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Virtue of SympathyMagic, Philosophy, and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England$
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Seth Lobis

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780300192032

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300192032.001.0001

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Milton and the Link of Nature

Milton and the Link of Nature

(p.110) 3 Milton and the Link of Nature
Virtue of Sympathy

Seth Lobis

Yale University Press

This chapter analyzes the varied representations of sympathy in John Milton’s early poetry and prose. Milton expresses a deep ambivalence about the idea of cosmic sympathy; locating that idea in the distant past, he articulates both a desire to make it a present reality and a doubt that it is recoverable. In The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, the chapter goes on to argue, Milton conceives of sympathy in a new way, identifying it as the bonding force of marriage. Yet, in grounding this moral concept in a mystical view of nature, Milton exposes his doctrine to rhetorical uncertainty. The chapter then shifts focus to Paradise Lost. Associating sympathy with Ovidian error on one hand and occultist error on the other, Milton appears to abandon the marital ideal of the divorce tracts. In the middle of the poem, he depicts a thoroughgoing cosmic sympathy before the Fall and then uses his narrative of the Fall to suggest the breakdown of the sympathetic universe. Adam falls through sympathy with Eve, and the sympathy of the world collapses. At the Fall, Adam and Eve conceive of their relationship not in terms of spiritual connection but in terms of a deterministic magical attraction.

Keywords:   John Milton, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Paradise Lost, Sympathy, Rhetoric, Magic, The Fall

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