Questions on Prose Selections for English 317 Milton, CSU Fullerton Spring 2013



Email | Home | Syllabus | Policies | Questions | Presentations | Journals | Paper | Final | Blogs
Audio | Guides | Links | CSUF Library | CSUF Catalog | CSUF Calendar | CSUF Exam Schedule


Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing … (1644, pp. 716-49)

Note: The standard divisions of a classical oration are the exordium (which may introduce the speaker/writer and prepare us in some intriguing way for the topic to come), the narratio (which sets forth the basic facts, the main issue), the confirmatio or probatio (which serves as the main body of the argument, the "get down to business" part), the refutatio (which deals with the possible objections of others; this part may be mixed in with the confirmatio, as in the present text), and the peroratio (the conclusion, which often aims to give us a positive view of the speaker, to amplify and reinforce points already made, and to rouse the audience's emotions towards a certain course of action, or towards ultimate acceptance of the argument.)

Of possible interest since Milton's tract is an important document in the intellectual history of free speech: "Milton's Areopagitica and the Modern First Amendment," by Vincent Blasi, Corliss Lamont Professor of Civil Liberties at Columbia University.

1. From 718-20 first full paragraph of Areopagitica (beginning of essay through "… hath caught some of our presbyters") how does Milton prepare his audience and set forth the basic arguments that he will be making? How do his strong remarks about the "living" quality of books sum up the importance of the issue at hand, which is freedom of thought and liberty to publish?

2. From 720 last paragraph - 725 bottom of Areopagitica ("In Athens, where books and wits were ever busier …" through "… until I can dissect one by one the properties is has"), what lessons does Milton draw from the Greeks, Romans, and early Christians regarding how to deal with troublesome books and tracts? In addition, to what two historical events does he trace the development of unjust censorship? Why might that kind of historical trace-back seem like an effective strategy to Milton, considering his audience?

3. From 725 last paragraph to 731 first full paragraph of Areopagitica (from "But I have first to finish …" through ""), Milton shifts to a key part of the argument: "what is to be thought in general of reading books" and whether reading any type of book (even a bad one) is likely to do more good or more harm. How does he address the first of these items through page 729 (namely what is to be thought of reading books, and what good it can do), second full paragraph (ending "And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read")? In responding, consider especially his remarks about "temperance" (727 column 2), as well as his justly famous comments on the relationship between good and evil, on the quality of a "warfaring" Christian , and on the superiority of an active rather than a "fugitive and cloistered" virtue (728-29).

4. From 729 second full paragraph - 731 middle of first full paragraph Areopagitica (from "But of the harm that may result hence …" through "but hindered forcibly they cannot be by all the licensing that sainted Inquisition could ever yet contrive"), Milton deliberates on the harm that is said to result from reading books of dubious standing. What flaws does he expose in the logic of those who would prevent us from reading such books freely?

5. From 731 paragraph 1 to 734 bottom of Areopagitica ("Which is what I promised to deliver next: that this order of licensing conduces nothing to the end for which it was framed …" through "…this Order cannot conduce to that end whereof it bears the intention"), Milton explains why the Licensing Order of 1643 is bound to fail in its aim. What evidence does he offer for his conclusion: what sort of beehive, so to speak, are the censors disturbing when they think to regulate all kinds of discourse? What basic principle do such censors simply not understand, according to Milton?

6. From 734 bottom - 742 column two middle of Areopagitica, (from "I lastly proceed from the no good it can do …" through "… neutral and inwardly divided minds"), Milton shifts into his main argument's final section, which concerns the "discouragement and affront" to learning that the Licensing Order of 1643 presents. How does he reinforce this claim about the widening social and intellectual effects of an insistence of pre-licensing British publications? In responding, consider at least one of the striking analogies and figures Milton offers: his comparison of books to "wares" or commodities (736 bottom – 737 top); his assertion that "a man may be a heretic in the truth" (739 last paragraph); the analogy of the wealthy man who finds religion a hindrance to his pleasures (739 last paragraph - 740); and the remarkable passage incorporating the legend of the Egyptian god Osiris as a figure for the fragmented quality of postlapsarian apprehension of truth (741 last paragraph -742). What does one or more of these passages add by way of insight into the matter Milton is discussing?

7. From 742 column 2 (beginning "Lords and Commons of England …") to the end of Areopagitica, Milton offers what we may call his peroration or concluding segment, which also contains some general refutation of possible objections to his overall argument. What self-image does Milton try to inculcate in addressing his parliamentary audience, and his audience of English people more generally? What points in this section most strongly sum up the case he has been making all along, and why do you find them the most effective?

