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John Miltons's Paradise Lost: Is Satan a Villain or Hero?

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The question of whether Satan is the hero or the villain of John Milton’s Paradise Lost has been largely debated by scholars over the centuries. The ones who believe Satan is the villain of the epic, more commonly known as the Anti-Satanists, tend to argue that Satan is too foolish to be considered a hero, as his “hostility to Almighty power” is ultimately a futile endeavour (as God’s power is omnipotent) (Carey, 135). C.W. Lewis, also an anti-Satanist, goes as far as to claim that to “admire Satan, then, is to give one’s vote not only for a world of misery, but also for a world of lies and propaganda, of wishful thinking” (Lewis, 203). The ones who claim Satan is the hero of the epic, the Satanists, perceive him as the rebellious angel who rises up and defies God’s monarchy and “the tyranny of Heav’n” (174).They choose to focus on Satan’s “nobler qualities, his loyalty in leadership, fortitude in adversity, unflinching courage and splendid recklessness” (Satan/Promo, 3). While these two positions are both valid, this paper will be focusing on a third position; the individuals who believe that Satan is neither the hero nor the villain of the epic. Helen Gardner addresses this notion, claiming how “Satan is, of course, a character in an epic, and he is no sense the hero of the epic as a whole. But he is a figure of heroic magnitude and heroic energy, and he is developed by Milton with dramatic emphasis and dramatic intensity” (Baker/Helen, 208). Satan is without a doubt the antichrist, or “villain” in the biblical scriptures, however one must take into consideration his alternative and more ambiguous portrayal in Paradise Lost. In this paper, I will analyze Satan’s actions, physical portrayal and speeches in Book I of Paradise Los...

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Gardner, Helen. “Milton’s ‘Satan’ and the Theme of Damnation in Elizabethan Tragedy.” Milton: Modern Essays in Criticism. Ed. Arthur E. Barker. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. 205-217. Print.

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