Study Guide

Samson Agonistes

Samson Agonistes Summary

It's a holiday for the Philistines when our poem opens, and this means that their Hebrew prisoner, Samson, gets a day off from the grueling labor he's usually forced to do. But he just can't relax. Instead, he obsesses over the various mistakes he's made in his life that have gotten him to this low point. Also, we learn that he's blind and that he feels he's betrayed his religion and his people.

Well, we're off to a good start!

In comes the Chorus, a group of his Hebrew friends. They try to be helpful, but they don't really have the lingo down and Samson seems to become more and more miserable. Then Manoa, Samson's father, shows up. He wants to negotiate with the Philistine authorities to secure Samson's release, but no dice. Samson feels that he deserves to be in prison. Hey, you can't stop a dad from trying—and off he goes to do just that.

Shortly after his dad departs, Samson's infamous Philistine ex-wife Dalila pays a visit. We learn that she's the reason Samson is in prison: she betrayed the secret that his amazing strength depends on his having a flowing, luscious locks. She told her people, they cut his hair, arrested him, blinded him... and here he is in prison. But she's here to apologize and explain.

Obviously, Samson is completely uninterested in hearing her excuses and says lots of insulting things to her. She leaves in a fury, with this parting shot: she's now a hero among her people.

Last but definitely not least is the Philistine giant Harapha, who says he's just come by to check out this famous Samson. He also says that he wishes Samson were in better physical condition so they could fight it out and see who's strongest. Samson is totally down, but Harapha won't fight a blind guy. They trash-talk for a while, and then Harapha leaves in a huff. Harumpha!

Just then, a messenger arrives with the order for Samson to come perform in a Philistine festival. Uh, no thanks, Samson says—and then thinks better of it, saying he has had this vague but powerful feeling that he's meant to go and perform some great deed. Off he trots, just missing his father, who's back with good news that he successfully bribed some Philistine leaders and can now take Samson home.

Uh-oh. We're starting to get a bad feeling about this—and we're right. Just as the Chorus is about to celebrate this good news, they hear a horrible shriek. Another messenger runs in and reports that Samson has killed both himself and the entire Philistine elite by toppling the roof of the theater.

The Chorus and Manoa alternate between being super sad over the death of Samson and super happy that their enemy has been defeated. In the end, they go off to look for Samson's body and Manoa promises he's going to build Samson an awesome tomb. And thus ends Samson.

  • The Argument

    • Reader Beware! Milton is not actually writing a tragedy he intends to be staged (check out Genre for more on that), so he doesn't provide any of those useful stage directions. This means no background info. However, he does include a little plot summary called "The Argument" just before the poem (phew) so we do know some basic facts:
    • Samson is a captive in Gaza, and he's blind. We also know that it's a holiday, so he has a little break from prison labor. (And somehow, we suspect that it's a little tougher than making license plates.)
    • All right? Off we go. Oh—but one quick note. There are no act or scene breaks, so we've divided the text up into parts based on the characters involved. (You'll pick it up quickly.)
  • Samson with Himself (1-114)

    • Samson opens on a pretty dismal note. (Hey, this is a tragedy.)
    • Our main man is asking an unknown person to keep guiding him along. Although it's never stated explicitly, we figure out pretty fast that Samson is blind.
    • He asks to be led to his favorite spot where the temperature is always perfect so he can relax and get some fresh, non-prison air.
    • Today is a holiday for the sea-god Dagon, who his captors worship, and so even though he is not down with worshiping such an "idol," he's grateful for the break (13).
    • This spot is great not only because of the temperature but also because it's away from everyone else. Sometimes a guy just needs some alone time, you know?
    • But he still can't relax.
    • In fact, being alone is actually more mentally stressful, because he has nothing to do but dwell on his past.
    • It turns out that Samson was kind of a big deal. An angel prophesied his birth, there were some pretty spectacular sacrifices, and he was supposedly destined to do all kinds of good stuff for "Abraham's race" (29).
    • Brain snack! "Abraham's race" is a reference to the Jewish people, which makes sense since this story is adapted from the Old Testament. Check out the Book of Judges chapter 13 for the full story.
    • So, if he's supposed to be all great, why is he a blind prisoner in some other country?
    • Thanks, Samson; we're all wondering that.
    • He's especially bummed that his awesome strength is being wasted on menial laboring instead of saving Israel from the Philistines like he's supposed to be doing.
    • Another brain snack! (Hope you're hungry.) The Philistines are a group of people often mentioned in the Bible (not in a good way) who lived around, and intermittently conquered, Israel.
    • Samson admits that he's probably the one who messed up and derailed his whole awesome-savior destiny.
    • Speaking of that, there was this one time Samson broke a promise and told a secret to a woman he shouldn't have. (Apparently, she was crying and pleading a lot. Guys'll do that.)
    • KIDDING. No sexism here, Shmoopers; it's all Milton.
    • We don't get many more details than this. However, if you know the Biblical story (as almost all the readers in Milton's time would have) you'd know that this woman is his ex-wife Dalilah (although Milton, for unknown reasons, spells it Dalila).
    • Hindsight is 20/20, right? Samson realizes that he used to be physically strong but also mentally weak and proud. True strength is both mental and physical.
    • He suspects that God was trying to make him understand just how unreliable physical strength is by making Samson's hair the key to his strength.
    • Yes, we did just say hair. In fact, Samson's hair is his famous downfall in the Biblical story so Milton doesn't really give his readers any further details.
    • Anyway, Samson goes on, it isn't very productive to question God's will because, you know, he's God.
    • Any way you look at it, Samson's strength hasn't been the wonderful gift he thought. It's actually caused his problems.
    • The worst is going blind, since he can no longer appreciate God's creation.
    • Without sight, Samson feels lower than even the lowest animal (that would be the snake) since even though snakes creep on the floor, they can at least see.
    • Brain bite! Milton: not a snake fan. In his most famous work, Paradise Lost, Milton retells the Biblical story of the Fall in the Garden of Eden, where Satan disguised himself as a snake and pretty much ruined everything.
    • Gee, thanks, Satan.
    • Samson also feels powerless without his sight. And worse—Godless.
    • Since light was the first thing God created (check out the very opening of the Book of Genesis), being blind seems like having God's presence taken away.
    • Sun? Moon? All the same to Samson, since he can't see.
    • He feels that light is a force of life itself and wonders why, since it's so important, we can only experience it through our two little eyes, which are not very sturdy. Why don't we see through every part of our body?
    • To "live" without this source of life is to practically be dead. He even describes himself as a walking, talking grave.
    • Actually, he's worse than dead, because he can't enjoy any of the peace death brings. Instead, he's stuck in prison.
    • Just then—footsteps. Samson (obviously) thinks his captors are coming to make fun of him.
  • Samson meets the Chorus (115—329)

