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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.64, No.1, 135 ~ 151, 2018
“Homeward returning”: A Plebeian Romance and Naturalization of Vagrancy in John Milton’s Paradise Lost
Hyunyoung Cho
Focusing on the hermeneutic instability of a key word of Paradise Lost, “wander,” this study attempts to situate John Milton’s early modern epic in the longue duree historical transition from seignorial to capitalist mode of production, especially the displacement and reorganization of producer population, a corollary of early phase of modernization. The historic experience of vagrancy and its normalization, and the concomitant shift of the primary human sociability from given to voluntary bonds, I suggest, shape and inform Milton’s early modern rewriting of the Biblical story of the fall and his revising of the heroic epic romance into a plebeian romance of a wandering, companionate couple. While building on the critical consensus on this poem’s deliberate distancing from the tradition of classical epic and chivalric romance, this essay argues that Milton re-appropriates and re-channels the aspirational aspect of chivalric wandering, or mobility, for his plebeian heroes, a companionate conjugal couple. The hermeneutic instability of the word wander, this essay suggests, captures the duality of the historic experience of vagrancy, both the tragic experience of displacement and the liberational and uplifting dimension of that experience.
Key Words
Milton, Vagrancy, Epic, Romance, Wander
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