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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

Be conventionally indirect.

Give hints.

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

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

Question, hedge.

Give association clues.

Exaggerate (interest, approval, sympathy with H).

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

Be pessimistic.


Intensify interest to H.

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

Minimize the imposition.


Use in-group identity markers.

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

Give deference.


Seek agreement.

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


Use tautologies.

Avoid disagreement.

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

Presuppose/raise/assert common ground.

Impersonalize S and H.

Use contradictions.

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


State the FTA as a general rule.

Be ironic.

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

Offer, promise.


Use metaphors.

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

Be optimistic.

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

Use rhetorical questions.

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

Include both S and H in the activity.

Be ambiguous.

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

Give or (ask for) reason.

Be vague.

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

Assume or assert reciprocity.


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

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

Displace H.

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

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

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

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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