Milton’s Ladies

Document Type


Publication Date


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Studies in Philology


This essay argues that Milton's youthful interest in virginity is a rejection of procreative heterosexuality. A large number of Milton's early works figure virginity not as an immature life stage or a prelude to marriage but rather as a lifelong state that can confer poetic and prophetic powers on earth and a privileged place in heaven. Moreover, although much of the limited scholarship that has examined Milton's ideas about virginity has focused on men, this essay demonstrates that Milton's most charismatic and remarkable virgins are all women: the Lady of A Mask, Melancholy in Il Penseroso, and the unnamed lady of "Sonnet 9." Taken together, these three works ask us to reevaluate many longstanding assumptions about Milton's attitude toward women, gender, and sexuality.

Original Published Citation

“Milton’s Ladies.” Studies in Philology. 118:4 (Fall 2021), 742–64.