Courts, Jurisdictions, and Law in John Milton and His Contemporaries

Courts, Jurisdictions, and Law in John Milton and His Contemporaries

Alison A. Chapman

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780226729152

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

John Milton is widely known as the poet of liberty and freedom. But his commitment to justice, which runs throughout his prose works, is often missed when viewed at the distance of the twenty-first century. This book shows that Milton’s work is not only saturated in legal arguments of his day, but that he also actively shifts between citing Roman, common, and canon law to best suit his purpose in any given text. This book provides literary scholars with a working knowledge of the multiple, jostling, real-world legal systems in conflict in seventeenth-century England and brings to light Milton’s use of the various legal systems and vocabularies of the time—natural versus positive law, for example—and the differences between them. Surveying Milton’s early pamphlets, divorce tracts, late political tracts, and major prose works in comparison with the writings and cases of some of Milton’s contemporaries—including George Herbert, John March, Ben Jonson, and John Bunyan—this book shows the variety and nuance in Milton’s juridical tool-kit and his subtle use of competing jurisdictions in pursuit of justice.