There has been considerable critical interest in the figure of Satan in Paradise Lost,
and in the possibility that he may be the true hero of the epic poem. The opening of
the poem finds Milton in a tough spot: writing an epic poem without an epic hero in
sight. In order to achieve a rationally balanced poem, he wants to let the first half rise from Hell through Chaos and towards Heaven, thereby balancing the fall of
humankind in the following Garden scenes. Since Satan is the only point of view
(other than God above) that witnesses all of these early scenes, he must be
transformed into the hero for the first few books. Besides allowing Milton to add new
scenes to the story which is crucial, since all his readers already know the general idea
of it, making Satan temporarily heroic makes his subsequent evil deeds that much
more appalling to the reader.
One of Milton’s early biographers, his nephew Edward Phillips, asserted that
it was Milton’s original intention to write a tragic drama on the subject of the fall. He
claims to have seen a speech by Satan (now Book IV lines 32-41) some years before
the publication of Paradise Lost. The attractiveness of Satan and the genesis of
Paradise Lost as a drama are to some extent interwoven. It is a critical fact that in
drama, the audience is lead to believe in the first voice they hear, especially if that
voice speaks directly to the audience. R.C. Jones (1986: P.56) demonstrates how this
principle operates in Renaissance plays such as Shakespeare’s Richard III. One
reason why there is any case for regarding Satan as the hero of the poem is that we
learn his version of events first, and by the end of Book II, w...
... middle of paper ...
...t all the characters Milton needs to the proper places at the proper
time in the narrative. The delicate way in which he holds the character of Satan
poised between heroic and villainous acts during his physical ascent and spiritual fall
makes use of the full gamut of poetic devices, including allusion, metaphor,
hyperbole, diction, and more a tricky juggling act of character development, until he
is ready to let the ball drop.
Bradley, S.A.J. (1992). Anglo-Saxon Poetry. Everyman.
Burden, Dennis. (1967). The Logical Epic. Routledge.
Jones, R.C. (1988). Engagement with Knavery. Duke University Press. Durham. England.
Milton, John. (1998). Paradise Lost. Penguin. England.
Waldock, A.J.A. (1947). Paradise Lost and its Critics. Cambridge University Press.
Wittreich, Joseph, ed. (1970). The Romantics on Milton. Cleveland Press. USA.
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