In Moral Fiction in Milton and Spenser, John M. Steadman examines how Milton and Spenser--and Renaissance poets in general--applied their art toward the depiction of moral and historical "truth." Steadman centers his study on the various poetic techniques of illusion that these poets employed in their effort to bridge the gap between truth and imaginative fiction. In developing this theme, the author considers the poetry of Milton and Spenser, touching also on works by Tasso, Boiardo, Ariosto, DuBartas, Puttenham, Sidney, and others, against the background of Renaissance epic theory and practice.
Emphasizing the significant affinities and the crucial differences between the seventeenth-century heroic poet and his sixteenth-century "original," Steadman analyzes the diverse ways in which Milton and Spenser exploited traditional invocation formulas and the commonplaces of the poet's divine imagination. Steadman suggests that these poets, along with most other Renaissance poets, did not actually regard themselves as divinely inspired but, rather, resorted to a common fiction to create the appearance of having special insight into the truth.
The first section of this study traces the persona of the inspired poet in DuBartas's La Sepmaine and in The Faerie Queene and Paradise Lost. Reevaluating the views of twentieth-century critics, it emphasizes the priority of conscious fiction over autobiographical "fact" in these poets' adaptations of this topos. The second section develops the contrast between the two principal heroic poems of the English Renaissance, The Faerie Queene and Paradise Lost, in terms of the contrasting aesthetic principles underlying the romance genre and the neoclassical epic.
Complementing the findings of earlier critics of Spenser and Milton, Moral Fiction in Milton and Spenser will be a welcome addition to the study of Renaissance literature.
John M. Steadman is a retired Senior Research Associate at the Henry E. Huntington Library and Professor of English Emeritus at the University of California at Riverside. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Milton and the Paradoxes of Renaissance Heroism, and co-editor of A Milton Encyclopedia, Volumes 1-9.