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The keys to "that two-handed engine" in "Lycidas" (1637)

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Milton’s elegy for the Anglican clergyman, Edward King, who drowned off Anglesey in 1637 contains an attack on the established church voiced by St Peter. In nineteen lines the Laudian establishment is cast as a threat to the Word of God. This movement closes with a mysterious couplet widely acknowledged to be an impenetrable riddle.

But that two-handed engine at the door, [130

Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.

This paper seeks to enrich readings of the couplet that identify Milton’s ‘engine’ with typical powers by presenting evidence that suggests this dynamic image – literally and metaphorically – bears the impression of the printing press, and to tease out the implications of this signification.

This talk is part of the Queens' Arts Seminar series.

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