Shakespeare’s Hamlet was one of seventeenth-century England’s most popular plays, and, as the First Folio of the Philadelphia Free Library confirms, it was a Shakespearean drama with which Milton was deeply engaged. With Hamlet in mind, this article examines the degree to which Shakespearean tragedy qualifies Milton’s classical understanding of the genre and, more importantly, allows us insight into the relationship between tragedy and grace. What emerges is the profoundly agonistic but creative relationship between such influences as Shakespeare and Luther at the climax of Paradise Lost—so much so that without them Milton’s great work of art would have neither the same affective nor epistemological power. The argument falls into two parts: the first focuses on a specific network of contexts for Milton’s representation of the Fall as a tragedy, and the second on Adam and Eve’s response to that tragedy.

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