Milton and National Identity

Paul Stevens

in The Oxford Handbook of Milton

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 Milton and National Identity

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
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John Milton clearly inherited a rich and powerful sense of national identity. In line with this, this article seeks to answer three questions. First, what was the national identity Milton inherited? Second, how did he try to reimagine it? And third, how did Milton react to the collapse of popular support for the Commonwealth between 1649 and 1660? The article starts by introducing the national story into which he was born. It becomes clear that the national identity which Milton inherited was not so much a state of being as one of becoming. For many years, Milton considered his greatest achievement to be the Defensio, his 1651 defence of the English people. He offers a kind of regenerate nationalism, a divinely inspired narrative in which the stony can always be taken out of the nation's heart should the nation prove responsive to God's grace.

Keywords: John Milton; national identity; Commonwealth; Defensio; nationalism; God's grace

Article.  12057 words. 

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

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