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Clustering and Curling Locks: The Matter of Hair in Paradise Lost

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


In Paradise Lost Milton introduces Adam and Eve by lingering on their appearance, but instead of presenting a detailed catalog of the couple's physical attributes, he focuses on their hair. This essay challenges earlier readings of Adam and Eve's locks by examining Milton's imagery in the context of hair's cultural and spiritual value. Comparing depictions of hair in sixteenth-century sonnets and cavalier seduction poetry reveals how Milton appropriates the early modern aesthetic of sprezzatura to convey Adam and Eve's unique innocence. The essay shows that Milton's description is not merely superficial, nor even merely symbolic. Rather, when read in relation to early modern theories of hair's etiology and to Milton's own animist materialism, hair in Paradise Lost literally embodies Adam and Eve's prelapsarian love. Their clustering and curling locks enact the couple's amorous reciprocity and signify the paradoxical strength and fragility of their Edenic marriage.

Research Article
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2010

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