Political Context

During the 1660s and 1670s Milton's position was most precarious, at least during the early years of the Restoration. In 1649 the poet had written a tract in defence of the Regicide of Charles I. During the 1650s Milton was a government servant, the apologist of the republic and commonwealth. Milton was called upon to respond to Royalist literature commissioned by the exiled court of Charles II and its supporters. In 1660 on the eve of the Restoration Milton had written and published a tract in defence of republicanism in England which spoke out directly and vehemently against the monarchical form of government. In 1660-61 Milton avoided the full wrath of Royalist retribution against Cromwellians and republicans (for example on the anniversary of Charles I's execution in January 1661 the remains of Cromwell and Ireton were exhumed and ritually executed) being imprisoned for a short while. Milton's colleague and friend, the poet Andrew Marvell, entered Parliament in 1659 and remained an MP until his death. Milton did not participate in public life after the Restoration; this does not mean that he renounced his beliefs however.

Hence Milton had to be wary of the censors. His vast knowledge of classical learning and the Bible allowed him to make subtle allusions and analogies between his own times and the subject of his work. Why did Milton choose the Samson story, and what relevance does this have to the politico-religious environment of the mid-seventeenth century, and more particularly, the 1660s and 1670s?

During the 1640s and 1650s many Parliamentarians compared themselves to the Israelites, God's chosen people. Belief in creating a new Jerusalem in England was strong in such contemporaries. Throughout the Civil Wars Parliamentarians expounded a rhetoric of God's chosen people, of the deliverance of Israel, that was grounded in a sincere belief that the political and religious dynamics of the 'good old cause' were indeed moving England towards the Apocalypse and the second kingdom of Christ, a New Jerusalem. Samson's world is indeed a political world; he is the prophesised deliverer of the Israelites, God's chosen people. However we enter a world in which the Philistines have enslaved the Danites to political and spiritual tyranny.

The exchange between the blinded Samson and the Philistian Officer underscores religious issues after the Restoration of Charles II, when Puritan religious practice was suppressed and dissenters were required, under severe penalties, to worship in their parish (Anglican) churches according to a liturgy many thought idolatrous. The various arguments set forth here -for outward conformity, for submission to absolute power or force, for obedience to God's law rather than man's, for following the inspiration of God's Spirit as superior to all law, human or divine - were all positions developed in response to the dissenters' plight in the Restoration. This is not political allegory, but at times it resonates with the situation of contemporary Puritans, including Milton himself.

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