A study of Satan and the politics of Hell in Paradise Lost
Baker, John Ross
Whiting, George W.
Master of Arts
The purpose of this study is to examine the political treatment of the fallen angels in Paradise Lost and, as far as possible, to relate the ideas and attitudes expressed in the epic to those found in Milton's prose tracts. Paradise Lost is not, of course, a thinly disguised allegory designed to interpret the tumultuous events of seventeenth century England; the major themes of the poem -- "Eternal Providence," the Fall, the promise of redemption -- exclude that possibility. Milton's explicit purpose of justifying "the wayes of God to men" leaves little ground for considering the poem to be mainly political. But this is not to say that Milton deliberately excluded all reference to things political from Paradise Lost. The problem facing Milton as a poet was to make visible and concrete "things invisible to mortal sight." The task was not unlike that of Raphael, to "... relate / To human sense th' invisible exploits / Of warring Spirits..." and to "... unfold / The secrets of another World, perhaps / Not lawful to reveal..." Milton's solution, that of the poet and not of the philosopher or theorist, was found, like Raphael's, "By lik'ning spiritual to corporeal forms." Although classical epic tradition and Biblical myth gave him at once the form and matter for his poem, Milton drew upon many other diverse sources -- Greek philosophy, Patristic and Rabbinical commentary, the thought of his own day. But the immediate artistic problem was to assimilate this mass of material into his mythical framework in the most concrete and dramatic manner possible. The bare Old Testament story of the Creation and the Fall hardly afforded scope for a narrative whose ambitious purpose is to "justifie the wayes of God, to men." One way in which Milton enriched his myth was to treat many aspects of his subject in distinctly political terms. Satan, sitting "on a Throne of Royal State," often hurls the epithets tyrant and monarch heavenward; his transgression is represented as a revolt "Against the Throne and Monarchy of God"; his followers call him "thin matchless Chief" yet bow towards him "With awful reverence prone." Satan and the other devils receive the largest share of political terminology that is in any way relevant to Milton's tracts on liberty, for the hellish crew throughout the poem are fallen and consequently, near to fallen man. The Monarchy of Heaven is. perfect and immutable and accepted as just. Although Adam was created superior to Eve and given "Absolute rule" over her, few, if any, directly political implications are involved in Adam's acquiescing in her wish that he, too, taste of the apple; throughout most of Paradise Lost our first parents live, in the state of innocence and consequently, like God, are far removed from the world of mundane politics. I shall attempt to show, then, that the state affairs of the rebel angels embody a meaning which is related to and, in the main, consistent with the ideas Milton developed during his long period of pamphlet warfare.