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Historical and literary context that influenced Paradise Lost

Seventeenth-century England was shattered by a period of great

religious and political turmoil. The Civil War had multiple causes, but it
mainly stemmed from the conflict between Charles I and the Parliament
over the kings marriage to a Roman Catholic Princess.
Charles I ruled without the Parliament for eleven years, which
annoyed the MPs to such an extent that they raised an army against the
The Civil War had begun. The dissolution of the Parliament, the
abolition of the monarchy, Oliver Cromwells dictatorship over the
Commonwealth, the disputes between the two main military factions, the
restoration of the monarchy in 1660 were all allegorically depicted in
Miltons epic poem Paradise Lost. Milton was deeply involved in the
conflict and he initially opposed monarchy. Besides, he was a Puritan and
Puritanism was hugely influential on the seventeenth-century literary
context. Miltons highly individual views of Christianity make Paradise
Lost simultaneously personal and universal.
Paradise Lost also presents a number of Protestant Christian
positions: the union of the Old and New Testaments, the unworthiness of
mankind, and the importance of Christs love in mans salvation. Much of
Miltons social commentary in Paradise Lost focuses on the proper role of
The features of the epic poem
An epic poem is a long narrative poem celebrating the heroic deeds
of warriors. It is written in formal style and it makes use of myths and
legends to depict the history of a nation in an impressive manner. The best
known classical epics are Homers Iliad, Odyssey, and Virgils Aeneid,
which influenced Miltons style.
The main features of an epic poem are: a central hero who is usually
endowed with supernatural powers, dangerous journeys and adventures,
repetitions of long passages of narrative or dialogue, the use of blank
verse and of words of Latin origin, all contributing to Miltons grand style.
In this passage the hero is Satan, who is now less confident and
more doubtful about his rebellion. He knows he will not be forgiven by God ([] is
there no place Left for Repentance, none for Pardon left?), and so he pursues his evil
deeds with all his strength. He engages in a dangerous journey (And in the lowest deep
a lower deep/Still threatning to devour me opens wide), but he is aware that his
repentance would be a false one. Milton uses blank verse (unrhymed lines in iambic
pentameter) and the enjambment (the continuation of a sentence beyond the end of a
line. The effect of this device is to make Satans speech flow more naturally. Also, Milton
uses words of Latin origin, such as eternal, miserable, infinite

Miltons speaker begins Paradise Lost by stating that his subject will
be Adam and Eves disobedience and fall from grace. He invokes a
heavenly muse and asks for help in relating his ambitious story and Gods
plan for humankind. The action begins with Satan and his fellow rebel
angels and their attempt to corrupt Gods beloved new creation,
humankind. Satan agrees, and volunteers to go himself. In Heaven, God
orders the angels together for a council of their own. He tells them of
Satans intentions, and the Son volunteers himself to make the sacrifice for
Satan - Head of the rebellious angels who have just fallen from Heaven.
As the poems antagonist, Satan is the originator of sinthe first to be
ungrateful for God the Fathers blessings. He embarks on a mission to
Earth that eventually leads to the fall of Adam and Eve, but also worsens
his eternal punishment.
His character changes throughout the poem. Satan often appears to
speak rationally and persuasively, but later in the poem we see the
inconsistency and irrationality of his thoughts. He can assume any form,
adopting both glorious and humble shapes.
Some readers consider Satan to be the hero, or protagonist, of the
story, because he struggles to overcome his own doubts and weaknesses
and accomplishes his goal of corrupting humankind. This goal, however, is
evil, and Adam and Eve are the moral heroes at the end of the story, as
they help to begin humankinds slow process of redemption and salvation.
Satan is far from being the storys object of admiration, as most
heroes are. Nor does it make sense for readers to celebrate or emulate
him, as they might with a true hero.
Many readers have argued that Milton deliberately makes Satan
seem heroic and appealing early in the poem to draw us into sympathizing
with him against our will.
Satans gradual degradation is dramatized by the sequence of
different shapes he assumes. He begins the poem as a just-fallen angel of
enormous stature, then disguises himself as a more humble cherub, then
as a cormorant, a toad, and finally a snake. His ability to reason and argue
also deteriorates.
Adam - The first human, the father of our race, and, along with his wife
Eve, the caretaker of the Garden of Eden. Adam is grateful and obedient to
God, but falls from grace when Eve convinces him to join her in the sin of
eating from the Tree of Knowledge.
In fact, before the fall, he is as perfect as a human being can be. He
has an enormous capacity for reason, and can understand the most
sophisticated ideas instantly.

Adams greatest weakness is his love for Eve. He falls in love with
her immediately upon seeing her, and confides to Raphael that his
attraction to her is almost overwhelming.
Eve - The first woman and the mother of mankind. Because she was
made from Adam and for Adam, she is subservient to him. She is also
weaker than Adam, so Satan focuses his powers of temptation on her. He
succeeds in getting her to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree despite Gods
An omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent character who knows
everything before it happens. Attempting to present such an unimaginable
character accurately, Milton appropriates several of Gods biblical
speeches into his speeches in Paradise Lost. God loves his creation and
strongly defends humankinds free will.
The Importance of Obedience to God
The first words of Paradise Lost state that the poems main theme
will be Mans first Disobedience. Milton narrates the story of Adam and
Eves disobedience, explains how and why it happens, and places the
story within the larger context of Satans rebellion and Jesus resurrection.
While Adam and Eve are the first humans to disobey God, Satan is the first
of all Gods creation to disobey.
In essence, Paradise Lost presents two moral paths that one can
take after disobedience: the downward spiral of increasing sin and
degradation, represented by Satan, and the road to redemption,
represented by Adam and Eve.
The Hierarchical Nature of the Universe
Paradise Lost is about hierarchy as much as it is about
obedience. This spatial hierarchy leads to a social hierarchy of angels,
humans, animals, and devils.
Light and Dark
Opposites abound in Paradise Lost, including Heaven and Hell,
God and Satan, and good and evil. Miltons uses imagery of light and
darkness to express all of these opposites. Angels are physically described
in terms of light, whereas devils are generally described by their shadowy
darkness. Milton also uses light to symbolize God and Gods grace. While

the absence of light in Hell and in Satan himself represents the absence of
God and his grace.
Conversation and Contemplation
One common objection raised by readers of Paradise Lost is that the
poem contains relatively little action. Milton sought to divert the readers
attention from heroic battles and place it on the conversations and
contemplations of his characters.