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Home » , » Evaluate Addison as a critic of Milton with reference to his essay on Paradise Lost
Addison as a Critic of Milton Essay. Paradise Lost one of them. Addison wrote in an age when the emerging middle class was forming their own culture. They could not comprehend the great emotion of life. They could not appreciate the mystery, the passion, the wildness or the pathos of ancient epic. They were only charmed by the rhetoric and polish of the language. Addison, a reformer of the taste of his age, with the greatest critical effort in the series of Saturday papers, criticizes Paradise Lost by the canons of Aristotle, Longinus and Le Bossu. In the first installment of his essay, he judges Paradise Lost to be equal if not superior to Homer and Virgil. Although Addison's appreciation of Paradise Lost has been criticized as supericial,' tentative rather than scientific, deciding by taste rather than by principles', Dr Johnson rightly recommended the blandishments of gentleness and facility that 'has made Milton a universal favourite. Addison opens his essay making it clear that he will judge Paradise Lost by the rules of epic poetry set down by Aristotle and Horace as discussed in La Bossu's Traite du poeme epique and practiced by Homer and Virgil. Here as a critic Addison limits his focus by the neo-Aristotelian conventions. Although his theories are not personal or original, he successfully explicates the poem for the general readers. Like Aristotle in Poetics he first considers the 'fable' or plot of an epic poem. A perfect plot should possess three qualities of its action. The action is considered perfect or imperfect depending on three features - its singleness, completeness and greatness. He refers to Horace and says that in order to maintain the singleness of the action, Homer and Virgil open their actions in the middle of the story and the preceding events are described by characters by way of episodes. Milton closely imitates these two great poets and openss his Paradise Lost with an infernal council plotting the Fall of Man. He describes the preceding events later by way of episode. Although Addison refers to several events in Greek myth and Roman legend, he consciously ignores that a person needs a sound knowledge in classical learning to unferstand the epics. The episodes in Paradise Lost arise naturally from the subject and they are filled with exciting incidents that give the pleasure of the greatest variety and simplicity. Like Virgil, Milton deals with such great action as the Fall of Man. The episodes or digressions run parallel with the great action of the poem and enhance the unity of the plot. Thus Addison praises the   plot of Paradise Lost highly. He then refers to Aristotle's second theory regarding complete action consisting of a beginning, middle, and an end. Nothing should go before, after or in between it. The action should be just, regular and interconnected and no single step can be omitted from the beginning to the end. Just as in Homer's iliad and Virgil's Aeneid, the parts of Paradise Lost are described in the most distinct manner and grow out of one another in the most natural method. Addison finds Milton superior to other epic poets in regard to the compactness of his plot.  Milton's Paradise Lost, moreover, deals and determines the fate of the entire human species. There is an unquestionable magnificence in every part of Paradise Lost which is much greater than those of Iliad and Aeneid.

Similarly, Addison elaborates on Aristotle's metaphor of an animal in Poetics to explain the magnitude of an epic poem. According to him,  Milton's task was more challenging. Since Paradise Lost is built on the contents of Holy Scripture, Milton had less freedom and to be very cautious in expanding and diversifying the plot with episodes that do not offend the religion of the country. Regarding time span of an epic poem, he says no critic has set down any rules to limit the time span of he action of an epic poem. As a critic he was not original. He lacked the 'pomp of system and severity of science. But many of Addison's praises regarding paradise Lost bear permanent value. His aim was to gather up the best ideas of his time, put them within reach of the ordinary readers and infuse literary curiosity. His attempt succeeded. Inquiry was awakened and comprehension expanded.


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