Given Milton’s commitment to lifelong learning and reputation for being a voracious reader, I find it strange that he spends so much time writing in Book 8 about how Adam should not worry about space and the universe and only focus on Paradise. It seems to me that someone so intellectually curious would encourage contemplating the universe, but this does not seem to be the case.
Following his poetic description of celestial motions, Milton has Raphael say: “Solicit not thy thoughts with matters god, Leave them to God above, him serve and fear…”
Later, Milton even seems to condemn minds that “rove uncheck’d,” which appears even more anti-intellectual and entirely contrary to notions of expanding consciousness present in earlier works. Even stranger is the fact that the character in PL who speaks the most on the pleasure of thinking is Satan, who harps in the ideas of “the mind as its own place” and the glory of “thoughts that wander.
Following Thursday’s discussion on ants, I decided to look into Milton’s descriptions of other animals to see if they meant more than it seemed on the surface. I was surprised to find that at least in my eyes, none of the other descriptions lend themselves toward the same sort of reading. I mean, there is the phonological similarities between “foul” and “fowl” which could probably take on a number of interpretations, and then there are a bunch of other adjective/animal combinations like scalie Crocodile. Beyond this though, it only seems like the Tawnie Lion is described in more depth. He is described as an animal imprisoned, “pawing to get free” and then springing “as if broke from Bonds.” Now, I’m sure some critic has addressed the symbolism in this image but for now I am uncertain as to what it might signify.
Prior to reading Paradise Lost, I would never have assumed that according to the Bible, the earth’s creation was directly related to Satan’s fall from grace, and was set up more as a territory of Heaven than its own separate place. I always assumed God made the universe on a whim.
Yet, in Book 7, God makes it very clear that this is the case. Following Satan’s expulsion, he reveals to Raphael his plan to create “Another world…there to dwell…not here…” It is as if after all the calamity that went on in heaven in the past, God realizes he should make Heaven accessible to some in order to prevent future problems. Only after “long obedience” is tried and “degrees of merit” are raised will humans be allowed in God’s Kingdom. Like in other parts in the epic, like earlier in Book 7 when Adam’s thirst for knowledge is aligned with Satan’s desirous ways, I find that that this is an interesting example of Milton presenting men as susceptible to Satan’s ways. He clearly views man as somewhere in between God and the Devil and maybe views Paradise lost as a way to lead the people in a right direction.
This passage also raises a question that I’ve had while reading PL: If God wanted Heaven to be without sin, why didn’t he make man perfect?
In Book 5, I noticed a pattern of Milton distinguishing between but also aligning the spiritual, non-material Angel Raphael and the corporeality of Adam and Eve. This comparing and contrasting seemed important because I thought it had something to do with what made Adam and Eve “mutable” and what made Raphael unchangeable. The difference is first discussed when Adam and Raphael are talking about food and it’s importance in Angel life. Adam regrets the “unsavory” food they have prepared, admitting that angels might not even need food as nourishment. Raphael politely rejects this notion, and says that the only difference between eating in Angels and humans is that for angels eating is done to get “intelligential substances.” So, on one hand the angels are materialist because they eat, but also more divine because they consume intellectual substances, whatever that means. Later on there is a couple of lines with a similar effect, one that at the beginning described Raphael as having “real hunger” but then says this hunger serves to “transibstinate,” or transform the food into something else.
Don’t get me wrong, Paradise sounds great, but I think that much of Book 4 invites this interpretation.
First of all, there is the absence of any other explanations. Of course, the devil in disguise appears to be the main source of Adam and Eve’s sin in most readings, but I’d argue that there had to be some fault within them in order to fall for Satan’s lies. It doesn’t seem like this fault can be anger, ambition, jealousy, curiosity, or any of the other virtues that lead to a protagonist’s demise because the couple’s absolute bliss would rule out any of them. Adam and Eve appear uniformly in love and happy, content with their purpose to spread God’s word to their sons and daughters. In their conversation, they relate their current situation and future purpose with a tone that indicates that nothing will ever change and that they are fine with that.
On the back of my edition of Paradise Lost, the argument is made that because of how compelling his portrait is, Satan is the “true hero” of Milton’s epic poem. Although we’re only four books in, I’m inclined to agree up to this point.
My understanding is that one of the general requirements for any protagonist is that he holds qualities that are more or less universally held by all people. If the audience can not identify themselves (even in the slightest way) to the hero, then the story will not have the desired effect. With this in mind, it is clear to me that Satan is the “hero” of this story because he is more similar to mankind in his failings and inconsistencies than Jesus, the angels, or even Adam and Eve are in their perfection and wholeness. Additionally, Milton gives much more insight into Satan’s interior world than to any of his other characters.
Take, for example, how Satan is portrayed in Book 4 compared to how Adam and Eve are portrayed. A long interior monologue from Satan’s perspective is given in which he moves from self-doubt about his plans to corrupt mankind to embracing the idea that the siege on Paradise is predetermined. The most important quality in this speech seems to me how it re-evaluates its original claims; how Satan rationalizes his evil ambitions by musing that even if he were to attain again some state of goodness, eventually, “ease would recant vows made in pain, as violent and void.” What a human conclusion for Satan to have reached! How many times have I broken my own resolve to complete these blog posts every week by looking to the future and thinking something along the lines of “well, even if I did post every week, eventually I will get lazy and forget.”
In comparison, Adam and Eve’s introduction appears static and unnatural. The passages detailing their spot in Paradise seem to describe a state of being rather than two changing characters. Their sole duty is to live joyfully and praise God every once in a while? I don’t buy it.
