"In whom to lay the pattern of a Christian hero": Milton and the Elizabethan tradition of Christian learning
Ray, Don E.
Doctor of Philosophy thesis
As Spenser said of Sir Calidore's quest for the Blatant Beast, the conclusion of this dissertation must remind the reader that the course of the discussion "is often stayd, yet never is astray." This study of Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained against the background of the Elizabethan theory of Christian learning has been focused upon a few pertinent texts which are concerned with ideas which Milton propounds in his epic poems. It has therefore been necessary first to review Milton's statement of those ideas, chiefly the ones which have to do with learning, in the first section of the dissertation, and then in the remaining sections to consider earlier treatments of similar ideas and problems. Analysis of these selected texts indicates that Milton's humanism was indeed a continuation of the Reformation humanism of Ascham, Sidney, and the authors of the Mirror for Magistrates, though Milton often expanded, deepened, clarified, and disciplined the ideas and modes of expression of his precursors. This study also shows that Milton's interpretation of history, for all his superior knowledge and more accurate scholarship, was essentially a continuation of the Elizabethan seeking for moral causes as a means of defining both moral and practical effects. Finally, this dissertation also has made clear that Milton's epics and his formal theology are rooted in the same soil which produced Spenser's Faerie Queene. Each of the chapters has summarized the specific conclusions and listed the qualifications of the general statement of similarity in the traditions, both popular and intellectual, within which the Elizabethan humanists and Milton wrote. This dissertation consistently recognizes the fact that Milton drew upon an astonishing quantity and variety of learning, that he was perhaps more universal and more erudite than any of the other authors treated. Milton's erudition was seldom of the documented or pinpointed variety, however, for Milton had so thoroughly absorbed and made his own the many related sources and analogues for every element of his epics that he seems to have used his erudition to clarify the basic message of the epics and to make those messages more widely understandable and more universally convincing by showing how Christian truth contains and makes unable all other learning. In Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, Milton has repeated in epic form the Christian paradox, "He who would save his life must lose it."