Copyright

Milton's Samson Agonistes: Summary & Analysis

Milton's Samson Agonistes: Summary & Analysis
Coming up next: Oliver Wendell Holmes: Biography, Poems & Quotes

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Background on Milton…
  • 1:12 Characters and Summary
  • 3:03 Analysis of Samson Agonistes
  • 5:09 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Leslie McMurtry
'Samson Agonistes' is a verse drama by John Milton based on a Biblical story. The main themes are inner blindness, Christian faith, violence, and criticism of romantic love. In this lesson, we'll look at a more detailed summary and a deeper analysis of these themes.

Background on Milton and 'Samson Agonistes'

John Milton was one of the most important and influential British writers of the 17th century and wrote both prose and poetry. You may have heard of his most famous work, Paradise Lost, a book-length poem. 'Samson Agonistes' (1671) is also a long poem and, like Paradise Lost, illustrates biblical themes.

'Samson Agonistes' is a dramatic poem or a drama written in blank verse, meaning presented like a play with dialogue for several characters but is written in a poetic style. Blank verse uses meter but does not adhere to a strict rhyming structure. Milton was one of the early masters of this poetic form.

Drama of this time period was still heavily influenced by ancient Greek tragedies, such as Oedipus the King by Sophocles (429 BCE) and Hecuba by Euripides (424 BCE), and 'Samson Agonistes' is no exception. Milton's introduction gives a disclaimer--an old timey way of saying 'Spoiler alert!'--defending his choice of a tragedy, claiming that tragic verse best illustrates morality. Let's look at a summary of the 'Samson Agonistes,' then we'll explore some of the important themes of the work.

Characters and Summary

The main characters are Samson, his father Manoa, and Samson's wife Dalila. There is also a chorus. A chorus is a Greek dramatic convention, which uses a group of people who are outside the main action to comment on it.

The biblical Samson is a man of superhuman strength whose Achilles' heel is actually his . . . hair. The drama takes place after Samson's wife Dalila has cut his hair, robbing him of his strength. He's imprisoned in Gaza, blinded by his enemies the Philistines. In this drama, Samson finds himself at his lowest point. He's been betrayed by his wife, thrown in prison, and blinded. The chorus, visiting him in prison, doesn't help matters, lamenting the strong man's self-pitying state.

Next, Samson's elderly father Manoa comes to prison and tells him that the Philistines are celebrating a feast day in commemoration of their defeat of Samson, which depresses him even more. Manoa has money for his son's ransom, but he can't seem to snap Samson out of his depression.

Next, Samson's wife Dalila visits him, weeping and apologizing for her betrayal. While Samson eventually forgives her, he wants nothing more to do with her.

Harapha of Gath, a giant, ridicules Samson in prison. Samson challenges him to combat, citing God as his strength, but Harapha balks. Samson derides him as a coward, and Harapha runs off.

The story's climax comes with off-stage violence. Samson goes off to show his feats of strength in the Philistines' festival. His father returns to the prison with the ransom money, and a messenger describes what has happened. Samson, led docilely to the Philistines' Temple, the main arena for the festival, pulls the building down around himself, killing his enemies and dying in the process.

Analysis of 'Samson Agonistes'

Although we're not sure when Milton began composing this poem, the parallels between Samson's blindness and Milton's blindness at the end of his life are striking. Samson's opening speech, in fact, mirrors the arguments of one of Milton's best-known sonnets, Sonnet XX, 'On His Blindness' (c. 1655). Samson asks why he should have been given to expect great things of his life when he has ended up blinded, betrayed, and imprisoned. Samson equates darkness, lack of light, with death, referencing 1:3 of Genesis, 'And God said, 'Let there be light.'

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account
Support