New Article – Ambiguous words: Post-lapsarian language in Paradise Lost

Liam Haydon’s recent article in Renaissance Studies can be found here.


Ambiguous words: Post-lapsarian language in Paradise Lost


This article considers the differences between fallen and unfallen language in Paradise Lost. The poem presents divine language as perfect, intuitive and possessing a direct correlation between word and thing. The Falls of both Satan and mankind break that correlation, introducing multivalency, and the ability to dissimilate, into language. Satan rebels, in part, by emphasizing the open-ness of language in a series of puns and contestations over the proper naming of things. Conversely, although Adam and Eve both pun after the Fall, this is done almost unconsciously as a mark of, rather than exultation in, the Fall. Paradise Lost, too, is enmeshed in this fallen language; I argue that it self-consciously deploys the features of post-lapsarian language (puns, ambiguity, multivalency) in order to express the limits of its own expression, pointing to its own failure to reproduce sacred song. In Paradise Lost, the glorious achievement is not in overcoming this multivalence, but in expressing it at all. In doing so, it invites its fit audience to recognize the limits of their own language and understanding, and find in those very limits a renewed desire to strive towards the unattainable perfection that the poem seeks to fleetingly capture.

%d bloggers like this: