Analysis of whether Milton was of the devil's party or not
This essay aims to analyze whether Milton was of the devil’s party or not. To support my argument, I will be mentioning different critics and their perspective on whether Milton should be considered of the devil’s party or not. John Milton wrote the greatest epic poems when he wrote Paradise Lost.
It is a poem written in an expensive, majestic verse with a serious tone and begins in ?medias res’ as Homer’s epic poems do. The book describes the creation of man and its fall while detailing characters and the plot beyond what the Bible has taught. Milton tries to write in the tradition and style of Homer’s Iliad or Virgil’s Aeneid. Milton’s main focus is not the heroic men, but the struggle and tragedy of humanity. The story of the epic, Paradise Lost, has been taken from Genesis, in The Bible; it is a simple story of the fall of Adam and Eve from the grace of God due to their disobedience to him. In heaven, Lucifer, who becomes Satan after the fall from heaven, was unable to accept the supremacy of God, and lead the revolt against his divine authority. After a terrible war with God’s angles, he was finally thrown into Hell, where Satan and the other fallen angles lay in burning lake.
William Blake claims that Milton was of the devil’s party without knowing it. Blake might have meant that I think, Milton has presented Satan as the real hero of the epic, Paradise Lost, unknowingly. According to the critics of the Romantic Age, Satan is the actual hero of the epic. Similarly, A.J.Waldock and other twentieth-century critics see Satan as sympathetic and admirable and God as distant and dictatorial. On the other hand, critics like C.S.Lewis in Preface to Paradise Lost, are of the view that Satan may be exceptionally well drawn but he is nonetheless egocentric and just simple evil. Satan is one of the most argumented, controversial and popular characters in the history of literature. The reason is a lack of clarity about Satan being the villain or the hero of Paradise Lost. Satan holds many traits which qualify him as the hero, whereas, there are also some characteristics which distinguish him as the villain of the epic. Edith Kaiter and Corina Sanduic, in their article, Milton’s Satan: Hero or Anti-Hero?, state, Satan is both hero and villain, revolted against tyranny and tyrants, preacher of freedom and prisoner of his own egocentrism.(2)
Milton has presented Satan as a heroic figure in his epic, Paradise Lost. Milton shows that Satan is the reflection of leadership and bravery because Satan, although in his worst state, still upholds his principles that enlist him in hell in the first place. Satan says, in
All is not lost, the unconquerable will.
And the study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield
And what else is not to be overcome?
That glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me.
(Paradise Lost, Book 1. 106-11)
The core of Satan’s heroism in the epic is that he is in favor of his own beliefs, even though he would fight against all odds. Satan makes high-sounding speeches. Through these speeches, he makes himself the hero, whereas in my opinion, Satan’s heroism is false because it is built on false aims, beliefs and unworthy plans to defeat the divine authority. However, without a doubt, it can be said that Milton has used his poetic and dramatic powers to the full while depicting Satan. A.J.Waldock quotes Mr. Lewis in his essay, Satan and the Technique of Degradation, as: Satan is already wilting under the doom of Non-sense”that his brain is already in process of decay. (79).
The character of Satan is, no doubt, a powerful and a complex character throughout Book 1 of Paradise Lost. Milton has projected Satan, in some verses, as the hero of the epic and in some verses, he shows that Satan is a manipulative, trick-ish and a lying individual. Satan is seen vengeful because even though he has been punished and thrown to hell from heaven, he still remains firm in his objective that is his rebellion against God. Moreover, Satan is high in his ambition and therefore cannot bear to be a servant and must become a ruler. He says:
To reign is worth ambition, though in hell
Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven
(Paradise Lost, Book 1. 262-63)
As John Carey, in The Cambridge Companion, observes, the term most suitable to express this ambivalence of character is ?depth’. Depth in a fictional character, Carey argues, depends on a degree of ignorance being sustained in the reader, the illusions, he continues, must be created that the character has levels from us, the observers. (133). Also, if we analyze Satan’s speeches, we come to know that there are several evasions on his part and that he makes certain claims which are not backed up by evidence, since, the logic of the speech is insecure, naturally (Waldock 80). Satan is a lost soul to whom hope never comes that comes to all. Satan is not a uni-directional character but a multi-directional character. In fact, as readers, we do not have to express sympathy with Satan, whose aim is to misguide and deceive his followers through his grand speeches.
Since Milton considered himself a devout Christian, it is difficult to accept that he would have consciously crafted the traditional embodiment of evil into a positive role model. From the opening of Book 1, it is clear that there is a conflict between God and Satan. Milton uses his Biblical knowledge and elements of epic poetry to invoke a sense of grandeur while describing Pandemonium, the capital of Hell, in Paradise Lost. Before man is even in the picture, Milton portrays the underlying conflict of which the man will eventually become a part of. After being banished from heaven, Satan and the other fallen angles find a temple that becomes a meeting place for them to discuss their intent of waging war against God and man.
At Pandemonium, the high capital
Of Satan and his peers: their summons called
From every band and squared regiment
(Paradise Lost. Book 1. 756-58)
In carrying on the discussion, many critics think that Satan’s pride is the replication of Milton’s own. Accordingly, Waldock mentions Mr. Lewis that in Satan we see Milton’s own pride, malice, folly, misery, and lust (85). In other words, it would not be wrong to say that Milton has put much of himself into the character of Satan. Critics are of the opinion that Book 1 of Paradise Lost, justifies the ways of Satan to men rather than to justify the ways of God to men. I agree to this because, throughout Book 1, we only see Satan making grand speeches and revolting against the divine authority. Douglas Bush, in his essay, Characters and Drama, claims that Milton have put his heart and soul in the projection of Satan.
In connection to this, Milton creates a character who is someone we tend to appreciate and someone we want to see defeated as well. To say that Satan’s character has layers, would not be wrong after-all. Satan in some of the verses of the epic, Paradise Lost, seems to be a bold and courageous leader with a clear vision of his mission, whereas in some of the verses Satan is the horrible co-existence and incessant intellectual activity with an incapacity to understand anything. To elaborate on this, we can look up to the contradictions in Satan’s speeches as
What matter where, if I be still the same
And what I should be, all but less than he
whom thunder hath made greater? Here at last
We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell
Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven
(Paradise Lost, Book 1.256-63)
Whereas, as we go along the poem Satan says
Awake, arise or be forever fallen.
(Paradise Lost. Book 1.330)
Both of the verses mentioned above, are the clear example of the contradiction in Satan’s speeches.
Conclusively, I think that Milton was of the devil’s party because, throughout Paradise Lost, we see a character who keeps on to revolt against the divine authority, God. If Milton was not of the devil’s party he might not have endowed Satan with such grand leadership qualities. I believe that the reason behind Milton endowing Satan with such qualities is that an opponent to God had to be of great dramatic stature. The use of glorious words by Milton to describe Satan is to show him only as a leader. I believe that almost the whole of the book 1 revolves around the character of Satan, so it might be natural for Milton to portray Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost. On the other hand, grandiloquence and chivalry are the two qualities that Milton appears to be repudiating in Paradise Lost. And the fact that Satan reveals these qualities indicate that Milton was not of the devil’s party after all.
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This essay aims to analyze whether Milton was of the devil’s party or not. To support my argument, I will be mentioning different critics and their perspective on whether Milton […]