"A Judge After the Sentence of the Law:"

Fictional Consciousness in Milton's Samson



Most readers of Samson Agonistes still consider that Samson is a tragic hero intended to command admiration and respect, and that Milton presents him as a model for Christian imitation. However, the questions and doubts are increasing. When Anthony Low pictured Samson as a gloriously triumphant Christian hero: "the image and example of the champion of God" (117), he dismissed objections to Samson's violence by drawing on Milton's prose to justify force used by the Christian magistrate against God's enemies. When M.A.N. Radzinowicz concluded that the destruction of the temple is "a human imaging of God's might ... an exemplary act which teaches how God gives freedom" (346), she devoted little of her long and sensitive study of the play to answering the objections of Irene Samuel who finds in Samson's last words that, "It is still a monomaniac who speaks and the mania is still egomania." This maniac brings himself to destruction through his "shortcomings" (246-250). Readers who do not believe that Samson is an exemplary Christian have recently received powerful support from J. W. Wittreich who insists that "Milton's `martyr play' is ... less a celebration than a censure of its hero" (326).

Those who reject the image of a saintly Samson tend to agree in condemning the ugly morality of violence celebrated in the catastrophic destruction of the temple. Indeed, their engagement with the text in those places which present a hero who appears to be presumptuous, untruthful and brutal is generally more convincing than those who find in it a Christian saint. To dismiss them as sentimental modern liberals or revisionists is to evade the fact of the text. On the other hand, their insistence that Samson is satanic or demonic or fallen again itself does violence to the textual evidence of Samson's unremitting and agonised commitment to doing the will of God. There can be no doubt that Samson is a hero of faith in both the text of Milton's play and that of the Letter to Hebrews. The reading I will suggest is something of a compromise. It should satisfy those who have serious reservations about treating Samson's ethic as ideal or exemplary and cannot reconcile it with that taught to Adam by Michael. It should also be acceptable to those who believe that Samson is as good a man as he can possibly be, for the text does not, I am convinced, present a "hero" who is satanic or a sinner. In essence, I suggest that the play dramatises in Samson a fictional Old Testament consciousness. This is different, even in a morally committed individual, from the consciousness made possible by the full Revelation of the Gospel and by the instructive example of Christ's incarnate life in time. W. O. Madsen pointed out years ago that Milton "is concerned with measuring the distance between the various levels of awareness ... possible to those living under the old dispensation and the level of awareness revealed by Christ in Paradise Regained" (198). The implications of this have not been observed in many readings put forward since then. Samson quits himself like Samson, not like Christ. This reading is close in some respects to that of Hugh MacCallum, just published in Milton Studies. It is in agreement with his on "the incompleteness of the revelation made through [Samson's] suffering" and on "the absence from it of an informing spirit of charity" (MacCallum 285-6). However, Samson's ethic is harsher and less admirable than MacCallum suggests it is. Samson's ethic and consciousness contrast with Christ's. In this negative way, Samson Agonistes points, as so much of Milton's writing does, to the centrality of Christ in Milton's thought.

Most of the orthodox interpretations of the play are "contextualist": they seek to illuminate textual ambiguities and cruxes by reference to a relevant context of ideas, theological, socio-historical or poetic. The problem with this is neatly stated by Dr. Wittreich:

Disagreements are likely to arise not over the efficacy of contextualization but over concern whether this or that context is the relevant one, the valid tradition--over concern with promoting one ideology, while protecting the poem from another (51).



Right now, criticism of Samson must deal with an inevitable tension between text and context. The contextualist must be reminded of textual evidence that is inconvenient because it does not fit a pattern derived from the mosaic of the context.

