Milton, <i>Areopagitica</i>, and the Parliamentary Cause

Ann Hughes

in The Oxford Handbook of Milton

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199697885
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 Milton, Areopagitica, and the Parliamentary Cause

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This article tries to demonstrate how closely John Milton engaged with parliamentarian dilemmas, and how Areopagitica illuminates the tensions within parliamentarianism. The complexities and ambiguities in Milton's text have many parallels within parliamentarian debate, while his association of regulation of printing with a more general Presbyterian drive towards thorough-going, authoritarian reformation placed him decisively on one side of emerging fissures in the parliamentary cause. Milton's determination to resist alarmist Presbyterian rhetoric about ‘sects and schisms’ prefigured a bitter struggle over church government and ‘toleration’ that consumed parliamentarians in 1645–7. Milton, the defender of ‘liberty’, was provoked to respond in Areopagitica. Regulation of printing was not the only weapon of Presbyterians and mainstream parliamentarians. Throughout Areopagitica, the hostility to Presbyterian certainty is clear, and remarkably prescient, for the most aggressive assaults on sects and schism were more characteristic of 1645–7 than 1644.

Keywords: Areopagitica; John Milton; parliamentarianism; parliamentarian debate; printing; parliamentary cause; Presbyterian rhetoric

Article.  9079 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800) ; Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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