Paper Proposal 'The Sacred in the Secular', University of London
Dr Esther van Raamsdonk, University of Exeter
The Secular in the Sacred: Milton's Dutch Satan
When Milton began writing his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), he attempted to create a work, 'yet un-attempted in prose and rhyme', that would justify God's way to men, thereby hoping to create a perfect Christian myth. In order to do so, he drew on numerous sacred sources, ranging from the earliest works on Christianity to contemporary sources that dealt with complex religious controversies that had divided nations, such as works on the far-reaching Arminius-Gomarus debate. What we are left with nowadays is a poem with a sacred invocation and ambition, but also one that incorporates many issues that are far away from the sacred; propaganda and trade, to mention a few, are important forces within the poem. This means that the poem itself mirrors some of the tensions at play within England, and between England and other countries in Europe at the time. In this paper, I will examine how Milton alludes to contemporary issues, especially the fluctuating political situation between England and the United Provinces; he used the secular to shape the secular narrative, and vice versa. In particular, Satan is described in terms of mercantile tensions and ambitions with negative connotation of goods and practises associated with the Dutch; the devil was a Dutchman and the Dutchmen devils. Milton's new mythology is thus rooted in his secular context, with the sacred harnessed to more than literary ends.
For the past three years, I have worked on an interdisciplinary thesis entitled Anglo-Dutch Relations in Milton and Marvell, examined November last year. In my current research, I uncover the literary sphere shared by England and the United Provinces in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. My dissertation demonstrates that there was much more (literary) exchange in early modern Europe than is normally held, in terms of theology, political thought and scholarship, leading to significant examples of intertextuality within multi-national literatures. Some of these findings have been published in 'Did Milton Know Dutch?', Notes and Queries, 63.1 (March 2016). My thesis, centred on John Milton and Andrew Marvell, examines many key issues of the seventeenth century: the battle between Calvinists and Arminians in Protestant Europe, the impact of the Civil War and regicide, and the rise of publication and print. As part of my project, I made many original translations from Dutch, Latin and French into English. Currently, I am editing my thesis into a monograph with intended publisher OUP. In the meantime, I am teaching on Shakespeare and Literature pre-1800 at the University of Exeter.