Samson Agonistes

by John Milton

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

John Milton's Samson Agonistes is a tragic play based on the biblical figure in the Book of Numbers. The play deals with the suffering and redemption of Samson, who has been enslaved and blinded by his enemies. Samson is able to gain spiritual insight through his trials, something he did not have when he was powerful. This links him with Milton's Adam and Eve, who start the road to forgiveness and reconciliation with God once they admit their sin and learn from their fall.

Samson is viewed as a tragic hero. He is brought low by both outside forces and his own hamartia; however, he regains control over his life in the end—by ending it, ironically. He pulls down the temple of Dagon, killing himself and his enemies.

Samson's hero status is complicated, though. After all, he ends up killing himself and other people in a final, violent gesture. Is Milton claiming Samson's actions are heroic or is there a note of condemnation there, since such conduct is hardly Christian in philosophy (since Christian conduct involves forgiveness and turning the other cheek)? The play is Milton's attempt to create a tragedy (in its Greek form) from biblical sources, but it is debatable whether Samson Agonistes is a natural fit for such a form or not.

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