In this Chapter, I will discuss John Milton’s ideas on sexuality and gender to deduct whether his representation of women in Early Modern Literature can be seen as misogynistic. I aim to identify his motives and question his portrayal of Eve in Paradise Lost. I will also contrast the ideas of Milton’s critics in order to deduct if the stigma of misogyny was an underlying factor in his ideas or just a consequence of the time. I will do this by studying and researching not only the work of Milton, but of his contemporaries including Aphra Behn, Mary Wroth, Aemilia Lanyer and Edmund Spenser.
John Milton was a highly educated man, a political campaigner and a deeply revered thinker. His poetry and prose have been critiqued and studied by most, if not all those who show interest in the canon of literature. He was a libertine and revolutionary, who embarked on works of epic proportion and religious statement. I hope that by after reading this chapter you will gain an insight into how women were perceived in the 17th century and deduct if Milton himself was conforming or subverting from misogynistic thinking.
It is an understatement to say Milton had a prolific influence on writers and critics in Early Modern Literature. His religious and political ideas helped to shape one of the most densely saturated eras of literary history. The reformation was a time of apocalyptic questions and contradictory answers, one very debatable question in this instance is: What role did women play in society of this time and what was seen as acceptable?
The word misogynist comes from the Greek misogynes, literally meaning “woman hater” and is known to have come into the English language around 1610. The hatred of women is a literal definition, although from this denotes the fear of women, their sexuality and their power over men. In the 17th century women in the court were stigmatised as untrustworthy. In Court, aristocratic women arranged political deals and had affairs behind the scenes. At the beginning of the century, there were more women working and more opportunities than at the end of the century. Although legitimised socially, women were still victimised and for the majority, their relationship to men was still defined by their ability to wield female sexuality to command favour or discrimination. In Sexual Freedom in Restoration Literature, Warren Chernaik writes, “women are created for the diversion of men, ‘not to dwell in constantly, but only for a night and away’ (3: Sexual Freedom in Restoration Literature) In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare highlights the career of women in society as either a nun or a whore. Even for Isabella, chaste and virtuous, her sexuality is still used as a bargaining tool and the whores seem to have the most sexual freedom at the bottom of the social ladder.
Psychoanalytically, there are numerous theories on the origin of misogyny. Sigmund Freud believed women were the lesser of men and could not be understood, therefore...