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Milton and the Problem of Ethical Dramatic Representation

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In 1671, John Milton published Samson Agonistes, a closet drama written in the tradition of Greek tragedy, having as its subject the biblical story of Samson. It opens with Samson, former hero of Israel because of his strength, now a

In 1671, John Milton published Samson Agonistes, a closet drama written in the tradition of Greek tragedy, having as its subject the biblical story of Samson. It opens with Samson, former hero of Israel because of his strength, now a blind prisoner of the Philistines who questions the reason for his previous calling and great gift of strength in light of his current captivity, the result of his failure to withstand temptation in the wiles of his former wife. Through the narrative of the drama, Samson engages with various characters, some sympathetic to his plight, and others, enemies, to move from an inactive despair to the hope that God might be able to use him again to a final devastating action, which is either his greatest feat, in response to "inner promptings," or a tragic act of self¬wrought vengeance.

Throughout Milton's work, we see the connection between the private, inner response to reason, worked out in a public, political setting. The difficulty with Samson, then, is the interpretation of that connection: knowing if his public action proves the moral fitness of his intellectual life, and whether his action can be instructive to an audience within the drama. To understand more clearly the way that Milton conceptualizes Samson's rational process, we will examine three texts which relate to Samson Agonistes in the way they engage questions of the ethical implications of dramatic representation. The first is Aristotle's classical treatise on the elements of tragedy, the second is a closet drama that works from a didactic and political framework contemporary to Milton's but in sharp contrast, and the third is a drama that overlaps dialogue of multiple perspectives, one which Milton draws from and adapts. Each text is a model for Milton, and we can approach a way of understanding the meaning of Samson Agonistes by thinking about Milton's relationship - what he applies, transforms, or rejects from each - to other representations of dramatic education.

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2004-05

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Self-silencing in the early modern theater

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This dissertation considers why several characters on the Early Modern Stage choose to remain silent when speech seems warranted. By examining the circumstances and effects of self-silencing on both the character and his/her community, I argue that silencing is an

This dissertation considers why several characters on the Early Modern Stage choose to remain silent when speech seems warranted. By examining the circumstances and effects of self-silencing on both the character and his/her community, I argue that silencing is an exercise of power that simultaneously subjectifies the silent one and compels the community (textual or theatrical) to ethical self-examination. This argument engages primarily with social philosophers Pierre Bourdieu, Alain Badiou, and Emmanual Levinas, considering their sometimes contradictory ideas about the ontology and representation of the subject and the construction of community. Set alongside the Early Modern plays of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and Thomas Kyd, these theories reveal a rich functionality of self-silencing in the contexts of gender relations, aberrant sociality, and ethical crisis. This multi-faceted functionality creates a singular subject, establishes a space for the simultaneous existence of the subject and his/her community, offers an opportunity for empathetic mirroring and/or insight, and thereby leads to social unification. Silence is, in its effects, creative: it engenders empathy and ethical self- and social-reflection.

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2011