married Delyla (philistine), and he was jewish-from another tribe. Milton added characters to the biblical story (Harapha the giant and the Publick Officer. In lines 1248-49, Milton calls him "Father of five Sons/ All of Gigantic Size, Goliath chief."), ignored some (Samson's mother). The drama starts in the middle of the story. Samson has been captured by the Philistines, had his hair, the container of his strength, cut off and his eyes cut out. Samson is "Blind among enemies, O worse than chains" (66). He feels he's betrayed his religion and his people. In comes the Chorus, a group of his Hebrew friends. They try to be helpful, but Samson seems to become more and more miserable. Then Manoa, Samson's father, shows up. He wants to negotiate with the Philistine authorities to secure Samson's release, but no dice. Samson feels that he deserves to be in prison. Shortly after his dad departs, Samson's infamous Philistine ex-wife Dalila pays a visit. We learn that she's the reason Samson is in prison: she betrayed the secret that his amazing strength depends on his hair. She told her people, they cut his hair, arrested him, blinded him... and here he is in prison. But she's here to apologize and explain. Obviously, Samson is completely uninterested in hearing her excuses and says lots of insulting things to her. After Samson rejects Dalila’s pleas, she asks for Samson to "let me approach at least, and touch thy hand" (line 951), and Samson responds, "Not for thy life, lest fierce remembrance wake / My sudden rage to tear thee joint by joint". He suggests to Dalila how to not upset him: “At distance I forgive thee, go with that". The Chorus, shortly after, complains about the nature of women and how deceptive they are. She leaves in a fury, she's now a hero among her people. Last but definitely not least is the Philistine giant Harapha, who says he's just come by to check out this famous Samson. He also says that he wishes Samson were in better physical condition so they could fight it out and see who's strongest. Samson is totally down, but Harapha won't fight a blind guy. Harapha points out that Samson is ... no worthy match For valor to assail, nor by the sword Of noble warrior ...But by the barber’s razor best subdued (lines 1164-7) Just then, a messenger arrives with the order for Samson to come perform in a Philistine festival. Samson rejects—and then thinks better of it, saying he has had this vague but powerful feeling that he's meant to go and perform some great deed. He runs away, just missing his father, who's back with good news that he successfully bribed some Philistine leaders and can now take Samson home. Just as the Chorus is about to celebrate this good news, they hear a horrible shriek. Another messenger runs in and reports that Samson has killed both himself and the entire Philistine elite by toppling the roof of the theater.. “Samson Agonistes” is very much different from “Paradise regained” (though supposedly they were written at the same time). It’s a tragedy & we can say that in this work Milton’s poetry found its completion. “Samson Agonistes” shows Milton’s using of all his strength & the experience of all life time, his satisfaction that at last he could implement his project of giving the world a sacred tragedy.

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