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This article is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

Some Rouzing Motions Mark Dow


There are no dance scenes in Samson Agonistes. Milton's headnote says the play wasn't meant for the stage, but that doesn't explain it. In the Old Testament's Judges, the source of the Samson and Delilah story, the hero's final humiliation is that, having been blinded, he is forced to dance in front of a jeering crowd. Judges doesn't say whether there was any music, but there was a carnival atmosphere and three thousand chanting spectators, and Samson danced for them just before he brought the house down. In Samson Agonistes, there are pipes and timbrels, along with armed guards, escorting Samson to his end, but no dancing.

There are other odd things in the story of Samson and Delilah that Milton and my Hebrew school teachers back in Texas left out. Samson's exploits really have nothing to do with God or the Children of Israel, except as an after-thought. The man likes women, has a short temper, and is apparently a moron. He gives Delilah three false answers about the source of his strength. Each time, she gives the secret to some Philistines who use it to try to kill Samson. Thus assured, he tells her the real secret.

Milton's interest in the Samson story is obviously motivated by his sympathy for the big guy's blindness and misogyny, despite the warning from Merritt Hughs, editor of my college edition of the Complete Poems and Major Prose, ...


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