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What is Milton's impact on current English?

Posted by Anders on April 02, 2003

In Reply to: What is Milton's impact on current English? posted by ESC on April 02, 2003

Thank you for your reply. I remember someone saying something like, ask Americans to quote great literature, and they can produce a few phrases at best; ask them to quote rock lyrics, and they can't stop. This could be Allan Bloom, somewhere in the Closing of the American Mind. Anyway, something that came to mind from what you said.

Although I can appreciate your point, I ultimately don't agree with where you're going. The Shakespearean influence on the English language is not just something documented by the OED; it's a living thing, still ongoing. Now, I really like rock music, in addition to great literature - there's no discrepancy - and I am thrilled by Bruce Dickinson's use of British Romantic poets (inside and outside of Iron Maiden). In the Blake-inspired track called Book of Thel, he has even thrown in some Shakespeare for added value, viz. a quote of which I gave the latter half earlier today in another thread: 'By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.' Why the divine Dickinson did not start out ripping off Milton, rather than Coleridge and Blake, I don't know - to me, Milton is so heavy metal. If anyone knows of music - preferably heavy metal - that uses Milton, please let me know.

I am not sure if the above example sufficiently supports my point to convince you? If not, it may be better to point to British newspapers and journals where the Shakespearean influence is no less at play. For now, I can't give any examples, though. But maybe someone can help? Oh, wait, it was really Milton I was after!

: : Shakespeare is often celebrated as a conspicuous influence on present-day English, but how does Milton compare? His best rhetoric in Paradise Lost eclipses even Shakespeare's, I find. It has more power - it is the heavy metal of English literature. I am so in love with the Miltonic: 'We know no time when we were not as now, know none before us, self-begot, self-raised, by our own quick'ning power, etc.' Surely, he must have left an impact lasting to this day? How about 'Our own right hand shall teach us highest deeds'? Or, 'Awake, arise, or be forever fallen!'? Why are these sublime lines not idiomatic; or are they? I ask this question as a non-native speaker of English.
: : Thanks
: : Anders

: My opinion: In the U.S. most people can quote a phrase or two from Shakespeare. High school students have to sit at their desks and suffer through the reading of a play or two. (It would make more sense to have them actually watch and enjoy a play.) On the other hand, the average person has little or no knowledge of Milton.