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Getting Past the Ellipsis: The Spirit and Urania in Paradise Lost

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

Andrew Shifflett
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina, Columbia
Edward Gieskes
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina, Columbia
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Summary

In John Shawcross's book The Development of Milton's Thought: Law, Religion, and Government, he quotes that famous phrase from Milton, “fit audience, though few.” I was brought up short while reading because this quotation does not include an ellipsis. Can even Shawcross nod? I was reassured when I realized that he had not cited book and line numbers for the quotation; he was simply quoting an oft-used phrase rather than Paradise Lost itself. I thus felt better about John, but continued to be troubled by the broader implications of “fit audience … though few,” with or without the ellipsis. Here I shall argue that the ellipsis eliminates a central element, in the line and the poetic sentence and in terms of Milton's own concerns about the fate of his text. And what scholars so often omit by typifying Milton's audience using this phrase is the place of the ineffable Spirit of God in the communion or community of believers.

I shall dispense with the simple part first: how often is the ellipsis used, and what does it skate over? The phrase appears in the invocation to Book 7 of Paradise Lost:

Standing on Earth, not rapt above the Pole,

More safe I Sing with mortal voice, unchang'd

To hoarse or mute, though fall'n on evil days,

On evil days though fall'n, and evil tongues;

In darkness, and with dangers compast round,

And solitude; yet not alone, while thou

Visit'st my slumbers Nightly, or when Morn

Purples the East: still govern thou my Song,

Urania, and fit audience find, though few.

(7.23–31)
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Renaissance Papers 2012 , pp. 117 - 125
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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