    • But no! It turns out the approaching group is the Chorus, members of the Tribe of Dan. Also a member of the Tribe of Dan? Samson, and therefore these people are his friends and acquaintances.
    • Brain snack: The Chorus is a standard part of all Greek tragedy. They're like our little on-stage helpers, commenting on the action, offering advice, maybe saying some smart things, singing and dancing, and basically playing the part of "ordinary people."
    • For some nifty Greek Choruses, check out Aeschylus' Agamemnon or Euripides' Bacchae.
    • The Chorus is trying to be all hush-hush, but they can't believe how much Samson has changed—dispirited, hopeless, dressed in rags. C'mon, dude, don't buy all your clothes at Goodwill. How could this be the same famously heroic Samson they used to know?
    • Someone who was stronger than anyone else ever, tore lions apart, would single-handedly destroy armies, and against whom all forms of armor and weapons were useless?
    • Really, the only way to protect yourself against Samson was to get as far away from him as possible. Famous warriors and even whole armies ran away from him.
    • And this one time, at a battle? Samson lifted a whole city gate.
    • The Chorus can't decide what's worse at first, Samson's blindness or his captivity, but they eventually settle on his blindness, which they call "the dungeon of thy self," and describe how sad it must be to be trapped in one's own darkness (156). Way to cheer him up, guys.
    • They see Samson as a perfect example of how far someone can fall after living a life of impressive potential.
    • At this point, Samson clues in to the fact that they're there, saying that he can hear some people whispering.
    • So the Chorus decides to speak to him.
    • They tell him that they're friends and they want to cheer him up.Samson doesn't seem that grateful but instead explains how suffering has taught him how fake friends can be: when you're doing great, they love you, but when you're doing badly they never visit you. But they're here, so he might as well describe his various problems right?
    • Here goes:
    • He's like the pilot of a ship who has wrecked his ship through carelessness. He feels stupid because he brought all these problems on himself by letting himself be tempted by an untrustworthy woman and gave up this special gift he was given from God.
    • So, really: is he talking about him? making fun of what's happened to him? saying that he deserves what has happened to him? He may be strong, but he's not too smart—is this unbalance to blame for the disaster of his life?
    • The Chorus basically shrugs, telling Samson not to question God's plans. He isn't the first person, smart or not, to make a mistake and be seduced by a woman—and he won't be the last. Right, ladies?!
    • They urge him not to be so down on himself, especially since he has plenty of other problems to worry about.
    • But, now that he mentions it, it is weird that he chose to marry a Philistine woman, instead of one of the many hotties of his own people.
    • Samson can explain. He first married a Philistine woman named Timna, against his parents' wishes, because God had revealed to him that this was part of Samson's Important Destiny to save Israel.When that marriage didn't pan out (Samson doesn't explain why), he marries another Philistine woman, Dalila, because he figured if that was the plan for the first one, it should be for this one too.
    • In case we're wondering, this was not a good decision. We know that, because he calls her "that specious monster" and other not-so-nice things (230).
    • However, he says he can't really blame Dalila since it was his own stinkin' fault for revealing his secrets.
    • The Chorus responds by saying that Samson was right to try to do anything he thought would lead to his country's salvation... but it is too bad that Israel is still under Philistine rule (cough cough).
    • Okay, but that is totally not Samson's fault. It's the fault of Israel's leaders, who didn't even acknowledge Samson's warnings about the Philistines until, wham, Philistine invaded Israel.
    • Then, guess what? Everyone was asking for Samson's help in fighting the Philistines, which he did amazingly well, thankyouverymuch.
    • If these leaders had sent out enough support to help Samson, Israel would probably be ruling Philistine, not vice-versa. But now they're just lazy and accustomed to being ruled and now don't even care about poor Samson, who had fought so valiantly to defend them in the past.
    • The Chorus replies that Samson's story reminds them of other similar situations (all, not surprisingly, from the Bible):
    • (1) When a hero named Gideon was refused help by the leaders of Succoth and Penuel; (2) When a hero named Jephtha was left out to dry by the leaders of Ephraim, even though his fighting in battle was crucial in defending Israel.
    • Sound familiar?Samson thinks so. He totally thinks he should be added to the list, because he's always followed God's promise for his people's deliverance.
    • The Chorus replies by saying that God's plans are always just and always "justifiable to men," unless of course, you're an atheist, which they say is the dumbest attitude toward religion (293-294).
    • But there are plenty of religious people who question the justness of God's actions. Not cool.
    • These people tend to think themselves in circles, never able to actually reach a conclusion.They act as if God has to follow his own rules, when he obviously made these rules for us to follow and he can do whatever he wants because, um, he's God.
    • For example, they say, God broke his own "rule" of not allowing Israelites to marry non-Israelites when he urged Samson to marry Timna. But obviously God did this because he had bigger and better plans for freeing Israel completely.
    • Basically, they suggest that we ignore pointless reasoning and then make a very cryptic and unclear reference to Samson's first wife and her infidelities.
    • Then the Chorus takes a break from this philosophizing to announce that Samson's father, Manoa, is approaching.
  • Samson with his Father, Manoa (330—709)