Many readings of Samson as a saint or as a type of Christ or as an example of Christian behaviour are based on Christian tradition. Yet, it is difficult to think of a Christian poet more suspicious of tradition than Milton, with his severe commitment to the "purity of Scripture" rather than the "old vomit of your traditions" (CP 1:912), "the carnal supplement of tradition" (CP 1:827), the "intangled wood which the Papist loves to fight in" (CP 8:418). It is the "unworthy and conceited who love tradition more than truth" (CP 2:643) and "he who holds opinions in religion professedly from tradition ... and not from Scripture ... is the only heretic" (CP 7:252). The tradition itself was full of contradictions and ambiguities. As Krouse himself said, "By the beginning of the seventeenth century, Samson meant a bewildering variety of things" (Krouse 72). As Archie Burnett suggests, Krouse is his own "best critic" (157) for he amply cites evidence that contradicts his own conclusions. In the tradition, Samson figured prominently as a figure of sin, violence, revenge, lust, stupidity, and destructiveness. Krouse glimpsed this alternative tradition but did not allow it to affect his reading. For instance, he noticed that St. Rupert of Heribert indicated the negative aspects of the Samson figure: "Can such a one who consorted with a whore and was a ruthless killer, be thought to be our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God?" (Krouse 53). No longer, however, can an introduction to the Samson tradition include Krouse while excluding the countervailing evidence presented by Wittreich in Interpreting "Samson Agonistes". He shows how the significance of Samson in the seventeenth century grows "increasingly ambiguous. Once regarded as a plague to the uncircumcised, Samson now appears to be a plague to his own people. His story, previously cast as a saint's life, continues to figure in such literature, but now to mark the fall and mortification of various saints, not their recovery and exaltation" (182-3).

In the light of all this, the ambiguity of Milton's own attitude to his protagonist is important. Especially interesting is the remark in A Defence since it is directed at the destructive violence of the revolutionary who "made war single-handed on his masters, and, whether prompted by God or by his own valor, slew at one stroke not one but a host of his country's tyrants" (CP 4.1.402). The emphasis has been added because one of the most important interpretive cruxes in the text relates to the status of the "rousing motions" that impel Samson to the catastrophe (1382). Clearly, Milton does not endorse them unequivocally as the inner light of divine guidance. Milton refers to Samson in Paradise Lost - the reference closest in time to the publication of his play - and it is the image of the sinner that he has in mind at the moment of the Fall: Adam and Eve are "bare Of all their virtue" as Samson "shorn of his strength" (PL 9.1061-3). A more important indication is the poem by Marvell that Milton published with the second edition of Paradise Lost only three years after the tragedy appeared in print. Fowler includes it in his introduction to his edition of the epic. Marvell praises Milton for not emulating the vengeful, spiteful destroyer of Judges:

(So Sampson groped the Temple's Post in spite)

The world o'erwhelming to revenge his sight.



The significance of the publication of Marvell's poem with the 1674 edition of Paradise Lost has been much discussed. The simplest explanation is that Milton did not consider such a remark about his tragic hero inappropriate for inclusion with his work. The compliment would have been a poor one if the destruction of the temple were considered by Milton to be the supreme heroic action of a saintly type of Christ. A Treatise of Civil Power is a more instructive context for Samson's violence than prose works Milton wrote early in the revolution.

A victory by force is a literal and temporal victory but

Christ rejects outward force in the government of his church . . . to shew us the divine excellence of his spiritual kingdom, able without worldly force to subdue all the powers and kingdoms of this world, which are upheld by outward force only: by which to uphold religion otherwise then to defend the religious from outward violence, is no service to Christ or his kingdom, but rather a disparagement, and degrades it from a divine and spiritual kingdom to a kingdom of this world: which he denies it to be, because it needs not force to confirm it: Joh. 18.36. if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jewes. (CP 7:256)



Although, Milton continued to allow the use of force to defend true religion in certain circumstances, his restrictions and hesitations about it and his emphatic preference for persuasion and tolerance are seldom clearly indicated by admirers of his Samson. It is Satan who praises the victory of Maccabeus over Antiochus "with arms" (PR 3.166), and who admires "military pride" (312). Milton's contempt for force, in his later life especially, was so intense and his concessions allowing its use so hedged in with reservations that we must give a special weight to hints and suggestions in the poetry concerning that use.

The question of the relationship between Samson and Milton's Christ in Paradise Regained has been central to recent critical scholarship. For Ulreich Samson is "parabolic...the subject of that parable would appear to be, not merely Christian, but Christ himself" (286). For Low, Samson is a "victim offered up to the true God of Israel ... a type of Christ the perfect victim of (Low 1980). While it is true that a number of textual echoes invite comparison, it appears to me that the effect of such comparison is to emphasise profound differences between the two protagonists. Samson retires "from the popular noise," (SA 16) a blind slave subject to any chance that relieves him from toil; Christ, purposefully, "the spirit leading", retires "far from the track of men "in" holy meditations" (PR 1.189-95). Samson is tormented by his painful thoughts "like a deadly swarm of hornets" (19-20). Christ's self-examination is serene and balanced:

O what a multitude of thoughts at once

Awakened in me swarm, while I consider

What from within I feel myself...(1.196-8).



Samson the sinner miserably ponders his fall: "Times past, what once I was, and what am now" (22); Christ's high thoughts are directed to his "sacred virtue and true worth" (1.231).

