Dirty, Sexy Milton
John Milton was a puritan poet, in that he sided with the Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil, but he was no prude. You might think he was a prude since he implied that he wouldn’t “sport with Amaryllis in the shade” or “play with the tangles of Naera’s hair” in his break-through poem “Lycidas.” And he wrote a play Comus that was dedicated to Chastity. But, if you know anything about Milton, you know he wrote about sex constantly in Comus, Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes, and other works. In short, Milton was a dirty, sexy poet.
More than a few critics have commented on Milton’s portrayals of sex. The Christian critic C.S. Lewis noted that Milton was possessed of an “original voluptuousness greater, perhaps, than that of any English poet,” and Scott Elledge described the writer’s “strongly sensual nature.” So, Edward Le Comte wrote that in Paradise Lost, “sex in its proper place, the marriage bed, is given full due, in disagreement with those church fathers who declined to believe there was copulation before the fall.” And James Turner wrote that Milton “insists on a full sexual life for the unfallen Adam and Eve—bringing it to life as fully as his poetic resources allow.” And these critics, believe it or not, are right: If you read Milton closely, you will find he is one sexy puritan.
In his brutal and sarcastic political prose, for example, Milton was not above casting sexual innuendo at his opponents. Take, for instance, his Second Defense of the English People, which lashes out at the rumored sexual indiscretions of Alexander More. The gossip of the day said that the French priest had an adulterous affair with his servant girl, and Milton repeated the gossip without flinching. He wrote about More:
He happened to be seized with a lawless passion for a servant girl of his host; and although the girl was married not long after to another, he still followed her: the neighbors had frequently observed them enter...