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Milton’s God: Democrat or Tyrant?

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Politeness is a universal phenomenon that is present in every human interaction. Many theorists have attempted to theorize politeness the most important of whom are Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson. The application of their theory has been extended to include literary works which are conversational in nature like drama or works whose building blocks consist of dialogues. This study tries to apply Politeness Theory to Milton's Paradise Lost in order to solve the age-old dispute over Milton's God to whom contradictory characteristics of democracy and tyranny are ascribed. It will be shown that in the conversation that takes place between God and residents of Heaven, God is more careful about politeness strategies despite his supremacy and it seems to be at odds with tyrannical features attributed to him.


International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences (Volume 46)
M. S. Kahmini, "Milton’s God: Democrat or Tyrant?", International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences, Vol. 46, pp. 109-118, 2015
Online since:
January 2015

Belsey, Catherine. John Milton: Language, Gender., Power 6 (1988).

Notice, attend to H (his interests, wants, needs, goods).

Be conventionally indirect.

Give hints.

Brown, P. Politeness: Some universals in language usage (Vol. 4). Cambridge University Press. (1987).

Exaggerate (interest, approval, sympathy with H).

Question, hedge.

Give association clues.

Brown, R., & Gilman, A. Politeness theory and Shakespeare's four major tragedies. Language in Society, (1989). 18(02), 159-212.

Intensify interest to H.

Be pessimistic.


Bryson, M. The Tyranny of Heaven: Milton's Rejection of God as King. University of Delaware Press. (2004).

Use in-group identity markers.

Minimize the imposition.


Burton, D. Dialogue and discourse: A sociolinguistic approach to modern drama dialogue and naturally occurring conversation. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. (1980).

Seek agreement.

Give deference.


Cook, G. Discourse and literature: The interplay of form and mind. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. (1994).

Avoid disagreement.


Use tautologies.

Curme, G. O. The Forms and Functions of the Subjunctive in the Classical and Modern Languages. Modern Philology, (1929). 387-399.

Presuppose/raise/assert common ground.

Impersonalize S and H.

Use contradictions.

Empson, W. Milton's God. Cambridge University Press. (1981).


State the FTA as a general rule.

Be ironic.

Flannagan, R. John Milton: a short introduction. John Wiley & Sons. (2008).

Offer, promise.


Use metaphors.

Goffman, E. Interaction ritual: Essays in face to face behavior. AldineTransaction. (2005).

Be optimistic.

Go on record as incurring a debt, or as not indebting H Strategy (4) includes.

Use rhetorical questions.

Hanford, J. H. The Dramatic Element in" Paradise Lost". Studies in Philology, (1917). 14(2), 178-195.

Include both S and H in the activity.

Be ambiguous.

Herman, P. C. Destabilizing Milton: Paradise Lost, and the Poetics of Incertitude. Palgrave Macmillan. (2005).

Give or (ask for) reason.

Be vague.

Miton, John. Paradise Lost. Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt (2006). New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1872-1887.

Assume or assert reciprocity.


Johnson, S. The Lives of the Poets: A Selection. Oxford University Press. (2009).

Give gifts to H (goods, sympathy, understanding, cooperation) Strategy (3) includes.

Displace H.

Norbrook, D. Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics, 1627-1660 (Vol. 218). Cambridge University Press. (1999).

Be incomplete, use ellipsis ( Received 14 December 2014; accepted 27 December 2014 ).

Pratt, M. L. Toward a speech act theory of literary discourse (Vol. 266). Bloomington: Indiana University Press. (1977).

Raleigh, W. A. Milton. E. Arnold. (1900).

Samuel, I. The Dialogue in Heaven: A Reconsideration of Paradise Lost, III. 1417. Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, (1957). 601-611. i Strategy (2), (3) and (4) consist of substrategies. Strategy (2) includes.

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