Trials of Nature
The Infinite Law Court of Milton's Paradise Lost
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This book investigates the history of the metaphor of nature a courtroom at the intersection of jurisprudence, philosophy and literature, focusing particularly on Milton’s epic, Paradise Lost. The metaphorical identification of nature with a law court is an old and persistent trope, haunted by ancient aporias. The history of this metaphor is entangled with legal history, but also with the history of literature, particularly the history of the epic. After outlining a historical overview of the use of the law court metaphor in Europe, from antiquity to the 17th century, Björn Quiring’s book focuses on John Milton’s Paradise Lost, in which the problem of nature’s relationship to the jurisdictions of God and of man is formulated with particular poignancy, at the threshold of secularization. His study demonstrates that the positive legal decrees of the divinity are unable to rid themselves of vacillating references to a divergent legal procedure inherent in nature. Indeed, Nature’s supplementary shadow legislation holds the epic’s whole theologico-political edifice together and stabilizes the rule of God, precisely because its relation to the divine remains ambiguous and competitive. Human beings are therefore confronted with a double law that consolidates itself by entangling them further and further in its double binds, whether they obey it or not. The analysis of this juridical structure open a new perspective on Milton’s epic; more generally, however, it demonstrates how legal discourse tends to embed itself within life. An original and fascinating study, this book will appeal to those working in law and literature, legal theory and legal history, as well those in literature with an interest in Milton.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction: The Universal Trial 2. Milton’s Wager 3. The Primordial Nature of God 4. The Vacuous Trials of Chaos 5. The Eternal Word of Creation and the Regimens of Heaven 6. The Growths of Hell 7. Cosmic Redemptions 8. The Process of Paradise 9. The Infinite Judgment of Creation 10. Epilogue: The Wages of Nature
Bjoern Quiring is Assistant Professor of English at Trinity College, Dublin