Samson Agonistes

by John Milton

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Is Milton's Samson Agonistes a "closet drama"?

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Samson Agonistes is a "closet drama," intended to be read in small-group settings rather than staged. It is particularly suited to this form because of its exploration of theological concepts, such as divine justice.

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Closet dramas are plays intended to be read aloud in a small group rather than performed on a stage. These dramas are written with no concern for costumes, setting, or blocking of any kind, though this has not stopped some from including these aspects in later years.

  1. John Milton's Samson Agonistes is perhaps his most famous closet drama, published alongside the epic poem Paradise Regained in 1671. Samson Agonistes is a retelling of the last days of the biblical judge Samson after he has been betrayed by Dalila (Milton's chosen spelling instead of Delilah) and captured by the Philistines. Samson struggles with being blinded and losing his physical strength, humbling himself before God and resisting Dalila's attempts to win him back to her.

Samson Agonistes is ideally suited to the closet-drama form because Milton was more interested in exploring theological concepts such as divine justice than creating a complex theatrical world onstage. He wanted the reader to appreciate his ideas and the inner conflict within Samson without concern for how it would appear in live performance. It is similar to his other closet drama Comus, which is more of a debate between chastity and debauchery than a dramatic situation with three-dimensional characters. Though both of these closet dramas have been staged in the past, they were never intended to be.

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