Paradise Lost and The Blazing World: Knowledge of Knowledge that is Best Left Unknown

Paradise Lost and The Blazing World: Knowledge of Knowledge that is Best Left Unknown

John Milton set out to write Paradise Lost in order to “justify the ways of God to men” (1.26). To achieve this grand goal, Milton relies on his reader’s capability to discover a degree of personal revelation within the text. Many scholars have noted Milton’s reliance on personal discovery throughout Paradise Lost; Stanley Eugene Fish points out that discovery operates in Paradise Lost in a way that “is analogous to that of the Mosaic Law” because it invokes a level of interaction with the reader that is able to “bring us to the righteousness of Christ” (526-7). This idea of discovery differs from genre because the reader’s personal experiences within the text frame the guiding principles for the reader’s self-education. In The Blazing Word, Margaret Cavendish utilizes discovery as a means to instruct her reader in a way that closely resembles that used by Milton in Paradise Lost. In addition, Cavendish makes use of one of its main themes: “Be lowly wise” (Milton 8.173). Although the idea that Cavendish and Milton would both emphasize personal discovery in their texts may not be all that earth-shattering, it seems rather implausible that Margaret Cavendish, a woman who was a “stanch opponent to Puritan values,” (Ankers 306) as well as an devoted royalist, could have possessed a conception of the nature of knowledge that was virtually indistinguishable from the one held by John Milton, a devout Puritan and Cromwell supporter. Furthermore, our current conceptions of these two writers—Margaret Cavendish as a pioneering feminist writer and John Milton as a conservative Christian icon—seem to further undermine any notion that these two autho…

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…ary Criticism 9.1,2 (2000): 301-15.

Cavendish, Margaret. The Blazing World. The Blazing World & Other Writings.Ed. Kate Lilley. London: Penguin, 1994. 117-202.

Fish, Stanely Eugene. “Discovery as Form in Paradise Lost.” Paradise Lost: An Authoritative Text Backgrounds and SourcesCriticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: Nortan, 1993. 526-36.

Lilley, Kate. “Introduction”. The Blazing World & Other Writings.Ed. Kate Lilley. London: Penguin, 1994. ix-xxxii. Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Paradise Lost: An Authoritative Text Backgrounds and Sources Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York: Nortan, 1993. 1-304.

Wood, Caroline Tanya. “The Fall and Rise of Absoluteism: Margaret Cavendish’s Manipulation of Masque Conventions in ‘The Claspe: Fantasmes Masque’and The Blazing World.” In-Between: Essays & Studies in Literary Criticism 9.1,2 (2000): 287-99.

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