The one caveat to this argument is that in Book 4 only details pre-sin Adam and Eve. I’m excited to see how they are depicted differently later on in the book.
Not that I think Milton was concerned with plot efficiency while writing Paradise Lost, but the inclusion of the allegorical/not allegorical shape of death feels a little strange. What is its purpose within the story? It would be one thing if it was mentioned briefly as part of the setting and then forgotten like the hell hounds or Scylla, but Death becomes its own character with its own motivations that are opposed to Satan’s. Death’s presence in the story becomes more mysterious when you consider why it might want to stop Satan from passing through the gates of hell. Death tells Satan “Back to thy punishment,” so perhaps it is on the side of God? Then there is Death being described as a Goblin in addition to its description as a formless shape… Maybe it is best not to think about these things through an entirely rational frame of mind.
When I was a kid I went to Sunday School but never paid attention. For this reason, I’m not quite sure how close some representations in Paradise Lost are to ones in the Bible. Either way, I’m finding lots of interesting info about religious imagery that I hadn’t heard of before.
“the Towrs of Heav’n are fill’d/With Armed watch, that render all access /Impregnable; ”
I’m sure my previous idea of Heaven as a quiet and peaceful little town sitting on top of clouds comes more from pop-culture than from Bible study, but this depiction of Heaven as some military fortress still stunned me. Who are the towers keeping out?
The personification of Death also startled me. It is an amusing thought that amongst the devils, burning lakes, enveloping darkness, and barking hounds in Hell there is also the “execrable” (also formless?) shape of Death that speaks and threatens Satan directly. Again, like with most of Milton’s work, I’m finding that the settings in Paradise Lost are a bit vague and undefined, although not in a bad way. Characters, objects, and landmarks just seem to float around in empty space.
The last depiction I want to bring attention to, which is also the most obvious and memorable, is that of the Devils. Although I knew a little bit about the Devil as a fallen angel, I did not expect to find so much humanity in the descriptions of him and his counsel. The monologue on consciousness from Belial is honestly a little bit moving…
“Though full of pain, this intellectual being,Those thoughts that wander through Eternity, To perish rather, swallowd up and lost In the wide womb of uncreated night, Devoid of sense and motion…
Who would’ve thought a friend of Satan would make such a beautiful argument for staying alive?!
After discussing the ending of Paradise Lost in class on Thursday I was interested in taking a look at the concluding lines of Milton’s other works. What stuck out to me about the Paradise Lost ending was the sense of hope despite a great loss and the sense of openness towards the future of mankind. This felt like a perfect ending to a piece of literature of epic scope, and I was curious to see if Milton ended one of his other works with such force.
Comus ends with a long monologue from the Attendant Spirit, the narrator of this piece. The final image of Comus is similar to Paradise Lost insofar that both end with a character departing to some unknown place. Adam and Eve, of course, walk hand in hand out of paradise and the Attendant Spirit flys away to the “earth’s end” and to the “corner of the moon.” Again, both endings include a sense of openness and adventure.
One major difference between the two (of course they are entirely different in many ways) is that Comus, in line with the rest of the play, takes a didactic approach to the ending while there is a lot of ambiguity in the ending of Paradise Lost. As if the repetitive references to temperance weren’t enough to convince readers, the Attendant Spirit implores its audience to “Love vertue, she alone is free,/She can teach ye how to clime/ Higher then the Speary chime;/Or if Vertue feeble were,/Heav’n it self would stoop to her.” It is a clear message about maintaining moral fortitude.
Paradise Lost, on the other hand, can be interpreted a number of ways. Are we supposed to feel hopeful that the world is all before them and they can choose where to go? Their first experience with free-will didn’t work out so well. Why if Adam and Eve are hand and hand are they also described as going on their “solitarie way.” Is this a statement about man’s unchangeable individuality? Are we supposed to distinguish between future outcomes for Adam and Eve? Is one headed for a better future than the other? What is with all the dreadful faces in the Gate?
Rubbing off a little Miltonic rust this Saturday evening and diving deep into Comus again.
On my second read-through, I couldn’t help but feel like it is a really poor example of a moral play. If the characters didn’t explicitly mention temperance in the dialogue, I might not have guessed that it was the virtue at the center of the conflict. Instead of articulating the themes of temperance, chastity, and willpower through the action of the play, or through subtext, these ideas are dealt with straight-on in a way that feels unnatural. The concept of restraint is meditated on in a way that is indubitably not realistic and overly abstract. For example, the Lady begins pondering before Comus even arrives:
A thousand fantasies [ 205 ]
Begin to throng into my memory
Of calling shapes and beckoning shadows dire,
And airy tongues, that syllable mens names
On Sands, and Shoars, and desert Wildernesses.
These thoughts may startle well, but not astound [ 210 ]
The vertuous mind, that ever walks attended
By a strong siding champion Conscience.——
O welcom pure-ey’d Faith, white-handed Hope,
Thou hov’ring Angel girt with golden wings,
And thou unblemish’t form of Chastity, [ 215 ]
I see ye visibly…
Of course, there are many many playwrights who wrote characters that meditated on moral issues in this way; some of Shakespeare’s characters come to mind… However, these kinds of revealing monologues should be in the voice of the character speaking them; there should be some sort of impression of personality, something like a stream of consciousness. Nobody thinks in such abstract terms.
There are some cool couplets in this poem though:
Tis onely day-light that makes Sin,
Which these dun shades will ne’re report.
Hail Goddesse of Nocturnal sport