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Samson Agonistes

Samson Agonistes

by John Milton

Dalila

Character Analysis

Dalila doesn't exactly fly under the radar:

But who is this, what thing of Sea or Land?/ Femal of sex it seems,/ That so bedeckt, ornate, and gay,/ Comes this way sailing/ Like a Stately Ship. (710-14)

Yowzah. Quite an entrance. And this description by our trusty Chorus certainly makes Dalila appear to be a commanding and impressive presence. (When was the last time you were compared to a gorgeous cruise liner?)

But Dalila isn't being compared to just any old ship; she's being compared to a "stately" ship, identifying Dalila with her state, her country, which is... oh, right... the Philistines (hint: the enemy). And Dalila spends a lot of time moaning to Samson about the difficult position she was placed in, feeling pressure to be loyal to both her husband Samson and to her people, Samson's enemies.

And while Samson is pretty uninterested in Dalila's explanations, they're in fact quite beautiful and many readers have seen them as very persuasive. Take this part: "Princes of my country came in person,/ Sollicited, commanded, threatn'd, urg'd,/ Adjur'd by all the bonds of civil Duty/ And of Religion" (851-54). If women are supposed to be so weak and foolish, can we really expect Dalila to stand up to this? Isn't it really Samson's fault, after all? Milton might actually agree.

One thing to note is that this whole situation—man tempted by weak woman—should sound pretty familiar. Yep, it's almost exactly the same as Paradise Lost: Adam gives in to Eve, who's been convinced to betray him by specious arguments.

With a Side of Misogyny

But don't get too cocky, ladies: even if Milton doesn't exactly blame you, he doesn't seem to like you too much. A less awesome aspect of Dalila's entrance being described like a ship is the objectification this image contains: Dalila, a person and a woman, is being described as a thing. Literally: the Chorus asks, "what thing of Sea or Land?" (710). And then later they call her an "it" and saying "Femal of sex it seems" (711).

As we've noted before, sexism is a common problem in this story, particularly in Samson's blanket condemnation of women in general. While we can never know exactly how Milton felt about these kinds of issues, the fact that Dalila is so eloquent and persuasive does suggest that Milton seems to see sympathetic qualities in Dalila too—or, maybe he just agrees that women can be tricky and seductive.

In fact, let's pull out an argument common (again) to Paradise Lost: if you're seduced by Dalila's argument, then—sorry—you're just as weak as Samson.

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