Summary (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Milton’s Areopagitica is among the most eloquent protests against prior censorship ever written. Its context lies in the religious politics of seventeenth century England, where the religious cross-currents of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation inflamed passions, as the French Revolution and Soviet communism did in later centuries.
(The entire section is 48 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Areopagitica is the most famous of Milton’s prose works because it has outlasted the circumstances of its original publication. On June 14, 1643, the English Parliament passed a law called the Licensing Order, which required that all books be approved by an official censor before publication, and on November 23, 1644, Milton wrote Areopagitica, pleading for the repeal of the law. His arguments were not successful—official censorship of books in England lasted until the nineteenth century—but Areopagitica has long been an inspiration for those demanding a free press. In fact, its arguments against censorship are nearly as fresh and convincing today as they were in the middle of the seventeenth century.
Milton realized how difficult it would be to change Parliament’s opinion, so he marshaled his argument with great subtlety. His title alludes to a famous speech by the Greek educator Isocrates, and Milton uses a classical argumentative structure and many techniques of classical rhetoric that would have commanded respect from his seventeenth century audience. Yet the modern reader, unaware of classical rhetoric, can still marvel at the cleverness and logic that Milton uses to persuade his contemporary lawmakers. He begins by praising Parliament for its defense of liberty in the past. He then offers a historical review of censorship, pointing out that freedom of the press was highly valued in ancient Greece and Rome. Milton...
(The entire section is 848 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
John Milton’s classic defense of freedom of the press and religious liberty is his response to an ordinance of Parliament of June 14, 1643, requiring among other things that all books receive an official censor’s approval prior to publication. Milton sees this act as a renewal of Stuart tyranny and of the Star Chamber decree of 1637, which had also denied freedom of the press. When this decree was abolished in 1640, a flood of political and religious pamphlets had followed, and for three years freedom of the press had prevailed in England. Milton views such intellectual and polemic activity as being healthy for the nation, and he deeply regrets the renewal of state control over printing. In his view, such control reflects the growing tendency of the Presbyterian Parliament to impose uniform religious practices on England and to oppose all political opposition. Milton’s own Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), which supported more liberal divorce laws, had been printed without permission, and Parliament had sought to discover the author of this unlicensed work. In form, Areopagitica is a classical oration addressed to Parliament although it is not intended for oral delivery. Milton draws the title from a speech of Isocrates to the court of the Areopagus in Athens.
In the long opening section, Milton establishes a favorable view of the author and of the Parliament he is addressing. He characterizes Parliament as a strong...
(The entire section is 1409 words.)