Ordering desires : rhetoric and virtue in Milton's Paradise Lost.


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Critics have long recognized that the writings of John Milton unite elements of biblical narrative with imaginative construction. However, despite Milton's explicit appreciation for Spenser, less critical attention has been given to the way Milton's epic inculcates particular virtues. Milton famously acknowledged in Areopagitica that "a fool will be a fool with the best book, yea or without book" (CPW 2.521); nevertheless, Milton's poetic practice reveals his persistent belief that poetry could induce some reordering of the desires that constitute virtue. The goal of this dissertation is to provide new insights regarding the way that Milton's Paradise Lost uses the rhetorical canons of invention (inventio) and arrangement (dispositio) in order to achieve its explicit and implicit persuasive goals. In addition to identifying the rhetorical features at work, my purpose is to show how the elements of invention and arrangement actively unite persuasive means and persuasive ends. By focusing specifically on how Milton reveals the character of the cardinal virtues of courage, temperance, and wisdom, I show that Milton's rhetoric is primarily demonstrative in its revelation of a vision of reality. Ultimately, I argue that Paradise Lost relies on these persuasive elements to move audiences inside and outside the text to delight in particular virtues.



John Milton. Paradise lost. Virtue. Rhetoric.