Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Milton's Divorce Tracts

Milton's divorce tracts refer to the four interlinked polemical pamphlets—The Doctrine and Discipline of DivorceThe Judgment of Martin BucerTetrachordon, and Colasterion. 

Milton's Marriages 

  • Milton married Mary Powell in May 1642, and, shortly after, she left him and returned to live with her mother. He wanted to divorce her to marry another, but the legal statutes of England did not allow for Milton to apply for a divorce.
  •  Although it is impossible to know why exactly Powell separated from Milton, it is possible that Powell's family, a strong royalist family, caused a political difference that was exacerbated by the English Civil War. 
  • Regardless of her reason, the action motivated Milton towards researching and eventually writing on the topic. 
  • Milton began writing a series of divorce tracts. Sometime between 1642 and 1645
  • Milton met and attempted to pursue another woman known only as Miss Davis.
  • During his involvement with her, he attempted to convince her that his marriage should have resulted in a divorce and that it would be appropriate for her to marry him although he was already legally married; this resulted in failure. 
  • However, this did not dissuade his campaign to reform the divorce laws, and he continued to pursue the topic until his wife returned to him. 
  • Milton and Powell's marriage lasted until 1652; Powell died while giving birth to Deborah, the couple's third daughter. 
  • She was followed by the death of John, their infant and only son. Milton remarried Katherine Woodcock in 1656. This marriage was far more successful than Milton's previous, but, like his first wife, Woodcock died from complications experienced while giving birth. 
OVERARCHING ARGUMENT: Milton's argument hangs on his view of human nature and the purpose of marriage, which rather than the traditional ends of procreation or a remedy against fornication, he defines as "the apt and cheerful conversation of man with woman, to comfort and refresh him against the evils of solitary life". 

Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce
The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce argues for the ability to have a second chance at marriage. In particular, Milton claims, that no one can always know the disposition of their spouse before they enter into marriage. 

Milton's argument and stance on divorce continues to the point that he implies that a divorcer could actually be the one who understands and defends marriage the most. 
"that desire which God saw it was not good that men should be left alone to burn in; the desire and longing to put off an unkindly solitarines by uniting another body, but not without a fit soule to his in the cheerfull society of wedlock. Which if it were so needfull before the fall, when man was much more perfect in himself, how much more is it needfull now against all the sorrows and casualties of this life to have an intimate and speaking help, a ready and reviving associate in marriage."

Judgment of Martin Bucer
Published in July 1644, Judgment of Martin Bucer consists mostly of Milton's translations of pro-divorce arguments from the De Regno Christi of the German Protestant reformer Martin Bucer
By finding support for his views among Protestant writers, Milton hoped to sway the members of Parliament and Protestant ministers who had condemned him. 
Tetrachordon appeared in March 1645, after Milton had published his defence of free speech, Areopagitica, in the interim. The title means "four-stringed" in Greek, implying that Milton was able to harmonise the four Scriptural passages dealing with divorce: 

Genesis 1:27–28:  "God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it." 

Deuteronomy 24:1- "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house."

Matthew 5:31–32 and 19:2–9 
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
I Corinthians 7:10–16. 
"A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife."
"How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?"
Milton suggests that the secondary law of nature permits divorce in the post-lapsarian world. This tract is the largest and most ponderous of Milton's arguments of divorce, consisting of over 100 pages. Its Scriptural emphasis anticipates that of De Doctrina Christiana.
Meaning "rod of punishment" in Greek, the brief Colasterion was published along with Tetrachordon in March 1645 in response to an anonymous pamphlet attacking the first edition of The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Milton makes no new arguments, but harshly takes to task the "trivial author" in vituperative prose.


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