Guided by these echoes, we find that the natures of the heroes differ in substance. Although much scholarly effort has gone into presenting Samson as a model of Christian patience, the actions that most vividly reveal his nature contrast with the true example of patience in Milton's Christ. Christ's patience is beautifully revealed in his response to the storm that is hurled against him by the tempter:

ill wast thou shrouded then,

O patient Son of God, yet only stood'st

Unshaken; nor yet stayed the terror there,

Infernal ghosts, and hellish furies, round

Environed thee, some howled, some yelled, some shrieked,

Some bent at thee their fiery darts, while thou

Sat'st unappalled in calm and sinless peace (4.419-25)



The storm motif runs through Samson but it reveals a Samson very different in character from the patiently enduring Son of God. Dalila's temptation parallels the storm thrown against Christ. She storms him with "feminine assaults, Tongue batteries" (403). Unable to cope, he succumbs "wearied out" (405). In Gaza, it is Samson who is imaged as the storm: he dismisses Dalila with the threat of "sudden rage to tear [her] joint by joint" (376) and she pictures his unremitting anger as being worse than any natural storm: it "still rages, Eternal tempest never to be calmed" (963). The tempest the Chorus fears in Harapha's approach (1063) is all of Samson's making. Samson threatens to "swing [him] in the air, then dash [him] down to the hazard of [his] brains and shattered sides" [1240-1]. The response to Harapha has been described in high spiritual terms but is surely no more than one bully out-facing another. Milton, quoting Proverbs in Christian Doctrine, criticises those who begin disputes and enjoy altercations: "it is honorable to refrain from a quarrel, but if a man is a fool he will get involved" (CP 6: 752). In his destruction of the temple, Samson becomes the storm itself: "straining all his nerves...with the force of wind and waters bent when mountains tremble...with horrible convulsion...with burst of thunder" (1646-51). He projects a semblance of patience only when he has envisaged his destructive plan and hiding his hatred he lies to the unsuspicious and kindly guide. The distance from Christ is considerable. The spirit in which he welcomes death towards the end is also in contrast to Christ's calm acceptance of divine will:

my deadliest foe will prove

My speediest friend, by death to rid me hence,

The worst that he can give to me the best (1262-4). (See Tung 475-92)



For all the disagreement there has been over the precise nature of Christ's climactic victory over Satan, it is clear that he rejects presumption: "Tempt not the Lord thy God" (PR 4.561). Samson on the other hand, with such a poor record of success, regularly presumes to know God's will. "God sent her to debase me" (999) he says of Dalila's coming. Presumably, if he triumphs over her and is not debased he thwarts God's will. His response to Harapha is a stunning example of presumption. As Harapha approaches, he is not ungracious; he is almost respectful. He is often described as some sort of swaggering Cavalier. The text presents him more like an expert interested in meeting a renowned fellow professional. He comes to survey the limbs that performed those incredible feats he has heard of. He has long wondered at the deeds and now is respectful enough as he sees the doer. Samson immediately provokes him and breaks into a tirade of abuse and contemptuous bragging. Not only is he confident of the "final pardon" of a God "Gracious to readmit the suppliant" (1171-3) - having himself just refused to readmit a suppliant - he presumes to wager the credit of Israel's God on his own ability to destroy Harapha: "Soon feel, whose God is strongest, thine or mine" (1155). Although he has already brought "dishonour, obloquy" once on the God of Israel, the blind, weaponless slave challenges the fully armed, skilled Philistine champion, not simply risking his life but staking on the outcome the very divinity of his god: "By combat to decide whose god is God" (1176; cf. Madsen 190, Tung 477).

Where Christ is invariably right, Samson is consistently wrong - and here we can see Milton shaping the dramatic fiction. Samson is wrong when he dismisses all Philistines as equally "inhuman foes" (109). Milton's invention of Manoa's successful ransom attempt proves Samson's human judgments wrong and uncharitable: "Their end Is hate, not help to me" (1265-6). When the Chorus arrives, his paranoid fantasies suggest incorrectly that his enemies have come to "insult" and "afflict" him (113-4). His dark assessment of Dalila's motives is questionable: "when all men Loved, honoured, feared me, thou alone could hate me" (938-9). The idea that no one else hated him - in Ascalon, Timna, or Etham - is ludicrous even as rhetoric. His assessment even of God's motives, we have seen, is an ungenerous reflection of his own cruel mentality, quick to condemn and confident in error: "God sent her to debase me, And aggravate my folly" (999-1000). About his own feeling for Dalila, inexpiable hate, Samson may be trusted, but in that he is far from Christ. It is his own response to a request for forgiveness.

