By Murray Roston (auth.)
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Additional info for Milton and the Baroque
Significantly, the prophet he selects as his model for such mortal inspiration is not, as one might have expected, one of the major visionaries, an Isaiah or Ezekiel representing the finest traditions of biblical poetry and imaginative fire. 29 Instead he by-passes them in favour of Moses, a personality not normally associated with poetry nor even with the full flowering of scriptural prophecy. For the seventeenth-century Puritan particularly, chafing as he had been under the bondage of an oppressive monarchy and contemplating emigration to a new country, Moses had become in Milton's day the often-invoked symbol of the Lawgiver, leading his people to freedom in the Promised Land.
The change can be perceived within Milton's own verse, as he developed from his original Renaissance affinities to his later epic style. His Comus, performed at Ludlow Castle in 1634, was thoroughly Renaissance in theme, imagery and timbre. Within the established genre of the court masque, but with a mingling of allegorical Christian moralising reminiscent of Spenser, it celebrated the virtue of chastity; but in accordance with the Renaissance penchant for interweaving religious and pagan philosophy, the virtue it advocated had strong overtones of Ficino rather than Augustine.
This is far from being the Copernican universe which had inspired the baroque artist. On the contrary, it is the more familiar, traditional world as conceived by preceding generations. Such is the spell cast by literature that, had it suited his purpose, Milton could with ease have retained that traditional setting throughout the epic, untroubled by any conflicts with scientific cosmology. Donne, for example, although profoundly disturbed by the threatening implications of Kepler and Galileo, whose conclusions he reluctantly acknowledged as true, could, when he wished, imaginatively reduce that physical reality to a mere bagatelle as he soared beyond it to the visionary world of the Day of Judgement.