Journal Article

Moral Dilemma and Tragic Affect in <i>Samson Agonistes</i>

Dennis Brown

in Literature and Theology

Volume 20, issue 2, pages 91-106
Published in print June 2006 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online June 2006 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI:
Moral Dilemma and Tragic Affect in Samson Agonistes

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The article makes an intervention in recent critical debates about the meaning of Samson Agonistes, in the light of the phenomenon of religious suicide-bombing and informed by insights from the psychotherapeutic movement. It traces Milton's subtle development of the issues in the play and focuses on the ending as tragic catharsis. It also assumes some familiarity with traditional interpretations of the play in an ongoing commentary on subtextual elements which subvert a tribal revenge-ethic in favour of a Christ-like gospel of reconciliation. To this end, Samson's fatal last day is contrasted with Jesus' final evening in the Garden of Gethsemane. This reading inherently emphasises that Samson Agonistes is a tragedy rather than a morality play; that Samson is a hubristic antitype to a revolutionary, pacifistic Christ; and that psychological catharsis leaves the reader with an existential choice of alternative moralities rather than a model of divine retribution.

Journal Article.  6915 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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