Samson Agonistes: Poetic Drama - Summary and Analysis

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      Samson Agonistes is a dramatic poem written after the classical models by John Milton. It is Milton's most flawless single work of art, in which Milton openly challenges comparison with Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. The play centers around the temptation and redemption of Samson, a Biblical character who submitted to the feminine charms of Dalilah and disclosed to her the secret of his strength which led to betrayal and his capture by the enemy. The play concerns the fallen Samson's recovery of God's lost favor. In the opening, Samson is a spectacle of tragic woe. The first chorus echoes and interprets his lament with emphasis on the contrast between what he once was and what he now is. The whole result of the mistaken attempts at comfort has been to sharpen Samson's misery. The scene culminates in a spiritual outburst, expressive no longer of the hero's physical suffering but of the agony of the soul which springs from full contemplation of his sins and sense of Heaven's desertion.

Samson Agonistes
Samson Agonistes

      The theme of the play is the process of Samson's recovery and each of the characters who visit him his father Manoah, his wife Dalilah, the Philistine giant Harappa and the Philistine officer who comes to bid him to the festival represent different temptations, in resisting which he proceeds further towards recovery and establishes his status as a hero. Structurally, Milton's play reproduces with extraordinary precision the form of a Greek tragedy as Aristotle Conceived it. The unity and gravity of the play are also Aeschylean. In details, it is close to Sophocles.

Critical Analysis

      The poetic play, Samson Agonistes is however religious in tone. Its hero recovers and does God's work The moral law is firm and clear. There is no disproportion between sin and punishment, no temporary dislocation of the universal order, and no sense of waste. So Samson Agonistes is not a tragedy in the strict sense of the term. But technically, it is a remarkable achievement. it is strictly Greek in form. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. It has an artistic design and the choric odes serve to deepen the tragic impression. The chorus is more Sophoclean than Euripidean in character. In theme, the play is Hebraic - it justifies the ways of God; in structure, it is wholly Greek. It is again the most autobiographical and the most movingly Christian thing that Milton wrote.

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