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<i>Samson Agonistes</i>: The Force of Justice and the Violence of Idolatry

Regina M. Schwartz

in The Oxford Handbook of Milton

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199697885
Published online September 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199697885.013.0035

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 Samson Agonistes: The Force of Justice and the Violence of Idolatry

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Samson's violence can be understood in terms of how justice is understood. To engage the problem of how to understand John Milton's Samson Agonistes, then, is to approach the problem of divinely sanctioned violence. Milton's understanding of the force of justice is inflected by Exodus, in which God turns forcefully and swiftly against Israel when she is idolatrous, less to punish than to engage in a full-scale effort to deliver her from her own worst impulses. Idolatry encompasses many concepts, some almost at odds with each other. Idolatry is not just any error but injustice, and specifically the injustice of slavery. Milton unleashes, both in his prose and in Samson Agonistes, fury against the bondage of idolatry – and this helps to explain the remarkable appeal of his writing down the ages to those enslaved by the tyrants of nations or by the tyranny of instrumental worship.

Keywords: Samson Agonistes; John Milton; idolatry; violence; justice; slavery

Article.  8791 words. 

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

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