    • Samson doesn't want to see his father (not that he can actually see him, of course), because it'll just bring up more sad memories.
    • Manoa apparently can't see Samson at first, or doesn't recognize him, or, um, pretends not to be able to in order to further the drama, and asks the Chorus if they are here to comfort his son too. Obviously they got there first, since they're young and spry, while he's old and slow.
    • The Chorus points Samson out to his dad, remarking on how different and sad he looks.
    • Sure enough, Manoa can't believe how altered his son appears. Could this possibly be the same person who was so famous for his strength and valor in battle? Who now couldn't even defend himself against one dinky guy with a spear?
    • Just goes to show you that physical strength is incredibly unreliable and how human life can go so terribly wrong.
    • How's this for irony: Manoa and his wife, who were unable to have children, prayed and prayed for a boy.
    • And then, when they finally had one, he was like the best son ever. But not now.
    • Maybe Samson was too good to be true and God made him seem to be so awesome because he actually wasn't.
    • Manoa can't believe all this divine hoopla over someone who was blinded and captured so easily.
    • Maybe God is particularly harsh in punishing those who were given particularly impressive advantages.
    • Samson jumps in and tells his dad to stop blaming God. Samson is the one who betrayed God for a woman, which is particularly embarrassing since Samson had already had one bad experience with his first wife, Timna.
    • In fact, it was pretty much the exact same situation: Timna revealed a secret to his enemies that he had told her in the intimacy of their bedroom.
    • And Dalila, wife number two, also betrayed him after being offered lots of money.
    • She tried three times, with all kinds of flattering, to get Samson to reveal the secret key to his strength.
    • He avoided telling her, but only by accident: he had no idea what she was trying to do.
    • However, try number four, which featured some extra-specially persistent Dalila temptations, eventually got to him.
    • He explains that he was totally exhausted, although if he'd been more of man, he could have resisted.
      Yay for misogyny!
    • Alas, he says, he was already slave-like in his mental capacities so it's fair that he's now literally a slave.
    • In fact his literal slavery and blindness as a captive are better than his metaphorical slavery and blindness when he gave into Dalila and didn't see her obvious treachery.
    • Too right, says his dad: "I cannot praise thy Marriage choices, Son" (420).
    • Dad then goes in for a little extra dig, reminding Samson that he and his mama were both none-too-keen on these women Samson brought home while insisting that this was all part of some Big Divine Plan to ruin the enemy.
    • Manoa doesn't know anything about a Big Divine Plan, but he certainly does know that what's happened is that the enemy just captured him and made a fool out of him.
    • What also happened is that Samson totally gave in to these seductive ladies and revealed a secret that he never should have.
    • However, it's also clear that Samson has paid bigtime for those mistakes.
    • And now for some bad news. In honor of their holiday today, the Philistines are not only going to have a big party, but are also going to publicly announce how they captured Samson.
    • By doing this, they are worshiping their idol Dagon instead of God—all thanks to Samson. Manoa suspects this will be the most painful thing for Samson to hear.
    • Samson replies that he takes full responsibility and blames himself for creating a situation in which Dagon, the Philistine idol, is being worshiped instead of God.
    • In fact, it's his fault that idolatry and atheism are now gaining strength, that Israel has been shamed, and that some people are so desperate and sad they are turning to these false religions for comfort.
    • It's these kinds of thoughts, Samson explains, that keep him up at night. His only consolation is that he's out of the picture. Now, it's between God and Dagon, and Samson is certain that God will win.
    • Manoa agrees with Samson and thinks Samson is right in finding comfort in that fact.
    • But there's still the question of poor Samson's whole situation. Manoa explains to Samson that he's spoken with some Philistine big shots about the possibility of a ransom, since Samson is no longer a threat.
    • No way, Samson says. He deserves this punishment and doesn't think it should be alleviated in any way.
    • It's already really, really bad to have revealed the secrets of friends and family, but Samson revealed a secret of God, which is so much worse.
    • His dad agrees that Samson should be very sorry for what he's done, but it doesn't make sense for Samson to so drastically punish himself. God wants people to fight for life and to listen to their pleading fathers, not to just give up and accept death.
    • In fact, maybe God intended for this opportunity to come up, so Samson should definitely take it. He can be as sorry and penitent to God at home on the couch as he can in prison.
    • No way, says Samson again. What is there to live for, anyway? Think about it: he was strong, famous, divinely blessed, destined for greatness, had performed amazing deeds, completely fearless... almost like a little God.
    • Or, so he thought. Actually, maybe it's this kind of thinking that spelled his downfall.
    • He was too proud and allowed himself to be swayed by his desire for lots of attention and became a little too into the whole partying scene. You know, expensive drugs, nightlife, models, the whole thing. It wasn't pretty.
    • The downward spiral ended with Samson confiding in this untrustworthy "Concubine," i.e. his wife, revealing the secret of his all-powerful hair.
    • Once she knew that, she had power over him and, gasp, cut his hair.
    • Samson also compares this whole scenario to being castrated, in case that wasn't kind of obvious already.
    • Feeling hungry? Time for a brain snack. Milton's readers would have known this Biblical story up and down, so he drops some pretty major plot events without any explanation—like that God made Samson's hair the key to his strength. (Nice move, God.)
    • Now, what about castration? Castration is a term that comes to us primarily from psychoanalysis, courtesy of one Sigmund Freud. It's the pervasive male fear of having one's penis cut off, usually by an aggressive and powerful woman, and is linked to images of impotence and sexual inability. Sound nutty? Yeah. Take it down a notch, Sig.
    • But still, castration is an image that often appears in literature. Like, Samson's "hair"-cutting-no-more-strength situation is a classic example. Or, pretty much any time anyone breaks a sword. Okay, 'nuff said.
    • The Chorus chimes in here to point out that Samson had actually many good habits and was never once tempted to drink alcohol.
    • Samson agrees with this and said that he got so much pleasure from drinking delicious, fresh spring water and getting high on life that wine was never very appealing.
    • The Chorus quickly interjects to wonder why anyone thinks wine is good for health since God forbade Samson from drinking and look how strong he turned out.
    • Samson keeps it real: all this praise of his moderation with alcohol is pointless, since he didn't have any when it came to women. In fact, he undid all that his self-discipline with alcohol accomplished by having none in this other area.
    • Lack of moderation with the ladies is why he's so miserable and unable to help his country, essentially just a useless "pitied object" waiting around for old age, disease, and death (568). Cheerful.
    • Manoa then jumps in and asks why Samson would stick around then , especially since, by being the Philistines' slave, he's using his strength for their benefit, which is basically the opposite of The Plan.
    • If Samson's going to just sit around being useless and waiting for death, he should do that at home.
    • Besides, what about all those times God performed miracles to help Samson out? Maybe God still has something in mind for Samson, and maybe he'll even give Samson back his sight.
    • One thing's for sure: Samson isn't meant to just sit there being useless.
    • Nuh-uh, says Samson. He doesn't think he'll ever see again, he's lost all hope, and he doesn't even want to live anymore.
    • Manoa urges Samson not to listen to these pessimistic thoughts that are only coming from his grief. He's his dad, and he's going to do everything in his power to make sure Samson can at least be safe.
    • Samson just keeps on lamenting. He hates how his pain isn't just physical but also mental. Since mental pain isn't specifically located anywhere in the body, you just end up feeling it everywhere.
    • And mental anguish actually gets worse as more time passes, like an infected wound.
    • These bad thoughts are like tormentors in his mind, targeting the areas where he's weakest and saddest. They never provide any comfort or relief. Plus, he doesn't actually believe it's possible to feel better about being deserted by God, except by dying.
    • He really does feel deserted, because God used to watched over him and Samson became particularly obedient, strong, and powerful against the enemies of Israel.
    • But now God has totally dumped him: unfriended him on Facebook, won't return his texts, and basically acts as if they never knew each other.
    • He didn't even offer Samson any comfort when he lost his eyes and has abandoned Samson to be mocked and scorned by everyone.
      So, really the only thing worth praying for now is a quick death.
    • The Chorus responds by saying that patience has long been considered the most meaningful kind of bravery and that many people write essays on how to deal with grief, pain and loss.
    • Gee, thanks, Chorus.
    • However, it doesn't seem to them that these kinds of comforts would be helpful to Samson, since he's so depressed and seems only to want direct comfort from God.
    • So, God, the Chorus says—let's talk about that. Why do you treat humanity so randomly—sometimes wonderfully, sometimes terribly—when you rule the angels and the animals with such order?
    • And what's up with the fact that God doesn't seem to be fair even to his special, chosen people? In fact, God seems to be less fair to those who are extra special, because these special ones seem to end up even worse than your average Joe.
    • They're left with enemies to die unburied, or horribly captured, or if they somehow manage to avoid those ends, still die in poverty, deformed with terrible diseases and pain.
    • Honestly, the Chorus concludes, it doesn't seem to make a difference whether you live a just life or an unjust one—you end up the same if not worse.
  • Samson with Dalila (710—1060)

