Religious dissent in John Milton's 1673 Poems, &c. upon several occasions and nonconformist speech-acts in the restoration /

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Hudson, Brett
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Middle Tennessee State University
This study reexamines the history of reception of John Milton and, in particular, his lyric poetry. Moving beyond the often examined social context of the 1640s, this work analyzes Milton's Poems, &c. Upon Several Occasions in the 1673 context of the republication of Milton's lyrics, focusing particularly on the discourse of England's post-Restoration religious nonconformity. The publication date of Poems 1673 places the book in the hands of nonconformist readers, facing harsh penalties and social exclusion due to England's ecclesiastical penal codes. Such disenfranchised readers sought encouragement, instruction, and catharsis. A combined assessment of the published text of Poems 1673 and of a post-Restoration nonconformist readership shows Milton's poetry to be material easily appropriated for the nonconformist agenda. Concerned with the coherency of Poems 1673 as a nonconformist speech-act, the study focuses closely on three major divisions within the book. Seen through comparisons to nonconformist biography, the sonnet sequence of Poems 1673 contains idioms typically employed by nonconformists to gain toleration and acceptance as well as to defend their public "voices." The pastoral section---dominated by Lycidas and A Mask---contains biblical typology utilized by nonconformist preachers and polemicists, engaged in the vitriolic debates over religious toleration. In their post-Restoration context, Lycidas and A Mask function as descriptions of the enemies of nonconformity in order to reverse the negative dichotomy placed on religious dissent. Finally, the Old Testament typology of Milton's Psalm translations provides emotional catharsis to disenfranchised individuals and groups facing the existential crisis of ideological uncertainty caused by persecution and isolation. Through a comparative analysis of the writings of such pro-nonconformist authors as Andrew Marvell, Joseph Alleine, and Richard Baxter, the poetic idioms and typology of Poems 1673 reveal their
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