Todd Sammons ~ University of Hawai'i at Mānoa
Some Notes Toward a Rhetorical Reading of the Companion Poems

I take the central critical question about the companion poems "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" to be "How are the two poems related?" Unsurprisingly, the two main critical camps seem to be what I term the "dichotomists," who see the poems as two different poems, and the "sequentialists," who see the poems as one single poem, more or less. Among the dichtomists, we can situate E. M. W. Tillyard and Rosemond Tuve; in the sequential camp, Cleanth Brooks, Nan Carpenter, and Don Cameron Allen. Both camps are each half-right. I offer, then, as something of a compromise, a rhetorical reading of the poems, based on the Progymnasmata of the fourth-century rhetorician Aphthonius. Specifically, I see Milton using the penultimate progymnasmatic exercise--thesis (logical examination of any matter under inspection)--as the crux of the matter (so Tillyard is right to see the relevance of Milton's First Prolusion, "Whether Day or Night is the More Excellent," to the companion poems); and I wind up agreeing with Allen that the companion poems, signaled especially by the coda at the end of "Il Penseroso," wind up privileging Night over Day, arguing, that is, that Milton prefers the Thoughtful Person to the Mirthful Person. As in Paradise Lost, then, Milton argues well in utramque partem ("on both sides of the question"), but his true allegiance is not far to seek.


Respondent: Richard Preiss ~ University of Utah