    • And now someone else is approaching—someone surprising.
    • It's a woman, so dressed up that they compare her to a beautiful and luxurious ship.
    • They assume she must be some rich Philistine woman, and they're right.
    • As soon as she's close enough, they realize it's Dalila.Samson obviously wants nothing to do with her.
    • Still, she's coming closer, staring straight at him. Oh, and she's crying.
    • Finally, she pipes up to say she has been very nervous to come visit him (duh) since she's afraid of how angry Samson still is with her (double duh), which, she admits, is completely deserved. (Seriously, lady. We're running out of duhs, here.)
    • Dalila says that if crying makes any difference, she's been doing a lot of that. Plus, she really didn't know how badly things would turn out. Samson may not be ready to forgive her, but she loves him so much that she's overcome her fear and she wants to check in with him. If she can do anything to make him better, or to make up for what she did, she'll do it.
    • Samson is not impressed. He orders her out of his sight and claims that everything she's saying is just further womanly deceptions.
    • He says she's the kind of woman who is incapable of genuine feeling and is just pretending to be sorry so she can torment him even more. Plenty of men have fallen for this kind of fake apology—but not him, not this time.
    • Dalila begs Samson to listen: it's only fair to hear her side of the story, plus maybe he'll be able to hate her less. First: she was just plain curious, which is a fault all women (she claims) have. And since Samson told her his secret, she was totally justified in telling other people. Although, okay, maybe those other people shouldn't have been his sworn enemies.
    • She goes on to say that, as much as her weaknesses are her fault, it's really Samson's fault for being too weak to see her weaknesses. As the guy, he's responsible for being the strong one. (See, Shmoopers? Sexism hurts everyone.) Besides, she did what she did out of love.
    • How's that? Well, he did leave Timna, his first wife. She just thought that by knowing this important secret of his, she could make sure he'd stick around.
    • Why she'd tell then? Well, she claims that she was assured the information she passed on wouldn't be used against Samson. It was supposed to keep him from being harmed and keep him with Dalila as her prisoner, not the Philistines'. Love always makes people do foolish things, she says, but because it was for love, they always are forgiven. She asks that Samson be strong and resolved in every respect except for his anger.
    • Are you convinced, Shmoopers? Not Samson. He calls her a "sorceress" and says that by revealing all her faults, she's just being even more cunning (819). She's just here to do more harm, he says, not to apologize. He says she's right to say that their faults were similar, but he's being just as remorseless and cruel to himself as he is to her—so, go cry on someone else's shoulder.
    • Her biggest fault is weakness (for money) but, since weakness is the origin of every horrible deed, it's no excuse. He doesn't believe that her actions came from love but rather from raging lust. If she did really love him, she wouldn't want to posses him but would want to be loved in return, which he obviously would never be capable of once she betrayed him. All she's accomplishing is making herself look even worse.
    • Okay, fine, Dalila says, but she didn't do it for gold. The leaders of her country pressured her into it by appealing to her sense of religious faith and patriotism. Turning in the enemy? That's pretty glorious.
    • In fact, she only held out as long as she did because of how much she loved Samson. But in the end, she felt that the only moral thing to do would be to sacrifice her own personal desires for the good of her country and religion.
    • Pshaw, Samson says. (Or, uh, something like that.) He totally knew that she was going to make this argument about her false religion and her fake belief. If she had really loved him, she would never have come to these immoral conclusions. And, Samson goes on, why is she even describing him as an enemy? They were married, she knew how much he loved her, how he'd do anything for her, how he chose her over any other woman of his people... so how, exactly, is he the enemy? And, if he was such an enemy, why did she agree to marry him in the first place?
    • Once Dalila became Samson's wife, her loyalties should have shifted to him and his people, so these leaders pressuring her shouldn't have been persuasive at all. Once they even asked her to betray her husband she should have completely disowned them.
    • Samson concludes that she did it to win favors from her gods, which aren't even real gods since they don't have any power and so shouldn't be either worshipped or obeyed. Basically, she doesn't have any ground to stand on.You can practically see Dalila rolling her eyes, saying that whenever a woman argues with a man, she always seems to come out as the wrongdoer. Samson sarcastically answers that this is probably because they run out of things to say.
    • Dalila admits that she was foolish to think she could succeed (although it's not clear exactly what she's referring to). But still, she wishes Samson could forgive her and let her make up for what she did. There are still good things in life, even though he's blind. In fact, she's sure she can gain permission from the government to take him home.
    • She promises that by tending Samson throughout his old age, she'll make up for all the things he's suffered because of her. As if!
    • Samson refuses her offer, obviously, saying that it's not her job anymore now that they are separated.
    • Besides, Samson doesn't want her to think he's so desperate as to go back to someone who tricked him before; he says he knows her deceptive ways all too well and won't be enticed again. He also doesn't trust her. (Makes sense.)
    • Considering what she did to him as her husband when he was strong, had many friends, and was feared by everyone, he shudders to think what she could do him now when he's weak and helpless. He can only imagine how much she'd enjoy controlling him and how she'd turn him over to her government again. His current prison is way freer than her home would be.
    • Dalila then just asks if she can at least touch his hand. Absolutely not, Samson responds. He might become so angry that he'd tear her to bits. He tells her that he'll forgive her from a distance, and sarcastically recommends she continue her good deeds and to enjoy the gold she'll receive as soon as she becomes a widow.
    • She finally gets it: He'll never get over her whole "betrayal" things. But is this her fault? Nope. It's his. He's even more stubborn than the sea and his anger will never be quenched. Why did she even bother to come and apologize when all she's been given in return is more hate? She promises never to involve herself in his life again.
    • Now she muses for a while: Fame is always two-sided, because it makes the same thing look good to some people and bad to others. Samson's people will hate her, but her own country will give her mad props. People will flock from all over the place to honor her grave. There will be perks when she's alive, too. All that honor and respect is going to be pretty sweet.
    • The Chorus finally lets Samson know that Dalila has left, and they come up with a fun analogy about how she's a serpent whose sting has been hidden until now.
    • Samson says God sent her to him as a continued punishment and as a reminder of the kind of woman he allowed into his life.
    • Captain Obvious Chorus over here responds with the profound statement that beauty is powerful enough to bring us back when we've been rejected or burned.
    • Samson reminds them that the typical lover's quarrel ends happily, not with betrayal and treachery.
    • Oh well, the Chorus says. Who really knows what attracts women to men? Samson probably won't ever figure that out. They explain that if Samson's first wife Timna hadn't proven so treacherous and preferred Samson's friend, none of Samson's later lady-problems would have happened.
    • Pleased with their misogynistic streak, the Chorus continues: are women so dumb because they're so beautiful? Or are they just too into themselves to be capable of eternal love? Even wise men can see a woman as all lovely and demure when they first get married. But as soon as she gets comfortable, she turns out to be totally annoying and enslaves him with her charms to do ridiculous things. And how can you blame him (they say)? What else can they do when their guiding companion is naturally this way? A man who finds a woman who is actually good must be really blessed by heaven, because it's so rare.
    • For all these reasons, the Chorus concludes that this is why God gave men authority over women.And for all these reasons, Shmoop decides, we are glad we don't live in the seventeenth century.
  • Samson with the giant, Harapha (1061—1305)

