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Analysis of Satan's Speech in in John Milton's Paradise Lost

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Analysis of Satan's Speech in Milton's Paradise Lost

John Milton's Paradise Lost is a work of enduring charm and value because of its theological conceptions, its beautiful language, and its "updating" of the epic to the modern world's values. Book II of this epic poem opens with Satan's speech to his minions in hell, proposing war on Heaven itself. In these first 44 lines, Satan is clearly established as epic hero, but at the same time is theologically/morally denounced by the speaker.

This section of the poem opens by establishing Satan's position of power and prestige:

High on a throne of royal state, which far

Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,

Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand

Show'rs on her kings barbaric pearl and gold,

Satan exalted sat, (II. 1-5).

These lines create an aura of awe and majesty for Satan, showing his glory and splendor through material things, while at the same time inferring indirectly that this material show is all that Satan has, rather than real power or value.

After this portrayal of Satan the epic hero in all his magnificence, the speaker (the heavenly muse) is very careful to bring down his image morally, despite the magnificent outward experience. The muse asserts that,

by merit raised

To that bad eminence; and from despair

Thus high uplifted beyond hope, aspires

Beyond thus high, insatiate to pursue

Vain war with Heav'n, and by success untaught

His proud imaginations thus displayed, (II. 5-10).

The muse is very careful to remind the reader that Satan is in a high position because of his greed, and the high position he has obtained is not a good position t...

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...son who uses elevated language well. The speaker's voice is brought forth showing that despite Satan's slick moves, he is the villain, but the reader still feels sympathy for Satan. The speech is a moving one, and certainly accomplishes the task of motivating the denizens of Hell to move against Heaven. It fits the framework of the poem perfectly, showing not only the theological goals of the poem, but also the desire of the poem to "mock" the traditional epic, and to provide a literary work of great beauty and power.

Sources

Fox, Robert C. "The Allegory of Sin and Death in Paradise Lost." Modern Language Quarterly 24 (1963): 354-64.

Lewis, C. S. A Preface to Paradise Lost. Rpt. New York: Oxford UP, 1979.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. In John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose. Ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. Indianapolis: Odyssey, 1980.