Because Milton was blind when SAMSON AGONISTES was published, the drama is sometimes interpreted biographically by critics who perceive Samson as a spokesman for Milton’s own feelings. The work, however, may have been composed as early as 1646-1648 and revised much later for publication.
As Milton indicates in the preface, this dramatic poem was never intended for performance. The first great “closet drama” in English, SAMSON AGONISTES questions the justice of God’s treatment of Samson and by extension his treatment of all men.
Prior to the play’s action, which takes place over a twenty-four-hour period, Samson, overcome by Dalila’s wiles and by his own pride, disobeys God. The Philistines blind Samson to render him helpless. During the action of the play, Samson is visited by his father Manoa, his wife Dalila, his enemy Harapha of Gath, and finally by a Public Officer, who encourages the blind hero to join the festival. The Chorus of Hebrew Elders discusses these visitors with Samson.
The play concludes when Manoa returns, joyful at having ransomed Samson; a messenger appears who relates the final catastrophe. His strength renewed, Samson has pulled down the pillars of the temple, ending the lives of many Philistines, but sacrificing his life as well.
One of the last great works of the Renaissance, SAMSON AGONISTES represents a successful effort to synthesize classical, Hebraic, and Christian traditions....
(The entire section is 479 words.)
The Characters Of Samson And Dalila In Milton's Samson Agonistes
The Characters Of Samson And Dalila in Milton's Samson Agonistes
The character of Dalila is first described by Samson, in his opening dialogue with the Chorus, as "that specious Monster, my accomplish'd snare." He also later describes her as "fallacious, unclean, unchaste". Thus when she finally appears in person, the reader is perhaps surprised to hear the Chorus uses a simile of a pulchritudinous ship to describe Dalila, "so bedeck'd, ornate and gay". It is the first mention of her physical beauty. Neither does the Chorus merely mention it in passing; the chorus takes a total of eleven lines to describe the full extent of Dalila's beauty. The Chorus continues this extended simile, admiring her "tackle trim . . . and streamers waving". She even smells sweet, being followed by a damsel train and "amber scent of odorous perfume". It seems as if the Chorus has fallen under Dalila's spell as Samson had.
Samson, however, is under no such illusions. Perhaps his blindness prevents him from capitulating to her beauty, in the same way that in Greek mythology, sailors, having blocked up their ears, saw the Sirens for the evil creatures that they were, rather than be charmed to their deaths by their beautiful singing. His blindness is perhaps the reason that he has made no reference to Dalila's beauty - her seemingly only asset he is no longer able to appreciate. Unlike the Chorus, Samson is not so welcoming. He calls her a "Traitress" and bids the Chorus not to let her go near him. The Chorus, however, seems powerless to act against Dalila, as "yet on she moves". They appear to still be under the spell of Dalila's captivating beauty, this time assimilating her beauty with that of "a fair flower".
At this point Dalila is weeping, "wetting the borders of her silken veil". She appears to take pity on Samson's sorry state, and she stands with her "eyes [on Samson] fix'd". Her first words in Milton's poem take the form of a transferred epithet, claiming that she has come with "doubtful feet and wavering resolution", the reason behind this being her fear of Samson's "displeasure". She acknowledges that this would be fairly warranted, and that she can offer no excuse, "I came . . . without excuse". This gives the reader the impression of a meek Dalila, seeking to expiate her treachery against Samson, and humbly accepting the blame. She insists that "her penance hath not slackened" and her pardon is "no way assured". She claims that "conjugal affection" is her motive for visiting Samson, and her love is so great that she was prepared to risk his wrath. This effusive display of humility and repentance gives the impression that maybe Samson has misjudged her, and that she is not the "monster" that had initially been thought. Yet it is only a short matter of time before we discover that Dalila, however, is lying. She has not come "without excuse", but with many excuses, and this show of humility is...
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