    • Uh-oh. The Chorus sees a storm a-brewing, and asks if they should think about leaving.
    • Samson says that storms often come up out of nowhere, but the Chorus cryptically replies that they're talking about a different kind of storm. Oh, spit it out already, Samson says, and they answer that a giant named Harapha is approaching, looking haughty.
    • They suspect, though aren't sure, that he comes in peace. Not wearing armor is a good clue. Samson says he doesn't care why he's coming and the Chorus astutely remarks that they'll know what he wants soon enough because he's almost there.
    • Harapha arrives and says he's not there, like everyone else, to sympathize with Samson, although he wishes things hadn't they gone the way they did—but for reasons having nothing to do with Samson's well-being.
    • He introduces himself as Harapha from Gath who comes from a famous family of giants (but not this one) and says that if Samson hasn't heard of him, Samson is pretty much nobody. 
    • Harapha knows all about Samson, thoughall his strength and fighting skillsso it's too bad they never had the chance to duke it out themselves.
    • Anyway, he's here to see what's up. Samson replies that the only real way to get to know him is to experience his strength, not to see him. Harapha is surprised that Samson seems to be challenging him since, you know, forced labor usually wears people down.
    • He continues to whine about never having a chance to fight Samson on the battlefield and is sure he would have dominated Samson completely. This would have set the record straight about whether Palestine or Philistine has the better hero. Now, he can't ever gain that honor from Samson since it's never cool to fight a blind guy. Well, he's right about that.
    • Samson tells him to stop bragging about things he would have done and actually do something right now.
    • But Harapha insists that he wouldn't stoop so low as to fight someone who's blind, not to mention that Samson "hast need much washing to be toucht" (1108).
    • Samson responds that Harapha's leaders didn't seem to mind treacherously betraying Samson since they were so afraid of his strength, stooping so low as to bribe his own wife to do it. Why don't they just fight somewhere really narrow and empty so that Harapha's sight won't give him much advantage? Harapha can show up in all his fancy armor and Samson will just come with a wooden club, but he'll beat Harapha so hard Harapha will wish he'd never actually put his boasts to the test.
    • Harapha doesn't think Samson should be so cocky about not wearing armor. Lots of distinguished warriors wear armor, and it doesn't have some kind of magic in it. But Samson's strength, well, that is some kind of magical, God-given ability. Although, seriously, God, why put it in his hair, which is basically the weakest part of your body?
    • Samson responds that his strength isn't magical at all but comes from his real God who gave it to him since birth. And, here's a shocker, he says it does exist in his whole body; keeping his hair uncut was just a sign of his promise to God.
    • Why doesn't Harapha go to Dagon's temple and pray to him to make Samson's "magic" strength go away and to make Harapha Dagon's number one champion? Then, when he and Samson fight, and Samson wins, it'll be obvious whose God is stronger.
    • Harapha doesn't think Samson is really in any position to be bragging about this god of his. (He has a point.)
    • It's clear this god has completely abandoned Samson, leaving him in the hands of his enemies to be blinded and imprisoned. And it's not as if Samson's special-hair-strength has really helped him out—all it took was a good barber to defeat him. Or not even a good barber—just a dude with a pair of scissors.
    • It's cool, Samson says. He takes all of Harapha's insults as punishments from his God, who will one day forgive him. And he challenges Harapha once more to duke it out for the gods.
    • Harapha doesn't think Samson's god would be very honored to have Samson as his defender, since Samson is a murderer, a robber, and a rebel.
    • Oh yeah? Samson says. How's that? Harapha says that since Samson's leaders gave the Philistines control of their country, all of Samson's so-called brave actions were actually crimes of murder and theft against his own government. Samson says that he married a Philistine, in a Philistine ceremony, so he doesn't understand how Harapha can call him an enemy. It was the Philistine who betrayed him at his own wedding, threatening his bride if she didn't spill his secrets. His country was conquered with force to begin with, and Samson, as a heaven-sent savior of his country, had to act as he did according to his own personal sense of duty. If his leaders disagreed with his actions and disowned him, that's their problem, not his.
    • Samson then asks Harapha again to respond to his challenge. Note: the next bit is a lot of back and forth. It's basically fancy-sounding trash-talk: you come over here and say that to my face; no you come say that to my face. Rinse and repeat.
    • Harapha can't believe Samson is actually serious. Who in his right mind would fight with a condemned criminal?
    • Samson asks if this is all that Harapha came for, to just look at him and pass some judgment on him? Samson dares him to come a little closer and really experience Samson's strength.
    • Harapha can't believe that he has to stand there and take such insults without killing Samson in return.
    • Oh, Samson asks? What's stopping him? He should come over and take his best shot. Harapha says he'll find a better answer to Samson's insolence. He better go, says Samson, otherwise Samson might just tackle him to the floor and smash his brains in (yep, it gets a little graphic here).
    • Harapha leaves, promising Samson that he'll regret having been so insulting to him.
    • The Chorus remarks that Harapha leaves looking much less confident than when he first arrived.
    • Samson says he isn't afraid of Harapha, or any of his giant family, even if they are all descended from Goliath.
    • Brain bite time! Does Goliath sound familiar? Maybe a certain David and Goliath? The story of David and Goliath is from (you guess it) the Bible. Goliath is big, mean Philistine giant; David is a little Jewish boy. They battle it out, and guess who wins? Well, duh.
    • David single-handedly defeats Goliath with the help of his nifty slingshot. Check out the book of Samuel I for the full story.
    • But the Chorus is worried that Harapha is going to go straight to the Philistine officials and make life even more difficult for Samson.
    • Nah. Harapha will be too embarrassed to explain the whole story, since refusing to accept Samson's challenge will make him look bad. Besides, how could life get any worse? And anyway, anyone who helps Samson die is actually doing him a favor. 
    • The Chorus, not really responding to what Samson has just said, talks about how wonderful it is when oppressed people are given a strong and valiant defender who squash the mighty in the name of truth and gloriously conquer evildoers. Saints, on the other hand, are more patient and have their strength put to test in that way.
    • The Chorus says Samson might be either of these types of heroes, but his present situation makes him closer to the saint at the moment. They remark that this holiday hasn't been particularly relaxing for Samson because he's been doing so much mental labor.
    • Seriously. We're exhausted just reading it.
  • Samson is Ordered to the Theater (1061—1440)

