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Tyrannical Powers: Representations of Tyranny in Milton

David Loewenstein

Pages 67 - 91



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

The upheavals of the English Revolution give us remarkable discourses on the subject of political and religious freedom, as well as fresh interpretations of tyranny—its meanings, its genesis, its language, its locations, and its consequences. This essay examines premodern discourses of tyranny that have significant implications for the issue in Milton’s England. Writers understood tyranny in multiple and competing ways as perceptions of the issue and its locations evolved, expanded, or shifted. Complex premodern discourses on tyranny intersect and overlap; these include conceptions shaped by Greek culture (including Aristotelian virtue ethics), by republican Rome (when the expulsion of Roman kings leads to rex and tyrannus becoming synonymous), by the Bible (where we find not only disillusionment with bad kings but the idea that Yahweh is the only lord fit to rule), and by Machiavelli and Hobbes who dismantle premodern discourses of tyranny and the belief in virtuous rule and citizenship as essential foundations of government. I analyse Milton’s thinking about the scourge of tyranny and its location in his revolutionary prose and demonstrate how Paradise Lost invites readers to rethink the contested issue anew as his early modern epic explores the meanings, ambiguous language, and shifting locations of tyranny.

Keywords: Tyranny, Milton, Paradise Lost, Machiavelli, Hobbes


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