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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: June ::
Re: Paradise Lost [Final Posting]
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1495  Thursday, 6 June 2002

[1]     From:   Ira Zinman <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 5 Jun 2002 14:50:01 EDT
        Subj:   Re: Paradise Lost --See Sonnet 144

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 05 Jun 2002 16:01:27 -0400
        Subj:   Paradise Lost

[3]     From:   Anna Kamaralli <
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        Date:   Thursday, 06 Jun 2002 12:47:16 +1000
        Subj:   Re: Paradise Lost [Ultimate or Penultimate]


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ira Zinman <
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Date:           Wednesday, 5 Jun 2002 14:50:01 EDT
Subject:        Re: Paradise Lost --See Sonnet 144

I thank those who have contributed on the Adam and Eve issue and, of
course, the LARGER symbolism for all of us may be suggested in Sonnet
144.

As we know Shakespeare was influenced by Ovid, and the influence of
Augustinian themes is also no surprise.  While Sonnet 144 maybe be
thought of as just one of the dark lady sonnets, this is its plain or
literal interpretation only.  The Bard's understanding of the human
condition went deeper, I believe.

WS tells us in sonnet 144:

        To win me soon to hell, my female evil
        Tempteth my better angel from my side,

These lines smack a bit of the Adam blame Eve scenario, but wait, the
Sonnet goes on:

    And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
        Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
        And whether that my angel be turn'd fiend
        Suspect I may, but not directly tell;
            But being both from me, both to each friend

WS is saying that the two male and female qualities are "both from me"
and further "both to each friend".

On the deeper level of interpretation, this is the classic battle within
each one of us between the soul and the ego, Wisdom vs. Heart
(Feeling).   The reference to the "worser spirit a woman colorur'd ill"
and "my female evil", are not aspersions cast against women.
Shakespeare clearly states in the Sonnet, But being both from me, both
to each friend.  In the esoteric sense, the analogy of the sensuous mind
to the female, and the wisdom-guided mind of discrimination to the male
was used by Christian saints and mystics who pre-dated Shakespeare, and
who were influenced by the writings of St. Augustine.  In that
perspective,  the lower, or sensory mind is like is woman who must be
controlled or dominated by the higher mind or consciousness, which is
likened to a man.  In the Adam and Eve story, they are "both to each
friend" in the sense that within the Human Nature there is the balancing
between Reason or Intellect, and Feeling.  In a sense, when the serpent
of temptation comes along the Feeling or (Sense nature in man) sometimes
gives in and Reason goes out the window, in a manner of speaking.

Shakespeare's complete understanding of the human nature is manifest in
all his works and is merely reiterated in Sonnet 144. Sonnet 146, is
already well-accepted as manifesting the theme of the soul of man held
captive in the "sinful earth" or human frame, in which the "Rebel
powers" of the senses and ego often run amuck.

And lastly, this has been.......

PUT SO SIMPLY BY A NATIVE AMERICAN INDIAN who was asked to comment on
his condition. He stated, "I feel like I have these two dogs inside of
me who are always fighting.  One of them is real mean and the other is
good.  The questioner then asked, "Which one wins?

After some moments of reflection, the Native American stated, "The one I
feed the most."

Shakespeare is a bit more eloquent but the point is the same.

Regards,
Ira Zinman

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
        Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
        The better angel is a man right fair,
        The worser spirit a woman, colour'd ill.
        To win me soon to hell, my female evil
        Tempteth my better angel from my side,
        And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
        Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
        And whether that my angel be turn'd fiend
        Suspect I may, but not directly tell;
        But being both from me, both to each friend
        I guess one angel in another's hell:
            Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
            Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 05 Jun 2002 16:01:27 -0400
Subject:        Paradise Lost

Since Hardy has been kind enough to allow one more round on the question
of Eve in _PL_, I want to voice my approval of Stephen Buhler's
thoughtful and fair remarks about Milton's depiction of the fall.

Two observations seem central to me:

1. Misogyny is a CONSEQUENCE of the fall. That seems clear from the text
and is actually illustrated by Adam when he tries to blame their fallen
condition on Eve alone. Only a misogynist reader would buy Adam's
argument.

2. The creation of Eve in Book 8 (ll. 379ff) may be the central scene in
respect to the question of equality of the sexes in _PL_. The careful
reader will note that Adam complains about the inferiority of the
animals he is in charge of and asks God for an equal so that he can have
fit companionship.  God tells Adam that he will like his new companion,
for she will be

        "Thy likeness, thy fit help, thy other self" (l. 450).

In short, Adam and Eve are created essentially as equals, and no less an
authority than God Himself proclaims it so. The only way to see Eve as
an inferior here is to emphasize that Adam is created first and so is
somehow "better" than Eve. Adam may think this way at times, but facts
are facts, and "equals" are "equals."

This is not to say that the relationship between Adam and Eve is not
problematic as it unfolds before the reader. For example, Adam assumes
the role of teacher and explainer, and he can be patronizing at times.

Whether this proceeds from his sense that he has more experience than
Eve (which is true) or his view that he is smarter than Eve (which may
not be true) is a vexed question.

It may be that in _PL_ Milton decided to allow for two views of marriage
and male/female companionship: the older Pauline tradition ("Wives, be
subject to your husbands"), and the newer, Protestant doctrine of the
companionate marriage ("hand-in-hand"). My own feeling is that these two
views battle it out throughout _PL_, and that Milton felt, rightly or
wrongly, that the sexes were equal but not identical. Men, Milton seems
to feel, are more apt to be leaders and to take charge; women, he seems
to think, are emotionally stronger and able to take adversity much
better than men. I suspect he also thought that men often assume
superiority when it is NOT warranted.

We may well decide today that Milton was wrong, but good readers of _PL_
recognize that he did NOT see women as inferiors, else what is the
creation scene all about?

Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Anna Kamaralli <
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Date:           Thursday, 06 Jun 2002 12:47:16 +1000
Subject:        Re: Paradise Lost [Ultimate or Penultimate]

If I haven't already missed the last round, I would like to grab the
opportunity to divert this discussion even further from Shakespeare.

Stephen Buhler has observed that:

Lanyer argues that Eve was motivated by a commendable desire for
knowledge--which she was eager to share with Adam--and was misled by the
serpent as to the consequences of her action.  In contrast, Adam shared
in the transgression primarily because (following the biblical account)
the fruit looked good.

This perspective lays open the fascinating inherent parallels between
Genesis and the Greek Prometheus / Epimetheus story.  Eve is really the
Semitic version of Prometheus, responsible for bringing mankind out of
ignorance and into knowledge.  Prometheus, however, was regarded as a
hero, whereas Eve generally got to play only the Pandora role of the one
regarded as bringing evil into the world.  It would be exciting to
explore the idea of her action as something heroic.

Adam is something of an Epimetheus, the man to whom the gods gave
Pandora as a wife.  Prometheus had warned him not to accept any gift
from the gods, but that fruit just looked so damn good.

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