Periodized “modernity” unnecessarily polarizes Milton’s reception. His experience of modernity in the seventeenth century confounds the Enlightenment distinctions usually made about modernity. The periodized idea of modernity that continues to shape the study of Milton is dated, even antiquated, because it is treated as a period. It seems as if a generation has learned to read Restoration poetry through Dryden, and from Dryden to assume that poetry published during the Restoration must be poetry about the Restoration. Milton does not read his sources the way that periodizing scholarship has been reading his poetry. Readers can approach Milton’s works as he approached his earlier sources: to see what they might offer our understanding of events in our contexts, that is, anachronistically. Reading anachronistically is, after all, one of the principal advantages and pleasures of fiction, of literary study, and of metaphor. The alternative to what has been called “the poverty of context” is the richness and variety of poetic contexts, understood diachronically.

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