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Durham University

Department of English Studies


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Publication details for Dr Vladimir Brljak

Brljak, Vladimir (2015). The Satanic 'or': Milton and Protestant Anti-Allegorism. The Review of English Studies 66(275): 403-422.

Author(s) from Durham


In an often quoted but imperfectly understood passage in John Milton’s Paradise Regain’d, Satan professes to doubt whether the kingdom portended for Christ is ‘Real or Allegoric’. This article takes this passage, the only instance of the term allegory in the whole of Milton’s poetry, as a starting point for a reconsideration of Milton’s attitude towards the complex and controversial theological, political, and aesthetic issues raised by this term in early modern Protestant culture. Specifically, the article examines the usage of the term in Milton’s early prose writings and its abandonment from 1645 onwards; Milton’s familiarity with the disputes surrounding Galatians 4:24, a biblical verse of central importance in early modern treatments of the subject; and an overlooked tradition in Protestant commentary according to which allegorical reading was introduced into Christianity by Satan, in order to obscure the true meaning of scripture. Having firmly aligned Milton with the anti-allegorical tendency in Protestant thought, the discussion returns to Paradise Regain’d to demonstrate how this anti-allegorism informs a number of key passages in the poem, and briefly discusses its broader implications for the ongoing debates about the representational mode of Milton’s biblical epics.

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