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The Legal Epic

"Paradise Lost" and the Early Modern Law

Alison A. Chapman

The Legal Epic

Alison A. Chapman

248 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2017
Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 9780226435138 Published February 2017
E-book $10.00 to $40.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226435275 Published February 2017
The seventeenth century saw some of the most important jurisprudential changes in England’s history, yet the period has been largely overlooked in the rich field of literature and law. Helping to fill this gap, The Legal Epic is the first book to situate the great poet and polemicist John Milton at the center of late seventeenth-century legal history.

Alison A. Chapman argues that Milton’s Paradise Lost sits at the apex of the early modern period’s long fascination with law and judicial processes. Milton’s world saw law and religion as linked disciplines and thought therefore that in different ways, both law and religion should reflect the will of God. Throughout Paradise Lost, Milton invites his readers to judge actions using not only reason and conscience but also core principles of early modern jurisprudence. Law thus informs Milton’s attempt to “justify the ways of God to men” and points readers toward the types of legal justice that should prevail on earth.

Adding to the growing interest in the cultural history of law, The Legal Epic shows that England’s preeminent epic poem is also a sustained reflection on the role law plays in human society.

On Texts

1. Introduction
2. Law and Religion in Milton’s World
3. The Traitors of Heaven and Earth
4. The Arch-Felon
5. The Sole Propriety of Adam and Eve
6. Acts of Possession
7. The Mortal Sentence
8. Begging Pardon
9. Conclusion


Review Quotes
Debora K. Shuger, University of California, Los Angeles
“This is a terrific piece of scholarship. Chapman makes a very strong case for Milton's intimate familiarity with English and Continental law; his commitment to a natural law position that insisted upon the fundamental connection among human law, right reason, and divine law; and the relevance of legal concepts to Paradise Lost. The Legal Epic will fundamentally change how we read Milton's poem.”
Recent Studies in the English Renaissance
“One of the most pellucid books I read for this review, The Legal Epic persuasively shows how the era’s legal discourses, practices, and associated ideas permeate Milton’s theodicy in Paradise Lost. . . . Chapman’s argument mounts a powerful case.”
The British Society for Literature and Science
"The Legal Epic, aside from being a rare study of the variegated manifestations of law found in Paradise Lost, is a solid contribution to political philosophy. Chapman’s book is also a reminder that contemporary instances of separation between law (lex) and justice (jus) have deleterious political effects beyond unnuanced readings of Milton’s best-known work."
"Chapman's careful attention to the nuances of Milton's precise legal terminology sheds new light on every part of Paradise Lost, including such much-studied subjects such Satan's fall and damnation, the nature of God, and the relationship of Adam and Eve before and after the Fall. The book is exceptional in its clarity of organization, writing, and accessibility....Essential."
Paul Stevens, University of Toronto
“Chapman’s excellent study of Paradise Lost as a ‘legal epic’ raises the bar. She defamiliarizes the poem by demonstrating just how much it is interpenetrated by Milton’s self-confident and precise understanding of daily legal practice. Urging us to remember that he was the son of a scrivener and the brother of a judge, her book reveals a Milton whose profound sense of contingency and God’s grace never obscures his imaginative engagement with the intricacies of the law.”
David Loewenstein, Penn State–University Park
“More deeply than any other study, The Legal Epic illuminates the ways Milton creatively employs and transforms the language and principles of early modern law in Paradise Lost.  Chapman persuasively shows that understanding Milton’s use of legal language and concepts in relation to theology is crucial to understanding his poetic theodicy.  This interdisciplinary book is a major contribution to Milton studies and to the study of early modern literature and law.  An outstanding achievement.”

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