Strength of Character in the Two Miltonic Women Dalila and Eve

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

23 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Strength, Power and Guilt in Dalila and Eve
Conversational and Metric Organization
Masculinelnfluence on Eve’s andDalila’s Reactions
Power and FemaleLiberty
Guilt and Forgiveness

III. Conclusion

IV. Works Cited

I. Introduction

In the past fifty years, quite a few Milton scholars have been concerned with Milton’s two most famous female characters: Eve and Dalila. A comparison seems thoroughly adequate, as both play pertinent roles in the respective works, Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes, and both are based on biblical characters, even if Milton has taken it upon himself to develop those characters in a way that goes far beyond of what is offered in the bible. However, the most important similarity between Eve and Dalila, and the one that I will mainly base the following paper on, is that both deviate from what is perceived to be the role of a woman in Milton’s time: the obedience and subordination to a husband, with more or less disastrous consequences in both cases. Nevertheless, it is the difference in these consequences that interests me the most: while Eve is able to reconcile with her husband after her transgression, Dalila’s attempt to do so is unsuccessful. The conversations both women have with their husbands have, again, no counterpart in the bible. In fact, the account of the postlapsarian Eve in Genesis is quite short and her role is reduced to that of the bearer of Adam’s children: “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. And she again bare his brother Abel [...] And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth [...]” (Gen.4: 1-2 and 25, KJV). There is no account at all of Delilah1 after she cut off Samson hair and betrayed him to the Philistines. For Milton to focus on these women’s relationships with their husbands after they have completed their transgression, and to provide so many aspects in which they can be compared to one another, must mean that there is more to his perception of women than was usual during that time, and that is also underlined by his views on gender (and divorce) in his prose works.

Among the scholars that have addressed the characters of Dalila and Eve, there are major differences in their perception, especially where Dalila is concerned. In most cases, she is seen as deceiving in her plea for forgiveness, and as cunning as she was when she made Samson give up the secret of his strength; Ricki Heller speaks about “her measured speech and equanimity” (Heller, 196) and Catherine Belsey even suggests that Dalila “weeps false tears and offers domesticity without concord” (Belsey, 56). Nevertheless, there are those who argue that Dalila’s intentions when she visits Samson’s prison are sincere and that she does wish for his forgiveness, and according to Susanne Woods, “her passion is real, and her effort to regain Samson is [...] sincere” (Woods, 29). Similarly, John Ulreich argues that “Dalila is sincere in her professions of loving concern for Samson” (Ulreich, 186). Mary Ann Radzinowicz situates herself somewhat in the middle, stating that “the combination of sensuousness and sorrow in Dalila represents a mixture of sincerity and adroitness” (Radzinowicz, 172), but at the same time she does not consider Dalila a fully developed character, which I cannot agree with. Therefore, I position myself among those who do take both Dalila’s character and her plea for forgiveness seriously and I also hold Samson’s harsh retorts and his hostility towards her responsible for the defiant reaction and the ultimate end of their relationship.

It is probably due to the nature of Eve’s sin, which is often described as part of the “fortunate fall”, that her perception among scholars is clearer and, in general, more positive. She is the one who is manipulated by the snake, but she is also able to ask for her husband’s forgiveness, reestablish their relationship and eventually begin her “regeneration” (Radzinowicz, 172). Nevertheless, I must agree with Susanne Woods in saying that there is no true liberty in Eve’s success and that her “portrait [...] is not likely to have lasting appeal to a modern feminist sensibility” (Woods, 27).

It is this postlapsarian conversation, or rather marital row, that I will be focusing on, as well as the conversation between Dalila and her husband. It is my intention to show that when compared within these instances, both characters undergo a development in opposite directions, and that their actions and arguments are triggered by the treatment they receive from Adam and Samson, respectively. While Eve starts out defiant and does not want to take all the blame upon herself, Dalila arrives meek and begging for forgiveness in Samson’s cell. Throughoutthe discourse, their husbands’ anger and arguments cause different reactions in the two women: Eve becomes remorseful and comes to the conclusion that she is solely responsible for their expulsion from Eden, thereby triggering Adam’s “compassion” (something that I will argue against later on) and their reunion. On the other hand, Samson’s arguments force Dalila to become defensive and to blame other entities: finally, she seems proud of her own actions, which causes the relationship to come to an irreconcilable end. Lastly, I believe that Dalila turns out to be the stronger character, especially from a modern feminist perspective, because she is able to stand up to Samson’s hostility where Eve caves under that of Adam. Within this argument, it is also important to look at Samson’s and Adam’s perception of their guilt and the importance of masculine power in those two relationships.

