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Theatrical Milton

Politics and Poetics of the Staged Body

Brendan Prawdzik

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Explains the presence of theatre in John Milton and its centrality to his politics and poetry

Theatrical Milton brings coherence to the presence of theatre in John Milton through the concept of theatricality. In this book, ‘theatricality’ identifies a discursive field entailing the rhetorical strategies and effects of framing a given human action, including speech and writing, as an act of theatre. Political and theological cultures in seventeenth-century England developed a treasury of representational resources in order to stage—to satirize and, above all, to de-legitimate—rhetors of politics, religion, and print. At the core of Milton’s works is a contradictory relation to theatre that has neither been explained nor properly explored. This book changes the terms of scholarly discussion and discovers how the social structures of theatre afforded Milton resources for poetic and polemical representation and uncovers the precise contours of Milton’s interest in theatre and drama.

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Introduction – Theatrical Milton
1. Speaking Body – The Vacation Exercise and Paradise Lost
2. Printless Feet – Early Lyrics and the Maske
3. Bending the Fool – Animadversions and the Early Prose
4. Theatre of Vegetable Love – Paradise Lost
5. Passion’s Looking-Glass – Samson Agonistes
Epilogue – A Systemic Corpus.

About the Author

Brendan Prawdzik is Asisstant Teaching Professor in English at Pennsylvania State University. He received his BA from Rutgers University in 2001 and his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2009. He has taught at UC Berkeley and the University of the Pacific and joined the faculty of Penn State in 2015. He has published on John Milton, Andrew Marvell, and early modern culture.


Ranging across Milton’s career in prose and verse, Prawdzik establishes the reasons why theatricality mattered, not only to the poet’s understanding of authority, selfhood and the millennial triumph of a nation, but also to his understanding of human vulnerability and sinfulness.

- Reid Barbour, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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