Milton Areopagitica Essay

Areopagitica is the most famous of Milton’s prose works because it has outlasted the circumstances of its original publication. On June 14, 1643, the English Parliament passed a law called the Licensing Order, which required that all books be approved by an official censor before publication, and on November 23, 1644, Milton wrote Areopagitica, pleading for the repeal of the law. His arguments were not successful—official censorship of books in England lasted until the nineteenth century—but Areopagitica has long been an inspiration for those demanding a free press. In fact, its arguments against censorship are nearly as fresh and convincing today as they were in the middle of the seventeenth century.

Milton realized how difficult it would be to change Parliament’s opinion, so he marshaled his argument with great subtlety. His title alludes to a famous speech by the Greek educator Isocrates, and Milton uses a classical argumentative structure and many techniques of classical rhetoric that would have commanded respect from his seventeenth century audience. Yet the modern reader, unaware of classical rhetoric, can still marvel at the cleverness and logic that Milton uses to persuade his contemporary lawmakers. He begins by praising Parliament for its defense of liberty in the past. He then offers a historical review of censorship, pointing out that freedom of the press was highly valued in ancient Greece and Rome. Milton traces the tradition of tyrannical censorship to the Roman Catholic Council of Trent and the Spanish Inquisition, both of which found few champions among the members of the English Protestant Parliament. As Milton points out, the Roman Catholic church was a traditional enemy of the freedom-loving Parliament.

Milton’s next tactic is to disarm the argument that censorship serves society by destroying bad books. In a world where good and evil are often intermingled and difficult to discern, the reading of all books—good and bad—contributes to the human attempt to understand and pursue Truth. God...

(The entire section is 848 words.)

The Arguement Against Censorship in Areopagitica by John Milton

594 Words3 Pages

The revolutionary period of the Renaissance, where the concept of individuality is in the center, will suggest progress in the promotion of the freedom of speech. Surprisingly, in John Milton's time, the opposite occurs: in England of 1643 comes forth the order of the regulation of printing, in which every printed material has to be licensed by the parliament in order to get published. Milton retaliates against this law by writing the tract "Areopagitica", a Greek word whose meaning is 'place of Justice'. This place is what he calls the "commonwealth" -- the public sphere. Consequently, it makes sense to allow limitations in order to uphold justice. However, Milton believes censorship prevents the ability to truly choose Good over Evil. He…show more content…

The revolutionary period of the Renaissance, where the concept of individuality is in the center, will suggest progress in the promotion of the freedom of speech. Surprisingly, in John Milton's time, the opposite occurs: in England of 1643 comes forth the order of the regulation of printing, in which every printed material has to be licensed by the parliament in order to get published. Milton retaliates against this law by writing the tract "Areopagitica", a Greek word whose meaning is 'place of Justice'. This place is what he calls the "commonwealth" -- the public sphere. Consequently, it makes sense to allow limitations in order to uphold justice. However, Milton believes censorship prevents the ability to truly choose Good over Evil. He argues that people should be independent in their religious pursuits, through self acquired knowledge, and maintains that by pursuing differences England will find a common ground. Milton distinguishes between callous censorship and justified limitation. He opens his argument with the assertion that, "It is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how Books demean themselves as well as men." Curiously, he admits that some form of limitation on print is essential in the Christian public sphere. The "vigilant eye" that watches how men "demean themselves" ought to oversee what takes place in printed material as well. Only, he expands the act of overseeing books to also "Do sharpest justice" on them.

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