II. Strength, Power and Guilt in the Characters of Dalila and Eve

As I have indicated before, I would like to explore and mainly compare the characters of Eve and Dalila with respect to the strength that they portray within the disputes with their respective husbands. There are, however, some other aspects that come into play when looking at these scenes in Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes. I will start with a formal analysis of the poetic form in order to demonstrate that when looking at turn-taking and metric organization, there is already an indication of how the content in Milton’s most famous poem and his closet drama is organized and how these two female characters are displayed to the audience. Then I will delve into a contrastive analysis of said context, and I will especially be focusing on how Eve’s and Dalila’s arguments are influenced by Adam and Samson, and how this has an impact on the outcome of their conversations, and, in the end, their marriages. From this, I will extract two aspects that require a closer look: the relationship between power and female liberty, and that of guilt and forgiveness.

Analysis ofthe Conversational and Metric Organization

Before I further investigate the argumentation that I have previously alluded to, I would like to take a closer look at the conversation that takes place between Eve and Adam in Paradise Lost, as well as the one between Dalila and Samson in Samson Agonistes. I do this in order to see whether the conversational structures can be seen as some kind of indication of the outcome of each conversation.

In Paradise Lost, the argument between Adam and Eve already begins in Book IX, shortly after Adam has followed Eve in eating the apple, the completion of their “amorous intent” (PL, IX.1035), and the subsequent shame they feel because of their nakedness. It starts in line 1134, when Adam reproaches Eve for not having listened to him and instead having followed “that strange / Desire of wand’ring” {PL, IX.1135-6), and it continues until the end of Book IX. In this first part of the argument, Eve is still defiant and claims that Adam wasjust as likely to have fallen for the snake’s guile as she was. In response, Adam calls her “ingrateful” {PL, IX.1164) and after that “they in mutual accusation spent / The fruitless hours, but neither self-condemning” {PL, IX.1187-8), which lets us know that at this point in the argument, Eve does not acknowledge her guilt, but rather puts it on Adam and the snake. The Argument, if it may be called that at all at this point, continues in Book X, line 863, after Adam’s lamentation. It is said that Eve wants to speak “soft words to his fierce passion” {PL, X.865), but we never find out what those words are, as she is rebuked by Adam before she can even start. She only speaks twice more within that argument; the last utterance being after Adam has already started to feel “Commiseration” {PL, X.940) and has basically forgiven her. When looking at this argument, separated by the account of God’s reaction to man’s Fall, Satan’s return to Hell and the Son’s verdict, we see that Eve only speaks three times and that she has an overall of 80 lines, which means that only about one third of the discourse between Adam and her are dominated by her. Furthermore, it is Adam who speaks the final words in the argument, deciding that suicide is not an option and that they would do better to pray for God’s forgiveness {PL, X.1101). We can already see here that Adam does not meet many obstacles at all when trying to blame their situation on Eve, since her defiance in Book IX is easily overcome by the worsening of their situation in Book X and Adam’s harsh rebuke of her attempted apology.

We encounter a thoroughly different picture when we look at Samson Agonistes and the dialogue between Dalila and Samson, which takes places in lines 725 to 1009. It is situated in the middle of Milton’s closet drama, thereby underlining the important role it plays for the rest of it. Dalila comes to visit Samson in his prison to beg for his forgiveness, but their dialogue develops into an argument that finally causes Dalila to leave without having succeeded in her attempt to reconcile with her husband. Her domination within the argument is far more pronounced than

Eve’s, as Dalila speaks for 158 lines, divided into seven parts, which makes up over two thirds of the conversation. Like Adam, she is the one who ends the argument, but she does it in a more formidable fashion by simply leaving Samson’s cell.

This discourse already suggests that Dalila is a stronger woman than Eve, who came to the prison with the intention to beg for forgiveness, but whose pride and willpower prevent her from just giving in during an argument. That is furthermore underlined by the metric structure of both Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes: Milton uses a fairly regular form of the iambic pentameter in his blank verse, but there are some aspects of the organization of the verses’ cadences that are interesting. When looking at the sequences that are spoken by Eve within her argument with Adam in Book IX and her imploring his forgiveness in Book X, we see that her defiant stance at the end ofBook IX and her unwillingness to acknowledge any responsibility for the Fall is marked by the general absence of feminine rhymes.

Being as I am, why didst not thou the head

Command me absolutely not to go

Going into such danger as thou saidst?

Too facile then, thou didst not much gainsay,

Nay, didstpermit, approve, and fair dismiss.

Hadst thou been firm in thy dissent,

Neither had I transgressed, nor thou with me.

(PL, IX.1155-61)

At the same time, about one third of all verses that she speaks in Book X do have weak cadences, especially in those sentences where Eve submissively puts herself at Adam’s mercy.


1 The spelling of the name, in this instance, is taken from the King James Version of the Bible. Since I will be referring to the Miltonic character in the rest of the paper, I will be using Milton’s spelling of the name, Dalila.

Excerpt out of 23 pages


Strength of Character in the Two Miltonic Women Dalila and Eve
The University of Arizona
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Samson and Dalila, Paradise Lost, John Milton, Eve, Dalila, Feminism, Samson Agonistes
Quote paper
Julia Klaas (Author), 2012, Strength of Character in the Two Miltonic Women Dalila and Eve, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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