Areopagitica by John Milton

Written as a protest to the English Parliament which attempted to hold control of the press by passing a censorship law in 1643, Milton’s Areopagitica is an appeal towards the freedom of unlicensed printing and speech. The present motif in Milton’s argument is the connection between good and evil, which came into the world by Adam’s transgression: the comprehension of good comes through the knowledge of evil. In order to distinguish good, evil must be present. In this phrase, Milton argues that the only way virtue can be admired is if it doesn’t hide and isolate from the world, since the true base of morality is understanding good and evil and, with the complete knowledge and experience of both, discerning which one is better.

By this, Milton asserts that when God gave Adam reason, it also came along with the freedom to choose and to be able to make his own decisions. Milton criticizes the people who complain about why God would let Adam sin, but if it had been otherwise, it would mean that Adam was merely a false, artificial man ruled by God, not in control of his own choices at any extent.

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Milton’s ideas of “a cloistered virtue”, and “an artificial Adam” on Areopagitica concur with Hawthorne’s Puritan society in The Scarlet Letter. Milton believes that he “cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed”, since the only virtues deserving admiration are the ones who have experienced both the good and the evil the world offers (1462); meanwhile, the Puritans of Boston “had not been born to an inheritance of Puritanic gloom”, instead being “native Englishmen, whose fathers had lived in the sunny richness of the Elizabethan epoch”, this way revealing their exposure to a “stately, magnificent and joyous” society, yet they still decided to live under the strict Puritan manner (177).

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This decision consequently agrees with Milton’s argument of “an artificial Adam” and how “when God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing”; both Adam’s and the Puritan townspeople liberty to choose was given to them by God, this way allowing them to decide for themselves (1463). The Puritans of Boston, having experienced both good and evil, and with the freedom to choose gifted by God, made the decision to disregard the joyous lifestyle of the Elizabethan epoch and live accordingly to the simplicity and severity of Puritan life. These aspects contribute to Milton’s original argument, not only the freedom of printing and speech, but humanity’s liberty to decide on their own.

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Areopagitica by John Milton. (2022, Jan 24). Retrieved from

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