    • Someone else is coming toward them. Judging by his uniform, it's an officer of the state. And he's looking for Samson. Uh—he's the one in chains. In case that wasn't obvious.
    • The officer says that he's come to summon Samson to a public demonstration of his strength to honor the holiday of Dagon.
    • No way, Samson says. His religion won't let him participate in such an event.
    • Too bad, say the officers—you've got to.
    • Don't they have other talented performers they can round up? Samson asks. He imagines they not only want to make a spectacle out his strength, but also to make fun of his oppressed condition and blindness. He's not going, end of story.
    • Watch yourself, says this official, because this is not going to make his leaders happy.
    • He is watching himself, replies Samson, because he's still listening to his own conscience. Do his superiors really think Samson is so depressed that he'll do whatever they want? They really thought Samson would be down with making a fool out of himself for their entertainment? Not coming, he repeats.
    • Well, says the official, he was told to deliver the message quickly so if this is Samson's final answer, he's out of here.
    • By all means, says Samson.
    • The official worries about what consequences will come from Samson's stubbornness.
    • Maybe you should be worried about consequences, Samson replies.
    • The Chorus chime in with their own worries. They think Samson has been acting in ways that will upset the higher-ups. He should probably get ready for some serious payback.
    • But what's he supposed to do? He's not going to disrespect God again by using his strength for Philistine benefit and worshiping their idols. The whole thing is totally ridic.
    • Well, says the Chorus, he is helping the Philistines by working the labor camp. At least, replies Samson, it's through honest work, not worshiping a false god. But if your heart isn't in it, claims the Chorus, you won't be doing anything that's actually disrespectful.
    • Samson isn't buying it. They can drag him to the ceremony, but he's not just going to willingly show up. See, if you put God's wishes second because you're afraid of what a man might do to you, you're putting God himself second. And he's really not cool with that.
    • Sure, maybe God has some bigger plan that involves Samson going to this event, but he's going to wait for God to establish that.
    • The Chorus shrugs their shoulders and says that they have no idea how things will turn out for Samson.
    • Samson tells them to cheer up because, all of sudden, he feels "some rouzing motions" which make him think that something extraordinary is about to happen (1382).
    • In fact, he suddenly changes his mind and decides it's very important for him to attend this holiday performance and that he's become certain that it won't result in any disrespect to God. Samson suspects that today is going to a big day for him.
    • The Chorus says that Samson has some fine timing, because that Philistine official is heading back to them. The official tells Samson that he has a second message from his superiors: he has no right to deny the commands of his captors. Samson better agree to come now or they will come up with some very unpleasant ways to convince him and will carry him there by force.
    • Samson says he isn't afraid of any of these threats, but doesn't relish the idea of being dishonorably displayed on the streets if he's carried to the event by force. So he'll go. How can some captive refuse his captors anyway? Samson asks. And who doesn't want to live? But, he does reiterate that he won't do anything in direct violation of his religious beliefs.
    • The official is glad to hear about Samson's change of heart and suspects that his cooperation will be good for Samson in the long run.
    • Samson then says goodbye to his friends (the Chorus), telling them not to come with him. He doesn't know how the Philistines will react to seeing him, especially if he arrives with a big group and especially since the Philistines will all probably be a bit drunk.
    • Plus, people tend to be extra feisty during religious festivals and Samson isn't about to listen to anything disrespectful said about his God.
    • The Chorus urge him to go with God's protection and hope that he will demonstrate God' glory among the Philistines. They wish that the angel that prophesied his great deeds at his birth would return to Samson now and be on his side again. They all agree that no one has ever seen anyone as strong as Samson.
    • With that compliment, Samson leaves.
  • The Chorus and Manoa (1441—1508)

