Folklore in Milton's poetry : with special reference to the pre-Civil War poems
Brown, Mildred Grace
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Milton is one of the most learned of poets. He draws his material from all European literature, past and present. His sources are Biblical, Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, Hebrew, and Christian. But often Milton's themes, being inherently archetypal, lend themselves to imagery which is older and more deeply established in the English mind, even in the educated mind, than images from sources like the Bible or the classics. This imagery forms the folk element in Milton's work. The use of folklore is most apparent in his pre-civil war poems, though there are examples of it in Paradise Lost as well. In the seventeenth century science was in its infancy, and its findings had not reached down to the common people. In a day when scholars like Dryden and Browne believed in astrology, it is not surprising that vulgar minds peopled the countryside with spirits and believed in numerous superstitions and wonderful legendry. This ancient lore was the inheritance, not only of the uneducated, but of literary men like John Milton. Often when Milton's references and allusions are to religious or secular literary sources, his use of folklore tends to give them a peculiarly English quality. No one would try to make out that the Latin and Biblical elements are not paramount. But in a thesis one-sidedness is useful if it illustrates an aspect of poetry not often enough recognized. My thesis aims to show these folk and related elements and their effect in giving Milton's poetry an English color.