Milton's ambivalent attitudes toward both the English Parliament and Isocrates suggest that his title for this, his most famous, prose work possesses more precise imaginative connections with its substance than is usually supposed. Through his title—and then in his exordium—Milton equates himself with Isocrates and Parliament with the General Assembly. But those equations are shaken by the allusion to St. Paul, who is clearly to be admired for his toleration and whose audience is to be rebuffed for its lack of it. Milton allows the initial correspondences to remain intact until he fulfills the rhetorical demands of his exordium (eliciting the good will of his audience) and then allows ironic inconsistencies to tumble forth. Areopagitica, then, is written from two perspectives (the one serious, the other ironic)—a conclusion that is supported by both the allusion to St. Paul and the reference to Euripides’ The Suppliants. A “perpetual stumbling block” to generations of readers, the title of Milton's oration proves to be an important source of meaning and unity for the work.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.