Study Guide

Samson Agonistes Suffering

By John Milton


Here's another no-brainer: opening with lines that describe our protagonist as both blind and imprisoned, it's pretty obviously that Samson Agonistes is about suffering. But just in case you need convincing, the poem spends most of its time listening to various characters describing suffering: the who, what, where, when, and, oh yeah, why. Each of the various visitors Samson talks with offers a different perspective on Samson's suffering and their own. Does anyone find relief? Do they all? We'll leave that up to you.

Questions About Suffering

  1. What kinds of suffering does Samson Agonistes depict? The physical ones are the most obvious, but do you see other kinds as well? Which ones and where?
  2. What various attitudes towards suffering do we see presented? Do all the characters feel the same way about it or do different characters have different points of view? If so, are they incompatible?
  3. Does Samson's suffering increase, decrease, or remain exactly the same throughout the poem? Why?

Chew on This

Since Samson's problems are entirely his own fault, this story isn't about his suffering at all.

Tragedies are always about suffering. There's nothing special about suffering in Samson.