    • But suddenly, they see Manoa, Samson's father, heading toward them in hurry. They notice that he seems to be in a good mood and excited to see Samson—maybe he's bringing good news! Well, okay, probably not.
    • Manoa says he's come here in a hurry not to see Samson forced to participate in this shameful spectacle, but because he thinks he's found a way to procure Samson's freedom.Hooray! Details, please?
    • Manoa explains that he's been to see each and every Philistine leader—at home, at work, at the shopping mall, wherever—begging with all kinds of fatherly sadness for them to accept a ransom for his son.
    • Some of the leaders were totally mean and vindictive. (These were also the leaders who were the most devoted to worshipping Dagon, duh.) Some others had a more moderate take on things, but were also just trying to find an angle for their own gain (which Manoa can't afford). Finally, though, he found some reasonable people who did feel that Philistine revenge had gone far enough. They thought that a reasonable ransom would be a good idea. But, whoa now, what was that loud noise?
    • The Chorus thinks that it's probably the sound of the Philistine crowd at suddenly seeing Samson.
    • Manoa says that he will definitely pay Samson's ransom even if it costs him all his savings. He'd rather be the poorest person in Israel than be rich knowing his own son was still in prison. And he's not leaving without Samson.
    • The Chorus remarks that fathers often give up everything for their sons and take care of them and that even though it's typical for sons to then later care for their fathers, Samson won't be able to.Because he's blind. In case you missed that.
    • Manoa responds that he'll be more than happy to look after Samson once he's home and surrounded by honors for all of his past bravery, including his special hair. He's convinced that God still has big plans for Samson.
    • The Chorus basically agrees. Since they're Samson's relatives too, they are also glad to think of Samson safe and sound.
  • Samson's Death and The End (1509—1759)

