“Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation” Milton, Print, and Nationhood
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Abstract This study begins by examining the interconnections between print and nationalism in John Milton’s prose works in order to demonstrate that Milton’s interest in print—including print-related activities like reading, writing, and publishing—is not simply a byproduct of his vocation. Instead, I argue that Milton consciously registered his reliance on and use of print in writing the nation. Further, I argue that Milton’s writing of the nation is in keeping with a modern definition of nationalism as a unifying cultural construct that wields considerable emotional poignancy despite its lack of ideological specificity. In making this argument, I am adapting a modern definition of nationalism and arguing against scholars who see nationalism as a product of modernity. I organize my dissertation into two sections: the first section, chapters 2 and 3, discusses the confluence of print and nationalism while the second section, chapters 4 and 5, examines Milton’s poems, Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes, as nation-building texts. As chapters 2 and 3 demonstrate, Milton had an acute awareness of the role of print in the public life of the nation, and he shaped his own identity as an author based on his contribution to England’s print culture. In chapters 4 and 5, I look at the ways Milton’s poems suggest a continuation of his commitment to nation-building although the poems were written during the Restoration: a period of time when Milton would have doubted the critical capabilities of his fellow countrymen. Paradise Lost continues the recuperative work undertaken in prose pieces like Eikonoklastes by helping to educate the reader in political reading. In Samson Agonistes, Milton explores the way that the individual and nation are vulnerable to the same sort of corruption which emphasizes the degree to which inward and outward servitude is linked. Yet, neither poem gives up on “nationalism” as a source of individual liberty and positive form of community. Instead, both poems offer an examination of nationalism that balances the nation’s potential with a consideration of the limits and possible abuses of this potential.