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Milton's forced themes

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posted on 2014-10-31, 16:10 authored by Sarah Marie Knight
Often, so-called juvenilia are read only to shed light on an author’s later writing. The question of when the term “juvenilia” first comes to imply diminished literary value—meaning “immature” and perhaps “premature,” as opposed to being merely descriptive of the author’s age—is particularly relevant to a consideration of Milton at university because of the teleological approach often taken to his early works. Consequently, Milton’s Prolusions, the seven orations he delivered as a Cam-bridge student between 1627 and 1632, have often tended to be strategically mined, perceived as interesting only as precursors of what he went on to write. Besides a frequently held prejudice against juvenilia, other factors related to literary form and linguistic medium have also contributed to the relative neglect of the Prolusions: the academic oration is rightly seen as more ephemeral, self-referential, and rooted to its institutional context than a political tract or epic poem, and Milton’s Latin works tend to be less widely read than the vernacular writing. The orations themselves often invoke a sense of earliness: throughout the Prolusions, Milton carefully directs his words at his university contemporaries, frequently stressing the limitations of his own “sinews weak” and “endeavouring tongue” (“At a Vacation Exercise” 1-2), and consistently implying that neither oration nor orator is quite yet formed. Even the title, Prolusiones, explicitly asserts origin: like its cognate “prelude,” prolusio means a beginning, an initial foray. Yet in the words of the printer’s letter to the 1674 publication, “quantumvis juvenilia”—“although [perhaps ‘because’] they are juvenilia”—we need to consider the Prolusions as significant texts in their own right.



Milton Quarterly, 2011, 45 (3), pp. 145-160

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF ARTS, HUMANITIES AND LAW/School of English


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