Christ's triumph was in a "great duel, not of arms" (PR 1.174) and a great deal of effort has gone to show that Samson's triumph, too, was the culmination of an agon, a victory over temptation, a hard-won struggle for spiritual growth and renovation. However, his end re-enacts the brutal physicality of his prime, when "old warriors turned Their plated backs under his heel; Or grovelling soiled their crested helmets in the dust" (139-41). He measures his own "great act" by an ethic of strength and blood-heroism. His worst moments of despair were linked with the memory of lost physical strength (631-51). Even his griefs find images that are physical as they "Rankle, and fester, and gangrene" (621). His climactic figure of impatience and revulsion: "Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves" (41) recalls Moloc's

what can be worse

Than to dwell here, driven out from bliss, condemned

In this abhorred deep to utter woe. (PL 2.85-7)



In both cases glory, pride, splendour are in ruin and both falls are associated with a trust in physical strength, violence, and primitive heroism (cf. Samuel 244). Very late in the day, Samson still defines his God essentially in terms of physical might: "Soon feel, whose God is strongest, thine or mine" (1155). "Strength is my bane" (63), he cries, unaware of the terrible irony of his words. A Treatise of Civil Power offers a sound commentary on his ethic: "Force is no honest confutation; but uneffectual, and for the most part unsuccessfull, oft times fatal to them who use it" (CP 7: 261-2). The best offering Samson has for God is the best he can conceive in the fallen world before Christ's coming. "All wickedness is weakness" (834), indeed, to some one incapable of disentangling spiritual values from his ethic of strength. In the darkness of this world, Samson struggles agonisedly for faith - but hope is dim and charity inconceivably remote.

The strongest argument for considering Samson an ideal example of Christian sanctity is that based on the theological conception of Christian liberty (e.g. Bennett MS 1978). In Christian Doctrine Milton notes that the righteous who lived before Christ are "saved by means of Christ" because of "their true faith" CP 6:475). He is arguing that God not Christ is the "ultimate object of faith". However, it is simply a non-sequitur to argue, as it is often argued, that Samson is presented as an example for Christian imitation. The events of Old Testament history are unquestionably a part of God's mysterious design but Christ's coming changed human life immeasurably. Samson exemplifies that harshness of human experience under the Law, that state of indirection that creatures suffered as they struggled to find a path to God, that condition of unChristian savagery licit for human beings denied as yet the living example of Christ's life in time. These words in A Treatise of Civil Power should be read as a gloss to the play:

the state of religion under the gospel is far differing from what it was under the law: then was the state of rigor, childhood, bondage and works, to all which force was not unbefitting; now is the state of grace, manhood, freedom and faith; to all which belongs willingness and reason, not force: the law was then written on tables of stone, and to be performed according to the letter, willingly or unwillingly; the gospel, our new covnant, upon the heart of every beleever, to be interpreted only by the sense of charitie and inward perswasion (CP 7:259).



Milton's hero is sometimes presented by scholars as a figure of weakness overcoming Philistines but the whole focus of the play is on his physical strength. There is no spiritual victory over the Philistines, certainly. The passage just quoted follows these words:

it is the councel and set purpose of God in the gospel by spiritual means which are counted weak, to overcom all power which resists him; let them not go about to do that by worldly strength which he hath decreed to do by those means which the world counts weakness (CP 7:258).



"Law" is mentioned eleven times in Samson and one effect is to concentrate our attention on Samson's struggle to escape its constraints; but it is the Law that moulds and limits Samson's moral consciousness. A remark in The Reason of Church Government has provided the title for this paper. There Milton says that God is "no more a judge after the sentence of the Law, nor as it were a schoolmaister of perishable rites, but a most indulgent father governing his Church...in the sweetest and mildest manner of paternal discipline..." (CP 1:837). The state of religion under the Law was different from that under the Gospel of Christ. Samson's moral consciousness is formed under the Law, that Law which, Milton wrote, was an imperfect obscure institution" (CP 1:762) and which could not "give rules to the complete and glorious ministration of the Gospel which looks on the law as a child not as on a tutor" (CP 1:762). It is a "sandy bottome" (CP 1:775), "a repugnant and contradictive mount Sinai" (CP 1:843). The "outward carnality of the Law" is to be contrasted with "inward power and purity of the Gospel" (CP 1:766), the "rigid and peremptory Law" with "the considerat and tender Gospel" (CP 2:281). "The Gospel enjoys the infinite enlargement of charity, which in this respect is called the new Commandment..." (CP 2:330-1). "Charity" is not a word that Samson uses.

