Role of the Narrative in Milton's Lycidas

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Role of the Narrative in Milton's Lycidas

This paper focuses on the role of the narrative in the funeral elegy. To start, the concept of the narratee has been most deeply explored by Gerald Prince from a narratological perspective. Narratology is primary concerned with narrative patterns in fiction. In this regard, any attempt to apply the terminology commonly used in reference to fiction (and prose) to poetry seems problematic. One has to account for the differences or the similarities between the genres in order to put the discussion of the narratee in the elegy into its proper perspective.

The current trend leans heavily on Bakhtin's study of the structure of the novel. In the Dialogical Imagination, Bakhtin created a sort of dichotomy between the monologic (poetry) and the dialogic. The novel becomes the site of dialogical discourse par excellence (49). But how valid is a wholesome distinction between genres within which there is so much diversity? Doesn't Bakhtin create a dichotomy which pays little consideration to the possibility of polyphony in specific texts regardless of formal classification?

It may be time to consider a literary work not as a predetermined product cast in a deterministic mold, but as a dynamic system that transcends the prevailing assumptions that are supposed to define its identity. The formal definitions can be just external to the composition of the text since we cannot expect the reader to know exactly what the author intended to write without falling into the trap of intentional fallacy.

To be sure, readers from different backgrounds can "hear" different voices in a text. Readers who are initiated in a particular literary environment may find the prosodic features they hav...

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...enius. The death of Lycidas becomes a "national" tragedy. The principle of substitution works here: the poet who reminds his countrymen of the previous life of a dead poet also pleads for himself, seeks visibility through public discourse. In the context of the scarcity of patronage for poets in the seventeenth-century, a poet like Milton had reason to make such a plea by appealing to the puritanical instincts of an audience that would identify with a chaste genius who died in his integrity. The convoluted metaphor of purity is indeed a "wish-fulfilling dream" as Sacks points out (100).

Works Cited

Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: U of Texas P, 1992. Prince, Gerald. "Introduction to the Study of the Narratee." Poetique 14 (1973): 177-96 (reprinted in English).

Sacks, Peter M. The English Elegy. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1985.
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