BOOK REVIEW: John Milton, “Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr. John Milton
for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parlament of England”
Rocksville: Arc Manor, 2008.
By Mara Pepine
The early half of the seventeenth century in England was marked by Charles I’s rule, the English Civil War, and following it the Cromwellian regime. The English Civil War had its roots in a religious war between Catholics and Protestants, a conflict that defines much of English history. Once the Protestants came into power, they abolished the monarchy and replaced it with parliamentary rule. During its dismantling of the English monarchy, the Protestant Parliament also went about dismantling the Star Chamber. The Star Chamber was an English court founded in the late fifteenth century whose original goal was that of supplementing the activities of other courts by targeting powerful individuals who might be able to intimidate the rest of the system into not prosecuting them. However, it soon morphed into an organ of the state responsible for abuses of power, e.g. imposing excessive punishments, which prompted the passage of the Habeas Corpus Act. Its abolition in 1641 was a very important step towards eliminating the unjust rule of the monarchy. However, the passage of the Licensing Order of 1643 showed that the Parliament was more interested in a transfer of power rather than in eliminating the abusive structures themselves. The law ensured the pre-publication censorship of books in England. As a response to the Licensing Order, in November 1644, the English poet and intellectual John Milton, who was a big supporter of and a key actor in the Cromwellian regime, published Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’ d Printing, to the Parlament of England. His speech, which addresses the Protestant-led Parliament directly, is an open criticism of the Licensing Order and the paternalistic approach of the legislative body.