Skip to main content

Black History Month: Select Books 30% Off

Harvard University Press - home
How Milton Works

How Milton Works

Stanley Fish

ISBN 9780674012332

Publication date: 10/15/2003

Stanley Fish's Surprised by Sin, first published in 1967, set a new standard for Milton criticism and established its author as one of the world's preeminent Milton scholars. The lifelong engagement begun in that work culminates in this book, the magnum opus of a formidable critic and the definitive statement on Milton for our time.

How Milton works "from the inside out" is the foremost concern of Fish's book, which explores the radical effect of Milton's theological convictions on his poetry and prose. For Milton the value of a poem or of any other production derives from the inner worth of its author and not from any external measure of excellence or heroism. Milton's aesthetic, says Fish, is an "aesthetic of testimony": every action, whether verbal or physical, is or should be the action of holding fast to a single saving commitment against the allure of plot, narrative, representation, signs, drama--anything that might be construed as an illegitimate supplement to divine truth. Much of the energy of Milton's writing, according to Fish, comes from the effort to maintain his faith against these temptations, temptations which in any other aesthetic would be seen as the very essence of poetic value.

Encountering the great poet on his own terms, engaging his equally distinguished admirers and detractors, this book moves a 300-year debate about the significance of Milton's verse to a new level.


  • How Milton Works is a dazzling, rigorous, and unutterably strange attempt to follow the great seventeenth-century poet along the perilous path that leads away from the temptations of history and politics and into the fair fields of eternal Truth. Why strange? Because the book depends upon a perfect congruence between the fathomless faith of John Milton and the fathomless skepticism of Stanley Fish.

    —Stephen Greenblatt, author of Hamlet in Purgatory


  • Stanley Fish is Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and Law at Florida International University. His many books include There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech: And It’s a Good Thing, Too.

Book Details

  • 640 pages
  • 5-11/16 x 8-7/8 inches
  • Belknap Press

From this author