November 23 in Literary History: John Milton Publishes Areopagitica

The most significant events in the history of books on the 23rd of November

534 BC: Thespis of Icaria – from whom we get the word ‘thespian’ – becomes the first recorded actor to portray a character on the stage. According to legend, Thespis was the first person to appear on stage and perform a role, rather than speak as himself, which had been the norm until then (where storytellers would perform as themselves, rather than in character). The ’23 November’ date is more traditional than factual, of course…

1644: John Milton publishes one of the most famous – and eloquent – defences of free expression ever written, the Areopagitica. A polemical tract in prose, published during the English Civil War, Areopagitica is an attack on censorship and an argument in favour of the freedom of the press – as relevant now as it has ever been.

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