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Moses, J.A. (1987). Samson Agonistes: Love, Authority and Guilt. Am. Imago, 44(4):331-345.

(1987). American Imago, 44(4):331-345

Samson Agonistes: Love, Authority and Guilt

Judith A. Moses, Ph.D.

On the surface Milton's Samson Agonistes has little to do with love. Milton emphasizes Samson's authority problems with God more than he does his love relationships with Dalila and the woman from Timna. At another level, however, the authority struggles at the heart of Samson's agony are intertwined with his love choices: He assumes God's authority by choosing forbidden (in this sense, incestuous) women and breaking the taboos associated with them (telling the answer to the riddle and the secret of his strength). Samson's love relationships fill him with oedipal guilt because he achieves them by usurping a prohibiting parental authority. We shall see that throughout the poem Milton's language reveals his understanding that problems with authority are connected in this way to problems with love.

Critics of the poem, for the most part, have paid little attention to the love story inherent in Samson's troubled relationships with God and the poem's other authority figures. Certainly, the poem's criticism since the Renaissance generally has slighted this part of Samson's story. Eighteenth century criticism, Galbraith Crump tells us, stressed its biblical and classical sources and its dramatic structure, and nineteenth and twentieth century critics still primarily discussed its structure and classical tone (9). My interest in Samson Agonistes as a love story harks back to the Medieval and early Renaissance interest in the story of Samson and Dalila; for, at that time, as F. Michael Krouse observes, “Samson's love for Dalila and her betrayel of him were at the center of the story's interest” (103).

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