Here the compromise must rest in the reading suggested. It is the state of religion under the Law that Samson's consciousness exemplifies. The best he can conceive of righteous behaviour before Christ is harsh and violent but that does not make him a sinner, fallen a second time, finally the tragedy rather than the triumph of Israel. For Dr. Wittreich, the play does not reveal "a Samson realizing his potentiality as a minister of his deity but ... because of his persistence in error, Samson falls short of that potentiality" (150). However, Dr. Wittreich never confronts the affirmation in Hebrews of Samson's heroic status. He sees Hebrews as a recontextualisation of the story in Judges and agrees that the play alludes to the Letter (61-2) but, while it is easy to agree with him that Milton "challenges the Church's institutionalized readings of Scripture" (167), it is quite another matter to accept that he will challenge this New Testament reading of the Old Testament. When Milton discusses the nature of saving faith in Book 1 of Christian Doctrine, Hebrews is central to his reasoning. It is true that Milton fails to mention Samson at moments in his later work when he might have revealed his own attitude to a figure so enigmatic and contradictory in Christian tradition, a figure who must have loomed large in Milton's own consciousness, the hero of his only tragedy in the ancient manner. Why is Samson not cited when Milton is discussing judicial violence, or war on the ungodly, or good temptations, or justifiable lies or suicide? However, to infer from this that Samson is rejected by Milton because he is not specifically mentioned among heroes of faith will not do. For that matter, Milton does not mention Samson when he lists penitents who were unregenerate: Cain, Esau, Judas and others (CP 6:458). He alludes to Hebrews without dissent when he mentions the first three names in the order there listed, Abel, Enoch and Noah, "illustrious men who lived under the law" (475), and Hebrews is his authority when he discusses implicit faith in the harlot Rahab (472). His silence about Samson suggests a determination to leave his dramatic poem to speak for itself, ambiguous and enigmatic by calculation. The remark Samson reportedly made to the assembled Philistines is central to Professor Wittreich's reading: "Now of my own accord such other trial I mean to show you of my strength, yet greater...." (l643-4). Wittreich reads this as the self-willed action of one who turns away from divine direction, but this is to ignore the immediate context of the words. Samson does not oppose his own accord to God's will but to the will of the Philistines: "Hitherto, lords, what your commands imposed I have performed, as reason was, obeying..." (1640-l). Now he will do something which they have not commanded; this after he has bowed his head in silence "as one who prayed", and he prepares to end the sequence of events precipitated by his "rousing motions" (382). The dramatic fiction focusses pointedly on this inner impulse for it is this that leads Samson to reverse his decision to resist going to the temple. The status of these motions has deeply troubled commentators. Is this the renewal of grace, conversion, divine impulsion? Is Samson suddenly re-admitted to the Elect? Is this the inner light written on the heart which is superior as a guide even to the Scriptures in Milton's thought? If it is, Samson's violence is divinely directed. Alternatively, is Samson self-impelled, wrong once again, there a second time or a third, as he has apparently been in his marriage choices? Ambiguity is what the dramatic fiction and its taciturn author present to us. It is mimetic of the ambiguity any individual must cope with when probing the conscience of any other. By the end of the Puritan revolution, the most partisan of believers must have reflected ruefully on the claims of those who insisted they had been inspired by God. Cromwell was tactful enough as early as the Putney Debates: "I know a man may answer all difficulties with faith, and faith will answer all difficulties really where it is, but we are very apt, all of us, to call that faith, that perhaps may be but carnal imagination, and carnal reasonings" (Woodhouse, 8). It is difficult to know God working in oneself, let alone in another, and in this too Samson is an imitatio of the ambivalences of human understanding. Milton is less gentle than Cromwell when he lashes the hypocrites, those who deliberately lie that they have been moved by the Spirit:

all the sacred mysteries of heaven

To their own vile advantages shall turn

... though feigning still to act

By spiritual, to themselves appropriating

The Spirit of God... (PL 12.509-519)



The liar, the self-deceived, the true believer can hardly be distinguished by the observer. What matters for salvation is truth to one's own conscience, the relationship of the individual will to God's. If Samson was "persuaded inwardly that this was from God", as the author tells us in the Argument, then God could ask no more. "But how compells he? doubtless no otherwise then he draws, without which no man can come to him, Joh. 6.44: and that is by the inward perswasive motions of his spirit..." (CP 7:261). When Samson reverses his decision and goes to the idolatrous celebration of Dagon in response to motions he is persuaded are from above, "I am content to go", he says (l403), echoing St. Paul's spirit of acceptance: "for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4. 11). His trust is "in the living God" (SA 1140).

