“Lowliness majestic” : androcentric patriarchy, queerness, and the equivocal meekness of eve in John Milton’s paradise lost
Ng, Ian Alexander
Date of Issue2019-07-17
School of Humanities
Focusing on John Milton’s immensely ambivalent depiction of gender, Biblical patriarchy, and feminine lowliness in his magnum opus, the epic poem “Paradise Lost” (“PL”), this final-year thesis answers the following research question: “To what extent does Milton’s portrayal of gender, Eve, and lowliness uphold or resist patriarchy?” In his hermeneutic divorce tracts “The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce” and “Tetrachordon”, Milton stridently expresses his belief in woman’s intrinsic, ontological inferiority that legitimizes his support of Biblical patriarchy. However, in “PL” he appears to ameliorate—and even rebuke—patriarchy through his valorization of meek, feminine lowliness, a virtue which is prominently embodied by Eve and which holds the radical potential to provide a theological basis for destabilizing his support of patriarchy. Taking into consideration the depth of Milton’s androcentricity and gender prejudice as elucidated in his divorce tracts and considering how he destabilizes these views in “PL” and its sequel, the late poem “Paradise Regained” (“PR”), I argue that while Milton unabashedly institutes patriarchy in “PL”, he also subtly encodes within “PL” the seeds of a radically progressive egalitarianism within the domains of theology and gender that undermine the very patriarchy he has created. I identify four key factors that Milton utilizes to problematize his ostensible support of patriarchy. First, he portrays Eve as an astute moral philosopher who corrects Adam’s mistaken views on temptation in the separation debate. Milton further highlights Eve’s intelligence by allowing her to articulate key theological arguments on moral autonomy from “Areopagitica”, his defense of unlicensed printing. Second, Milton destabilizes the rigid nature of divine hierarchy by promoting an egalitarian and meritocratic version of the Great Chain of Being. Third, he establishes a praiseworthy commonality between Eve and Jesus’ virtuous, feminine meekness. Finally, he creates an anti-patriarchal, anti-gender essentialist vision of angelic queerness in his utopian depiction of the afterlife.
Final Year Project (FYP)
Nanyang Technological University