8. General question, not for a presentation but okay for the journal: Merritt Hughes provides brief information about Milton's unusual title for the present prose tract, which traces back to the speech Areopagiticus by the Greek rhetorician Isocrates (but see also the New Testament's Acts 17: 18-34 featuring Saint Paul's answer to "certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers" in Athens). What is the significance of this Greek connection for Milton's argument? Consider the reputation of the Court of the Areopagus that Hughes addresses, but, time permitting, it would also be worth considering Aeschylus' third play The Eumenides in the trilogy The Oresteia, which partly concerns the founding of the Athenian justice system, an issue that necessarily alludes to the Areopagus Council itself.

9. General question, not for a presentation but okay for the journal: Milton favors liberty of conscience in religious and political matters and his 1644 tract Areopagitica is considered an important document in the history of "freedom of speech and of the press," but a careful reading of it suggests that he wasn't necessarily arguing in favor of absolute liberty of expression, no matter what the topic or view. Milton may not have been so friendly towards certain kinds of expression in modern American society, just as he had no patience with, say, atheism. What's your own view regarding the borders or parameters of acceptable speech and expression? We all know the famous example of "shouting 'Fire!' in a packed theater," but that hardly sums up all that can be said on the issue of free speech and responsibility. What limits do you favor, if any, and why so or why not? In responding, you might find Columbia U Professor Vincent Blasi's essay "Milton's Areopagitica and the Modern First Amendment" useful as background.

10. General question, not for a presentation but okay for the journal: Does the development of strongly partisan, seemingly mutually exclusive interpretive communities on the Internet and on Cable television pose a challenge to the notion that passionate argumentation will eventually lead to recognition of the truth? If so, how? If not, why not? Moreover, is that precisely what John Milton is even arguing, or does it perhaps not capture the most important dimension of his argument in Areopagitica? In responding, as with the previous general question you might find Columbia U Professor Vincent Blasi's essay "Milton's Areopagitica and the Modern First Amendment" useful as background.

From The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, (1643, pp. 696-715)

Of interest: History of Women.org's Page on Divorce.

11. The dedication of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce from 697-702 functions to some extent like an exordium in a classical oration, which portion generally seeks favor from the hearers, casts the speaker as credible, and suggests why the topic is important. (Milton also offers a preview of his reasoning and a brief peroration at the end, so in that sense the dedication may be said to work rather like a "mini-oration.") So how does Milton accomplish those things in his dedication? In responding, consider at least some of the following: his remarks about "custom," comments about England's position in intellectual and theological history, and references to the key virtue of charity.

12. From 702-705 of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, namely the Preface of Book 1, how does Milton delineate his argument, and how does he make it clear that it will partly have to do with the nature of interpretation itself? What would you say is the lynchpin of the case he will make: what assumption about God's purpose for men and women's relationships scripts much of what he will go on to argue?

13. From 705-07 of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, namely Chapters 1-2 of Book 1, how does Milton deal with the authority of Moses regarding divorce? What does he suggest is the best way to read and extend what that ancient authority is said to have uttered on the issue? How does he enlist the help of modern interpreters such as the early sixteenth-century German scholar of Hebrew, Paulus Fagius?

14. From 707-08 of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, namely Ch. 3 of Book 1, how does Milton defend against the notion that complaining of intellectual or personality-based incompatibility after one marries is an insufficient reason for divorce? Why is it so easy for young people to end up in an unhappy marriage?

15. From 708-10 of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, namely Chs. 4-5 of Book 1, how does Milton reinforce his argument that overly strict laws about divorce violate the first rule of Christian conduct, which is charity? Why is it uncharitable not to allow an unhappy marriage to end, according to him – what ill effects are quite likely to follow when ill-suited partners must remain together?

16. From 711-12 of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, namely Chapter 6 of Book 1, what use does Milton make of the Greek legend of Eros and Anteros, drawn in part from Plato's Phaedrus 255 (use "find" to search for the word "Anteros")? How does this legend support his argument about the purpose of marriage and the true nature of relations between the sexes?

17. From 712-14 of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, namely Chapter 1 of Book 2, Milton insists that with regard to Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 19:3-9, he "meant not to be taken word for word …" (713). What method does Milton suggest Jesus employed in this and other encounters with those who either couldn't or wouldn't understand his teachings? Moreover, what relationship does Milton assert between Hebrew Scripture and the Gospels regarding divorce?

18. From 714-15 of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, namely Chapter 3 of Book 2, how does Milton counter rigid opponents of divorce by suggesting that they would make God's law a reinforcement of sin and God himself guilty of sin? What is his reasoning on this point?

19. General question, not for a presentation but okay for journal: a fair number of passages in the Bible either directly or indirectly address the issue of marriage and divorce – here is one site that offers a substantial list with the most relevant parts of the text referenced: 36 Bible Verses about Marriage and Divorce. Based on your interpretation of at least some of these passages (in some cases that may require reading the material surrounding them, not only the immediate quotation, what picture emerges for you regarding the Bible's statements about divorce? Does it sound like Milton has a good case in The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, or is he at least partly rationalizing or reinterpreting the Bible's statements to support his view that divorce may be granted on a broader basis than sexual infidelity on the woman's part?