So, the tragedy does not question whether Samson is a hero of faith. It dramatises the mentality of those raised in the state of religion under the Law. For Milton, Christ's coming is not merely a formal payment of ransom for Adam's sin, it changes human life immeasurably. It stands as a perfect example for imitation. Not only is the overt preaching in the New Testament didactic but so is the entire narrative of Christ's life, in all his responses and relationships. This is the light that is denied to Samson as he shapes his moral choices, honestly but agonizedly and uncharitably. Satan, Adam and Samson are Miltonic portrayals of sinners that deserve more careful comparison than is possible here. The poetic echoes that here also invite comparisons point, here also, to their differences. When Satan first inspects Paradise, his remorseful memory of lost personal glory anticipates Adam's in his first lonely complaint and Samson's as he begins his day of rest. The thoughts of all three are troubled but Satan's horror and doubt and rage lead not to God but to his adversarial act of hatred on the innocent, frail creatures of God. Unlike Samson's misery at the darkness that envelopes him is Satan's hatred for the beams of the sun. "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light", says the Evangelist (Joh.3.20). The dramatic movement in Satan's soliloquy is a fatal oscillation. Every movement towards repentance is followed inexorably by revulsion and a counter-movement away from God, until Satan's final farewell to hope when he commits himself to the terminal hardening of the heart: "Evil be thou my good" (4.110). As he embraces damnation, each passion dims his face. Satan despairs.

The movement of Adam's mind after he has sinned is quite different. He too is self-focussed as he thinks back of himself as the glory of all the glories that surround him. Adam moves slowly away from that self-indulgence in passion which Satan locks himself into. At first uncertain, at times still wilful and mistaken, Adam begins to concede the justice of God's will. Then he reaches a conviction of sin and so is able eventually to experience contrition and confession. Where in Adam we see a narrative enactment of sin, grace, repentance and regeneration, we see Samson at the end of that process. His torments are like the torments of Job, not those of the unregenerate Satan. As he begins to lament the degraded condition of one who had been proclaimed separate to God, he quickly checks himself from calling in doubt divine prediction. He blames himself for moral weakness and impotence of mind but refuses to quarrel with the will of highest dispensation. He bends his will to the incomprehensible ends of the divine will, showing from the start of the play the submission essential to penitent faith (CP 6:459). The afflictions even of the regenerate may sometimes seem to exceed the limit (CP 6:469) but Samson's "chief affliction" is that he has diminished the glory of God (457). Samson's lamentations and his longing for death are not signs of sinful despair any more than they are in God's favourite, Job. Wall has shown how Milton adapted the form of the Biblical lament in his play: "To those accustomed to a tradition of politeness in divine address, the insistent abrasiveness of the lamenter's petition comes as something of a shock. Nevertheless, impatience, stubbornness, and audacious familiarity are all essential aspects of the language used in the biblical lament" (127). Samson echoes Job who was also in the dark without light. He too cried out in the anguish of his spirit and complained in the bitterness of his soul. He too was weary of life even to the loathing of it:

Oh that I might have my request; and

that God would grant me the thing

that I long for!

Even that it would please God to destroy

me; that he would let loose his hand

and cut me off!

Then should I yet have comfort; yea,

I would harden myself in sorrow: let

him not spare; for I have not concealed

the words of the Holy One.

What is my strength, that I should hope?

and what is mine end, that I should

prolong my life? (Job. 6.8-11)



In the action of the play, Samson is no more a sinner than is Job. Milton's words may be said of him: "We should not, then, make rash judgements about other people's afflictions. That was the error of Eliphaz" (CP 6:470). As Wall goes on to suggest, "Basic to the whole enterprise of the lament is the speaker's faith that God will, in the end, answer his petition, that God is not in fact arbitrary or fickle.... it is this basic faith in divine righteousness that allows the speaker to address his God with such openness and freedom of expression" (131).

