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paradise lost essay

paradise lost essay

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Published by Jon Jensen

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Published by: Jon Jensen on Dec 06, 2010
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08/02/2013

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Jensen 1
The Arguments in
Paradise Lost 
by Jon L Jensen
HE 
G
IST OF 
.
HIS 
SSAY PROPOSES FIRST IN BRIEF THE WHOLE TOPIC 
,
ILTON 
’ 
S ARGUMENTS AS ADDED TO HIS 
PIC 
USTIFICATION OF THE WAYS OF 
G
OD TO MEN 
;
THEN TOUCHES ON THE HISTORY OF THESE ARGUMENTS 
,
OR RATHER SUMMARIES CALLED BY THE BLIND
OET ARGUMENTS 
,
WHICH ADDED ONLY AFTER THE FIRST PRINTING OF THE POEM SEEK TO CLARIFY TO READERS WHAT MIGHT OTHERWISE BE HARD TO GET AT 
,
NAMELY WHAT THIS LONGPOEM IS ALL ABOUT 
,
 AND IF NOT ENCOURAGE ITS READING
,
ENCOURAGE THE 
EADER MERELY TO PERUSE SAID ARGUMENTS  AND THEN PRETEND TO HAVE READ THE THING
. W 
HICH HISTORY  AND JUSTIFICATIONS PASSED QUICKLY OVER 
,
THE 
SSAY WILL ATTEMPT IN ITS BRIEF PAGE LENGTH TO FULFILL THE ASSIGNMENT 
,
THAT IS 
,
PRESENT AN ANALYSIS OF CONVENTION 
,
LANGUAGE ANDTHEME 
. T 
O ASCERTAIN AS BEST A PROCRASTINATING
RITER OR RATHER 
RITER IN SHAPE OF GRADUATE STUDENT 
,
CAN WITHOUT WAXING INTO RESEARCH PAPER 
,
 A FORM DESPISED BY STUDENT  AND TEACHER ALIKE 
. H 
OW THE ARGUMENTS STAND THEMSELVES  AS A KIND OF POEM 
,
DISTINCT IN THEIR STYLE 
,
REFLECTIVE OF MOST OF THE MAJOR THEMES OF THE VERSE 
,
BUT CONFOUNDINGIN THEIR INABILITY TO ACHIEVE 
,
WHAT MOST SUMMARIES MUST 
,
IN SHORT 
,
 ACHIEVE 
,
NAMELY 
,
CONCISION 
. H 
OW THIS SHALL BE  ACCOMPLISHED WITHOUT DEFINITE 
LAN OR 
HESIS IS YET TO BE KNOWN 
:
SOME EXAMPLES SHALL BE GIVEN 
,
MOST IGNORED
. T 
HE 
ERPENT 
THAT IS 
THE 
OET 
 /G
RADUATE 
TUDENT PROCEEDS 
.
The man who agreed to print the thing didn’t think itwould sell. Even though 343 years later 
Paradise Lost 
is in nodanger of being forgotten, it’s not hard to understand theprinter’s concerns. A few decades after its publication, in the18
th
Century when the reading public was far moreaccustomed to poems of length, Dr. Samuel Johnson famouslysaid of Milton’s masterpiece: “None ever wished it longer thanit is." His complaint feels even more justified with morecontext. He writes, “The want of human interest is always felt.Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admiresand lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than apleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harassed andoverburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation; we desertour master, and seek for companions” (Johnson).This kind overburdening was clearly on SamuelSimmons’ mind when for the fourth issue of the first edition hefinally convinced Milton to explain himself. Two problemsapparently presented themselves to the earliest readers of theepic: the lack of rhyme and a need for a summary. Simmonsadded new opening pages including Milton’s inestimablyimportant explanation to the world of why English must not beforced to rhyme. Before the poem’s opening an argument wasadded. In the issue Simmons attached a note explaining thatwhile “there was no argument at first intended to the book” hehad “procured it” for “the satisfaction of many that havedesired it” (qtd. in Fowler 37).The arguments would appear as they do now only inthe second edition, interspersed through the text before eachbook. I am certain it would not be too presumptuous of me tosay that anyone who has read
Paradise Lost 
owes Simmonsthe printer, thanks. Although Milton may not have intendedthem for the poem initially, it is hard to imagine wading throughthe work without them. Yet most critics pass over thearguments as if they were not written by Milton at all and weresuperfluous to the text. Distinct in their voice and character,organization and language, the arguments to
Paradise Lost 
 are not only integral to an understanding of the poem, theysubvert a reader intent on having things made plain.
 
