VOLUME NINE (2016)
- VOLUME SIX (2013): EDITIONS & EDITING
- * * * ARTICLES * * *
- Matthias Bauer & Angelika Zirker: “Connotations”
- Sheila Cavanagh: “Value in Editorial Humanities”
- Clay Daniel: “Restoration Lost”
- Amanda Haberstroh: “MasterMistress”
- Robert Imes: “Editing the Spatial Turn”
- * * * REVIEW ESSAY * * *
- David V. Urban: “The New Milton Criticism”
- * * * REVIEW * * *
- Cole Jeffrey: "Political Theology & Modernity"
- * * * NOTE * * *
- David V. Urban: “Milton & Same-Sex Marriage”
- VOLUME SIX (2013): EDITIONS & EDITING
- ▼ August (14)
Monday, August 12, 2013
David V. Urban: “Milton & Same-Sex Marriage”
David V. Urban
Milton’s Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, An Answer to a Book, and Same-Sex Marriage
2> My own reading of The Divorce Tracts of John Milton has been memorable for a different reason: Its publication of the anonymous An Answer to a Book, intituled, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1644). This tract, a lengthy response to the first edition of DDD, offers a statement germane to perhaps the most contentious social and legal issue of our present day: same-sex marriage. In recent years, DDD has occasionally been mentioned regarding this issue with the suggestion that Milton’s argument for companionate marriage in DDD can be applied to arguments in favor of same-sex marriage.1 In the words of Richard Strier, “Milton’s conception of marriage as essentially a matter of happy and nourishing conversation [. . .] (and of the necessary availability of divorce when this is lacking) [. . . ] is perfectly compatible with same-sex marriage and divorce” (Shoulson and Strier). But no commentator has noted that the heretofore essentially forgotten and unread An Answer to a Book actually anticipates this application of
argument to same-sex marriage.
3> The anonymous author writes as if he were directly addressing Milton himself:
Your first proofe [in favor of divorce] is the institution of marriage Gen. 2 to make woman a meet help for man, because it was not good that man should be alone: whence you collect that a happy conversation by preventing lonelinesse, was the chiefest and noblest end of marriage; and in case this end cannot be found in marriage, there may be reliefe by parting.
We answer and tell you againe, that it is a happie or a pleasant conversation, made up by creating them male and female, and not simply as Eve was a fit conversing soule for Adam, as you afterward expresse it, for then would it have been more pleasant and beneficiall to Adam to have another man created, then [than] a woman. (416)2
4> Toward the end of this passage, the anonymous author explicitly asserts that
argument is actually more applicable to male-male relations than to male-female
relations. Although the author clearly believes that such an application
demonstrates the illogicality of Milton’s argument, and although it seems
anachronistic to suggest that Milton himself would have supported same-sex
marriage, it remains to be seen if the author’s assertion, which may become
increasingly recognized with An Answer to a Book’s recent
republication, propels Milton’s larger argument regarding companionate marriage
to a more prominent position in future discussions of same-sex marriage. And it
remains to be seen if the above passage—something brought to light only by
virtue of van den Berg and Howard’s edition—elicits a new avenue of scholarly
discussion regarding Milton
I wish to thank Calvin College, whose Calvin Research Fellowship enabled me to write this piece. Thanks also to Paul Klemp, who read and commented on an earlier version of this note.
1. Examples of this application of Milton’s divorce tract to discussions of same-sex marriage include Nussbaum, 138, 143; Nardo, 133; and Shoulson and Strier.
2. Italics in the first paragraph appear in the original text. Italics in second paragraph are mine.
An Answer to a Book, intituled, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce in The Divorce Tracts of John Milton: Texts and Contexts, ed. Sara J. van den Berg and W. Scott Howard (Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 2010). 401-47.
Kranidas, Thomas. “Milton Rewrites The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.” Studies in English Literature 53.1 (Winter 2013): 117-35.
Nardo, Anna. Rev. of The Divorce Tracts of John Milton: Texts and Contexts, ed. Sara J. van den Berg and W. Scott Howard, Seventeenth Century News 69 (2011): 131-34.
Nussbaum, Martha C. From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation & Constitutional Law (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010).
Shoulson, Jeffrey and Richard Strier. “The Doctrine and Discipline of Gay Divorce.” Discussion on Milton-L listserv. 21 July 2011,
David V. Urban is associate professor of English at Calvin College. He completed John Milton: An Annotated Bibliography, 1989-1999 and is the co-editor of Visionary Milton. His most recent articles on Milton appear in Appositions, Connotations, Milton Studies, and Milton Quarterly. He has also recently published essays on Fugard and Tolstoy and Pauline Rhetoric. He is completing a book on Milton and Jesus’ parables.
APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature and Culture, http://appositions.blogspot.com/, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume Six (2013): Editions & Editing