Milton's three great final poems intercontextualise one another. The first five lines of Paradise Lost contain the theme not only of that epic but also of the poems in the 1671 volume, which complete the programme begun there. Paradise Regained tells how one greater man restores us and regains the blissful seat, while Samson Agonistes is a dramatic image of the fruit, or outcome, of that forbidden tree. This is what the loss of Eden means "and all our woe" for Samson is a "mirror of our fickle state, Since man on earth unparalleled" (164-5). The two poems in Milton's l671 volume are like a diptych, each one enriching the meaning of the other. The letter to Hebrews affirms, it is true, that the heroes of old were saved by Christ's ransom, but that does not mean that all manner of things were well in that dark interim between the Fall and the Incarnation. With the Incarnation and the Gospel came "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4.6). Adam was bewildered about the nature of the death he had brought into the world, but Samson knew to his cost the tragedy of that exile from light:

To live a life half-dead, a living death,

And buried; but O yet more miserable!

Myself, my sepulchre, a moving grave....

(l00-l02)



It is a long day's dying. The Christian significance of this tragedy is that there can be no end to this hamartia until the example of the living Christ will

bring back

Through the world's wilderness long wandered man

Safe to eternal paradise of rest.

(PL 12.312-314).

(SAFAITH.JNE)

List of Works Cited



Andrews, John F. "Dearly Bought Revenge': Samson Agonistes, Hamlet, and Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy." Milton Studies 13(1979): 81-107.



Arnold, Margaret J. "Graeci Christiani: Milton's Samson and the Renaissance Editors of Greek Tragedy." Milton Studies 18(1983): 235-254.



Barker, Arthur E. Milton and the Puritan Dilemma 1641-1660. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1942.



Bennett, Joan S. "A Person Rais'd': Public and Private Cause in Samson Agonistes." SEL 18(1978): 155-168.



. "Liberty Under the Law: The Chorus and the Meaning of Samson Agonistes." Milton Studies 12(1978): 141-163.



Carey, John. Milton. London: Evans Bros., 1969.



Davies, J.H. Commentary. A Letter to the Hebrews. The Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1967.



Frye, Northrop. "Agon and Logos: Revolution and Revelation." The Prison and the Pinnacle. Ed. Balachandra Rajan. London: Routledge, 1973. 135-163.



Gallagher, Philip J. "The Role of Raphael in Samson Agonistes." Milton Studies 18(1983): 255-294.



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Kranidas, Thomas. "Samson Agonistes." A Milton Encyclopedia. Ed. William B. Hunter Jr. et al. 8 vols. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1978-80.

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Lewalski, Barbara K. "Samson Agonistes and the `Tragedy' of the

Apocalypse." PMLA 85 (l970): l050-l062.



Lieb, Michael. "Milton's Dramatick Constitution': The Celestial Dialogue in Paradise Lost, Book 111." Milton Studies 23(l987): 215-240.



Low, Anthony. The Blaze of Noon: A Reading of Samson Agonistes. New York: Columbia UP, 1974.



MacCallum, Hugh. "Samson Agonistes: The Deliverer as Judge."

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Radzinowicz, Mary Ann. Toward Samson Agonistes: The Growth of

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2 "The Distinctive Tragedy of Samson Agonistes." Milton Studies 17 (l983): 249-280.



Rajan, Balachandra. The Lofty Rhyme: A Study of Milton's Major Poetry. London: Routledge, 1970.



2 "`To Which is Added Samson Agonistes.'" The Prison and the Pinnacle. Ed. Balachandra Rajan. London: Routledge, l973. 82-ll0.



Sadler, Lynn Veach. "Regeneration and Typology: Samson Agonistes and its Relation to De Doctrina Christiana, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained." SEL 12(1972): 141- 156.



Samuel, Irene. "Samson Agonistes as Tragedy." Calm of Mind. Ed. Joseph A. Wittreich Jr. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve UP, 1971. 235-257.



Scott-Craig, T.S.K. "Concerning Milton's Samson". Renaissance News 5(l952): 45-53.

Shawcross, John T. "Irony as Tragic Effect: Samson Agonistes and the Tragedy of Hope." Calm of Mind. Ed. Joseph A. Wittreich Jr. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve UP, , l971. 289-306.



2 "The Genres of Paradise Regain'd and Samson Agonistes:" The Wisdom of their Joint Publication." Milton Studies 17 (l983): 225-248.



Tung, Mason. "Samson Impatiens: a Reinterpretation of Milton's Samson Agonistes." U of Texas Studies in Language and Literature 9(1967-68): 475-492.



Ulreich, John C., Jr. "`Beyond the Fifth Act': Samson Agonistes as Prophecy." Milton Studies 17(1983): 281-318.