 
Jensen 2When Milton added the arguments to
Paradise Lost 
, itwasn’t the first time that he had seen fit to explain his work tohis readers by way of summary preface. A short description of 
Lydidas
was, like
PL
, added to the text after an initial printing.So important was the summary, that the table of contents for “The
English Poems” 
listed it as a part of the title. “Lycidas. Inthis Monody the Author bewails a learned Friend, unfortunatelydrown'd in his Passage from Chester on the Irish Seas, 1637.And by occasion foretels the ruine of our corrupted Clergy thenin their height.” (Milton 422) One year later with the publicationof the Latin
Epitaphium Damonis
, a poem that calls on the lifeof Virgil in memory of Milton’s friend Charles Diodati, Miltonincludes an “Argumentum.” Though in Latin, (the languagewhich arguably taught Milton his convoluted syntax), the prosehere is straightforward; its sentences remarkably simple:
 Argumentum.THYRSIS et DAMON, ejusdem viciniae pastores,eadem studia sequuti, a pueritia amici erant, ut qui  plurimum. THYRSIS, auimi causa profectus, peregrede obitu DAMONIS nuncium accepit. Doraum posteareversus, et rem ita esse comperto, se suamquesolitudinem hoc carmine deplorat…
(Milton 522).In it, Milton explains that Thyrsis and Damon, shepherdneighbors, had studied together and were friends fromchildhood. While traveling to improve himself, Thyrsis learns of the the death of Damon. When he returns and finds that it wastrue, he deplores himself and his solitude with this poem.Seeing this simple summary, one is reminded that theLatin
argumentum
has a range of meanings far greater than itsEnglish equivalent implies, especially to contemporaryspeakers.
 Argumentum
’s primary definition is “subject, story,representation, statement; theme, matter, contents; plot,drama, tale,” only in the secondary definition do the closer connections we have with the word occur (Handford, 44). Infact, looking at “Epitaphium Damonis” without knowledge of Milton’s later use of the English word “argument,” one wouldeasily translate the word as summary, plot or contents. Evenwithin the realm of rhetoric,
argumentum
is translated as“appeal” as in
argumentum ad hominem.
Milton’s word choiceand the associations it implies in an English speaker’s mindcannot be accidental. Stanley Fish claims that “Milton’sprogramme of reader harassment begins in the opening lines”(Fish 4) but I would argue that it begins with the arguments, inhis very selection of the word.Which leads us to the convention that Milton invents for these summaries. They are distinct enough that one couldeasily identify them from one sentence or phrase. (I’d bet theGRE English Subject Exam has done exactly that). Book I’sargument is the most distinctive. It begins with a statement of the whole poem’s purpose, as well with a miniature descriptionof the plot of the entire epic. It also establishes the poem asEpic, within the Homeric tradition by claiming that the action“hasts into the midst of things,” a pretty direct translation of 
inmedia res
(Milton 1). By establishing the epic nature of thework, Milton’s mind game with the reader continues by theargument establishing (well prior to Satan’s first speech on line84) the Prince of Darkness as the poem’s Achilles/Aeneas.“Man” is mentioned first, but only in the general, not specificterms that might refer to Adam. Man is not the chief player,Satan is the “prime cause.”After Book I, the arguments follow a very similar format. A chief player or speaker is identified in connectionwith a primary action. “…Satan Debates” (II), “God sitting onhis Throne sees Satan Flying…” (III), “Satan now inprospect…” (IV), “Morning approach’t, Eve relates…” (V),“Raphael continues…” (VI), “Raphael at the request of Adam
 
 
Jensen 3relates…” (VII), “Adam inquires…”(VIII), “Satan havingcompast…”(IX), “Man’s transgression known, the GuardianAngels forsake…”(X), “The Son of God presents…”(XI), “TheAngel Michael continues…(XII). Satan’s predominance over the epic is apparent even at first glance through the openingwords of each argument. Satan’s Achillean presence, even asa victor, continues until late in the argument to Book 10. Whenupon his return to his palace his full transformation to snake,undone like Achilles, by a heel, in this case the heel of man.Even in the argument beginning with God, Satan is thelead. A sitting God observes Satan’s flight, predicts thesuccess that Satan will have and then begins to answer arguments against His character by “clear[ing] his own justiceand Wisdom from all imputation.” No one but the Son of God ispresent to impute God’s justice, but even in the summary thereader is reminded that God needs defending.Probably the most distinctive feature of the argumentsis the length of their sentences, relying on extremely long
cola” 
and “
semicola
” especially in the opening sentences.Where we might expect succinctness, we have complication,often seemingly for complication’s sake alone. Instead of simply stating Satan or the Serpent, Milton employs “theSerpent, or rather Satan in the Serpent.” God’s plan for theworld’s creation is “an ancient Prophesie or report in Heaven,”“for Heaven and Earth may be supposed as yet not made,certainly not yet accurst” (I). If we didn’t get this the first time,later he reminds us of the “Prophesie or Tradition in HeavenConcerning another world…”(II).Concision in the arguments is illusory. Longer sentences will rely on one stated subject and the compoundedphrases relying on one subject give us the illusion that thewriter is being brief. Milton uses question words “how,” “what”and “who” especially to refer to information that the reader willhave to find within the book. But much of these are extremelyminor details, such as who guards Hell’s gates. While fullspeeches are eliminated, the main features of certainutterances remain, as in Book IX: “Eve wondring to hear theSerpent speak, asks how he attain’d to human speech andsuch understanding not till now; the Serpent answers, that bytasting of a certain Tree in the Garden he attain’d both toSpeech and Reason...” This amount of detail, thoughimportant to the logic of Satan’s temptation of Eve in the poemproper seems excessive for a summarizing passage.Although Raphael reprimands Adam when he “inquiresconcerning celestial Motions,” and told to “search rather thingsmore worthy of knowledge” (A8), the arguments take a greatdeal of time describing Milton’s distinctive cosmology. Most of the arguments end with comments on these specifics of place.Shorter statements of action that a reader might expectthrough each summary occur most often only at the end of each as with Book IV, “by whom question’d, he scornfullyanswers, prepares resistance, but hinder’d by a Sign fromHeaven, flies out of Paradise.”Milton chose complicated language over the possibilityof the direct. When he could have written simply about themain events of each book, he fashioned instead an elaborationin miniature of his subjects. One need only compare thearguments to the précis added to the 1611 King JamesVersion of the Bible to realize just how complicated they are.In KJV Genesis 3, the chapter concerning the Fall, we read: “1The serpent deceiveth Eve. 6 Man's shameful fall, 9 Godarraigneth them. 14 The serpent is cursed. 15 The promisedseed. 16 The punishment of mankind. 21 Their firstclothing. 22 Their casting out of paradise.” That’s it. Theycouldn’t be more unlike Milton’s. Then again short argumentswould not be true to the poem itself. (It’s as though Milton in aspirit of “Prophesie” thought, if they’re just going to read the

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