That Invincible Samson: The Theme of Samson Agonistes in World Literature
Published: December 1964© 1964
228 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 x 1.00 in
This work examines the more than one hundred analogues of Samson Agonistes, about half of them written earlier than Milton's drama. The author has gone back in every instance to primary sources, and examined all treatments of Milton's theme, in all languages, for their intrinsic interest and merit. While he has not entirely omitted a discussion of source relationships, his concern here has been chiefly with analogues.
In Part I of the book the author compares five pre-Miltonic works, which he has translated, in whole or in part, from the original Latin, Dutch, and Italian. In Part II, a descriptive catalogue, he comments on the significance, to Miltonists and to the general reader, of the analogues. He traces the purposes beyond mere theatre in the different versions of the play: versions prior to 1670 contain many overtones of personal, national, or theological significance, while, after 1671, there is a rapid shift away from religious or moral presentation to a more strictly theatrical entertainment. Dr. Kirkconnell believes that this shift in interest has obscured from most of the critics of later centuries the tone and tradition of this great drama. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have seen dozens of versions of the old play theme, nearly all of them wholly disregarding any inner drama of the spirit, and stressing extrovert aspects of Strength, Beauty, and Sex. As a whole, the analogues will reveal the variety that playwrights have found possible in the ancient theme. The author concludes that Milton's treatment is the noblest ever written, surpassing all others in literary quality and in the nature of the dramatic conflict it describes.