ABSTRACT

The much-debated question of which of Milton’s wives is the “espoused saint” of Sonnet 23 reveals just how much is omitted from Milton’s vision of his saintly beloved. His wife is not given any of the characteristics we typically desire to specify a person: name, age, identifying features, or unique charms. She is instead identified merely through possessives and comparisons. This article explores how Milton’s sonnet taps into an idea of intermediate personhood afforded by the grammatical peculiarities of pronouns and how the poem meditates on lyric conventions of imagining persons. Milton’s amplification of these conventions allows him to see his beloved as irreplaceable while also depicting her as a capacious figure of intimacy in conversation with other figures of intimacy such as Euripides’s Alcestis. In crafting this figure of peculiar love, Milton lays the groundwork for his defense of the “sole propriety” of marriage in Paradise Lost.

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