Emphasising the contrary functions of discursive and poetic media, this essay argues that Milton’s positioning of Adam and Eve’s troubled union alongside competing models of love and friendship in his epic poem deliberately subjects the reasoned principles of the tracts to the disturbing tendencies of particular narrative situations and even language itself.
In this, Milton goes far beyond simple scrutiny of ideals and classifications of companionship (for example, classical amity or Christian charity). His representation of the union of Adam and Eve repeatedly and emphatically places the individual’s relationship with God in opposition to forms of earthly companionship. Whilst upon his creation Adam may partake in friendly conversation with his maker, Eve’s creation inevitably and irretrievably changes the dynamics because of the tendency of all relationships to exclusivity. Subsequently, in the process of negotiating and describing their relationships, not only to God, but to angels, Satan, each other and themselves, Adam and Eve fall into mutual idolatry, become fractious, fall, and are exiled. Milton, then, suggests not the inadequacy of certain models, but rather the fundamental impossibility, even prior to the Fall, of unproblematic companionship, and indeed that the very institution of human companionship is causally linked to the Fall of Man.
The essay, then, not only calls into question current understandings of Milton’s commitment to the ideal of companionate marriage (set forth in The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce and Tetrachordon), but also reflects a broader concern about the relationship between spiritual and earthly forms of community.