ABSTRACT

The gunpowder sermons, preached in annual celebration of the discovery of Guy Fawkes's plot (1605), were powerful influences on the young Milton's treatment of this conspiracy in his Latin epigrams and In Quintum Novembris. The sermons also influenced the mature Milton's depiction of Satan's conspiracy in Paradise Lost. The influence of the gunpowder sermons is apparent in the many striking resemblances between them and Milton's work, early and late. The preachers and Milton alike regard Satan as the archetypal conspirator, who invented gunpower as a weapon to rival God's thunderbolt. They are alike in dramatically characterizing God as the unmoved deity, who easily defeats the most subtle of intrigues. For example, both the preachers and Milton are indebted to Psalm ii, the spectacle of God laughing at his enemies. Finally, the particular ironic contempt which Milton affects toward the rebel angels in Paradise Lost may be traced to the irony employed by the sermonists to mock the pretentious futility of the gunpowder plotters. The gunpowder sermons, then, bring into sharp relief some political contours of Paradise Lost.

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