Wall, John N. Jr. "The Contrarious Hand of God: Samson Agonistes and the Biblical Lament". Milton Studies 12 (l978): 117- 139.



Wittreich, Joseph. Interpreting Samson Agonistes. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986.



Woodhouse, A. S. P. Puritanism and Liberty. 2nd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, l974.



(SAEXILED.2)

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Arnold, Margaret J. "Graeci Christiani: Milton's Samson and the Renaissance Editors of Greek Tragedy." Milton Studies 18(1983): 235-254.



Barker, Arthur E. Milton and the Puritan Dilemma 1641-1660. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1942.



Bennett, Joan S. "`A Person Rais'd': Public and Private Cause in Samson Agonistes." SEL 18(1978): 155-168.



. "Liberty Under the Law: The Chorus and the Meaning of Samson Agonistes." Milton Studies 12(1978): 141-163.



Burnett, Archie. Milton's Style: The Shorter Poems, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes London: Longmans, 1981.



Carey, John. Milton. London: Evans Bros., 1969.



Davies, J.H. Commentary. A Letter to the Hebrews. The Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1967.



Entzminger, Robert L. "Samson Agonistes and the Recovery of Metaphor." SEL 22 (l982): 137-155.



Frye, Northrop. "Agon and Logos: Revolution and Revelation." The Prison and the Pinnacle. Ed. Balachandra Rajan. London: Routledge, 1973. 135-163.



Gallagher, Philip J. "The Role of Raphael in Samson Agonistes." Milton Studies 18(1983): 255-294.



Grose, Christopher. "`His Uncontrollable Intent:' Discovery as Action in Samson Agonistes." Milton Studies 7(1975): 49-76.



Hill, Christopher. Milton and the English Revolution. London: Faber & Faber, 1977.



Jose, Nicholas. "Samson Agonistes: The Play Turned Upside Down." Essays in Criticism 30(1980): 124-150.



Kessner, Carole S. "Milton's Hebraic Herculean Hero." Milton Studies 6(1974): 243-258.



Kranidas, Thomas. "Samson Agonistes." A Milton Encyclopedia. Ed. William B. Hunter Jr. et al. 8 vols. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1978-80.



Krouse, F. Michael. Milton's Samson and The Christian Tradition. 1949. New York: Octagon, 1974.



Lewalski, Barbara K. "Samson Agonistes and the `Tragedy' of the

Apocalypse." PMLA 85 (l970): l050-l062.



Lieb, Michael. "Milton's `Dramatick Constitution': The Celestial Dialogue in Paradise Lost, Book 111." Milton Studies 23(l987): 215-240.



Low, Anthony. The Blaze of Noon: A Reading of Samson Agonistes. New York: Columbia UP, 1974.



MacCallum, Hugh. "Samson Agonistes: The Deliverer as Judge."

Milton Studies 23 (l987): 259-290.



Madsen, William O. From Shadowy Types to Truth: Studies in Milton's Symbolism. New Haven: Yale UP, 1968.



Milton, John. Complete Prose Works. Ed. Don M. Wolfe et al. 8 vols. New Haven: Yale UP, 1953-82.



. The Poems of John Milton. Ed. John Carey and Alastair Fowler. London: Longmans, 1968.



Mulryan, John. "The Heroic Tradition of Milton's Samson Agonistes." Milton Studies 18(1983): 217-234.



Radzinowicz, Mary Ann. Toward Samson Agonistes: The Growth of Milton's Mind. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1978.



Rajan, Balachandra. The Lofty Rhyme: A Study of Milton's Major Poetry. London: Routledge, 1970.



Sadler, Lynn Veach. "Regeneration and Typology: Samson Agonistes and its Relation to De Doctrina Christiana, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained." SEL 12(1972): 141- 156



Samuel, Irene. "Samson Agonistes as Tragedy." Calm of Mind. Ed. Joseph A. Wittreich Jr. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve UP, 1971. 235-257.



Scott-Craig, T.S.K. "Concerning Milton's Samson". Renaissance News 5(l952): 45-53





Tung, Mason. "Samson Impatiens: a Reinterpretation of Milton's Samson Agonistes." U of Texas Studies in Language and Literature 9(1967-68): 475-492.



Ulreich, John C., Jr. "`Beyond the Fifth Act': Samson Agonistes as Prophecy." Milton Studies 17(1983): 281-318.



Wittreich, Joseph. Interpreting Samson Agonistes. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986.