20. General question, not for a presentation but okay for journal: it's painfully obvious that the legal system of Milton's day was not at all geared towards what we "C21ers" would call "equality in the eyes of the law" with regard to gender. Men and women certainly did not enjoy the same rights, and there was really no thought of their doing so, either. Where exactly in our Hughes anthology selections from Milton's The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce does this kind of male gender bias come through most clearly? Can his argument easily be extended to apply to women trapped in a bad marriage, too, or do you find that difficult to do? Explain your reasoning for responding as you do.

"The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates" (1649, pp. 750-80)

Of interest: The Death Warrant for Charles I | The List of Regicides | BBC English Civil War Timeline | Prof. J.P. Sommerville on the ECW

21. From 750 - 53 column two of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (beginning through "… they think it only surviving in their own faction"), who does Milton principally identify as his opponents in the present argument over whether or not Cromwell and his faction were right to depose King Charles I and then later execute him on January 30, 1649? What motives does he attribute to these opponents, and how does he back up such accusations?

22. From 753 column 2 bottom - 756 column 2 The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates ("But now that their censorious domineering …" through "… least of all to be endured by free-born men"), what account does Milton offer of how the institution of monarchy developed in primitive times, and further, what account does he offer of the basic limitations that subjects have found it necessary to place upon such an institution? What inferences about the relationship between monarchs and the people does he draw from those limitations? Analyze Milton's ideas in this section in terms of what we might call "social contract theory": how is he describing the original contract that fallen humanity supposedly allowing themselves to be governed?

23. Again regarding 753 column 2 bottom - 756 column 2 of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates ("But now that their censorious domineering …" through "… least of all to be endured by free-born men"), if you are familiar with Thomas Hobbes's 1651 philosophical work Leviathan, how would you contrast the social contract theory Milton implicitly offers with Hobbes's political absolutism? What is the point of fundamental disagreement between the two men with regard to the nature and purpose of government? (Chapter XVIII might be a good section of Leviathan to use in making your comparison.)

24. From 756 column 2 last paragraph - 759 column 2 of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates ("And surely no Christian prince …" through "… as they shall judge most conducing to the public good"), what use does Milton make of classical precedent and more particularly the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament as he develops his ideas about the manner in which monarchs are in fact accountable to the people for their actions?

25. From 759 column 2 bottom - 764 column 1 of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates ("We may from hence with more ease and force of argument …" through "… and put to death their kings in those primitive Christian times"), Milton first returns to the issue of what exactly a tyrant is, and then draws on examples both foreign and domestic to explain what it is permissible to do to a tyrant. So what is a tyrant: how does Milton define that term? And why does he go on to expend so much energy in the next several pages not only leveling the relationship between monarch and subjects but also effectively construing as "foreigners" those who deserve the label of tyrant, even if they hold their title as natives of the place they rule?

26. From 764 column 2 - 773 column 2 of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates ("the examples which follow shall be all protestant, and chiefly presbyterian" through "… and traduced the zeal of his people"), and indeed to the end of the treatise on 780, Milton focuses sustained ire on the Presbyterians against whom he had begun the present treatise. What examples does he offer, in the first place, of sometime Presbyterian willingness to fight against and depose their rulers, and then to treat them like ordinary criminals subject to the full penalty of the law? And what has caused the lamentable change, in Milton's view, in their attitude during the lead-up to the execution of King Charles I? Why did they turn hypocritical and shrink from consummating the process they had begun?

27. Back on 771 column 2 of The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, Milton had written that "if the parliament and military counsel do what they do without precedent, if it appear their duty, it argues the more wisdom, virtue, and magnanimity, that they know themselves able to be a precedent to others…." Yet from 773 column 2 bottom - 777 column 1 bottom ("And that they be not what they go for…" through "… usurpation over the consciences of all men"), he offers us yet another spate of examples and precedents. A question about Milton's rhetorical strategy, then, arises: why is it so vital to him to offer such examples that he has peppered every section of his argument with them? No doubt examples are an important part of classical rhetoric, but why are they so important in the present treatise?

28. General question, okay for journal but not for presentation: when you consider Milton's treatise in terms of its content and its rhetorical qualities, do you find it convincing as a justification for regicide in the wake of the king's conviction on charges of "High Treason and other high Crymes," as the death warrant calls his offenses? Why or why not? What specific parts or features of the text lead you to think as you do?

Edition: Milton, John. Complete Poems and Major Prose. Ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. Hackett: 2003. ISBN-13: 978-0872206786.

Archive Menu

Magnet Academy

Google Search