John Milton

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Discuss Milton as a sonneteer.

As a sonneteer, Milton avoids the traditional subject of the sonnet form, which is love. Instead, he uses the sonnet as a vehicle for deeper themes relating to duty, religion, and blindness. In that sense, Milton can be said to have greatly broadened the scope of the sonnet, much to the benefit of English poetry.

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In the estimation of most literary critics and scholars, John Milton is generally regarded as a minor sonneteer. He wrote only twenty-three sonnets that we know of, the number of which pales into insignificance in relation to Shakespeare and Spenser. Far more renowned for long poems such as Lycidas and the great epic poem Paradise Lost, Milton's talents as a sonneteer tend to be somewhat underrated.

Yet this is a rather unfair evaluation. Milton may not have been as prolific as some of his forebears, but he broadened the scope of the sonnet to a considerable extent, making it a vehicle for the expression of deep thoughts and emotions on a variety of subjects hitherto largely ignored. Thanks to Milton, the sonnet was no longer seen as a frivolous verse form designed for frivolous subjects.

Avoiding the traditional subject matter of the sonnet—romantic love—Milton deals with big themes, such as the dictates of duty, one's relationship with God, and the difficulties associated with blindness. One of Milton's greatest sonnets, "On His Blindness," manages to combine all three.

A very serious poet, Milton treats the sonnet with becoming gravity, as a verse form capable of exploring wider realms of experience than the comparatively limited horizons shown to us by the courtly love tradition.

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