    • Manoa begins to thank the Chorus for their sympathy, but is interrupted by a louder, even more horrible noise.
    • The Chorus thinks calling it "noise" is an understatement: it sounds more like utter destruction and death.
    • Yep, Manoa says, it pretty much sounds like death. He thinks his son has been killed. What's weird is that it was such a big noise. It would have had to have been Samson killing many people, since one person alone couldn't have made such an outcry. Well, whatever happened it must have been terrible.
    • Manoa asks whether they should stay or go and see.
    • The Chorus wants to avoid getting caught up in anything dangerous. They think they're safest where they are and wonder if Samson's eyesight has been returned and if he's doing some serious damage to their enemies. The Chorus reminds Manoa that God has worked these kinds of miracles before—so why not again?
    • Manoa still doesn't think such a miracle has happened. Hope can often overpower rational thought, but he thinks they should probably just wait to hear.
    • The Chorus says that bad news typically travels fast... and speaking of which, here comes a messenger who seems to be Hebrew. The messenger is really worked up, saying that he's just seen something so horrible he can't get the image out of his mind. Everyone wants to know what happened, but the messenger needs to catch his breath.
    • Manoa tells him to get right to it, skipping any unnecessary details, so the messenger says that the Philistine population has been destroyed all at once. Okay, that's sad, but really not very sad for the Israelites, actually.
    • So what's the sad part? The messenger urges Manoa to focus on this good news for the moment since he's about to hear something upsetting. More good news is that it's Samson who accomplished this feat. The messenger, however, does not sound happy. He actually doesn't want to tell Manoa the rest of the story, since he's worried it'll be too upsetting.
    • But Manoa can't deal with this suspense, so the messenger spits it out: Samson is dead. Manoa cries out in sadness, particularly upset since he was just hoping to have Samson released. Death is Samson's release now. How ironic that Samson has died on the very day he was actually able to live free.
    • So how exactly did this happen? The messenger cryptically states that Samson wasn't killed by any of his enemies. Was it from exhaustion out of killing so many people? No: Samson killed himself.
    • Manoa wants to know why Samson would do such a thing, especially with all his enemies around.
    • The messenger says that Samson killed himself in order to kill his enemies: he pulled down the entire building.
    • So, Manoa says, Samson's strength really did work against him. And then he asks for more details.
    • So, the messenger launches into a (warning: rather long) story. He came to the city early, which was already buzzing not only with plans for the holiday but with news that the one and only Samson would be making a special appearance at the festival. Although the messenger feels bad for Samson, he still totally wanted to see him at this spectacle.
    • The venue for the festivities was a theater, half of which was covered by a roof and pillars for the rich and famous while the other half, for the humble plebes, was open air. This is where the messenger planted himself. (Turns out to have been a good move.)
    • After lunch time, when everyone was well fed, liquored up, and in general good spirits, they decided it was time for some entertainment. Samson was led into the theater in great pomp, not only with soldiers to guard him but also all kinds of instruments and other performers.
    • When the crowd saw Samson they went nuts, praising their god for making Samson their prisoner. Samson remains totally unfazed and performs various tricks of strength perfectly, despite his blindness.
    • Since no one volunteers to fight Samson in combat, they take a little break and Samson asks if he can rest himself against two pillars before he goes out again. His guards don't have a problem with this, so Samson stands for a while between these two columns, which, P.S., happen to hold the entire building up. He bows his head as if he's praying or thinking over something very important.
    • Then, he speaks to the Philistine lords. He tells them that he's cooperated so far in their little performance and now it's his turn to enact his own performance of strength, promising it will be something pretty amazing. He presses the two pillars surrounding him, almost like the wind making a mountain tremble, until they shake and shake and then finally collapse, bringing down the entire roof that they held up with them.
    • Everyone under the roof was crushed: literally all the Philistine nobles from both near and far, and, of course, poor Samson. Only the common people in the cheap seats survived. Done with his story, the messenger stops.
    • The Chorus begins praising Samson's glorious revenge, while lamenting the cost at which it came. Samson did indeed finally fulfill his destiny, and killed even more Philistines than in the total of his whole life before. It's just too bad that fulfilling his destiny meant ending his own life.
    • Then, for some reason, the Chorus splits in two.
    • Half (called a Semi-Chorus) begins to describe how God must have planned this all out so that the Philistines would be all distracted with wine and the worship of their false god Dagon and make the mistake of inviting Samson to perform. They go on to say how often people end up being responsible for their own destruction, and how foolish these Philistines were to only care about partying.
    • The other half of the Chorus describes Samson, saying how even though he thought his light was gone with his eyesight, he must have found an inner light to lead him. They offer a confusing image of the god Dagon as an attacking bird suddenly surprised by the might of Samson, who they compare to a phoenix.
    • Brain snack! It's always good to be compared to a phoenix. The phoenix is an old and powerful mythological bird believed to burst into flames at the end of its life only to rise from the ashes again. For this reason, it's often symbol of resurrection and perseverance. It can be connected to images of Jesus as the resurrected God (which Milton is surely channeling here) but also appears in numerous magical stories.
    • Manoa tells the Chorus to stop whining—uh, lamenting—since Samson has ended his life heroically and on his own terms, getting revenge on the Philistines and bringing honor to Israel. Plus, the whole thing proves that God never abandoned Samson after all. Really, there isn't anything to be upset about since Samson died so nobly.
    • Manoa tells the Chorus that they should all go find Samson's body and clean off the blood of his enemies. He, Manoa, will gather up all his friends and family to organize a proper funeral procession for Samson to take him back to his home.
    • There, Manoa says he plans to build a beautiful monument covered with shady trees and adorned with all his other honors and a list of all his accomplishments. Samson's deed will go down in song and poetry and be an example to inspire future generations. Virgins will come on festival days to honor his tomb (but not non-virgins?), and will lament only the fact that he made some poor choices in marriage and ended up losing his eyesight.
    • The Chorus concludes by saying while all ended well, they couldn't help but doubt that things would turn out the way they did. God often seems to have been absent only to make his presence known unexpectedly. Gaza is left to mourn their situation and hopefully have now left the land more peaceful and calm than before.