Milton Bio and Background Information • Religion • Blindness
Milton’s writings were heavily influenced by the political and religious climate of his day • Charles the First—1625 • Civil War: Parliamentarians (Roundheads) vs. Royalists (Cavaliers) • Oliver Cromwell • Charles beheaded • Milton’s new job • Restoration, King Charles II
Paradise Lost: The Poem • Composed from 1658-1664 • Written in blank verse • Epic • Two parallel falls • Protagonist: Satan
Paradise Lost: Themes • Justice • Freedom • Obedience • Knowledge and Ignorance • Choices and Consequences • The Human Condition
Engraving, by William Faithmore, of Milton in 1670, a few years after he completed Paradise Lost; it was published as the frontispiece to his History of Britain (1670).
Study Questions: The Verse • What is blank verse? • Why does Milton state as his reason for choosing to write in blank verse? • What other poets does Milton invoke when citing his reasons for writing in blank verse? What is the effect of this invocation? “The measure is English heroic verse without rhyme, as that of Homer in Greek and of Virgil in Latin; rhyme being no necessary adjunct or true ornament of poem or good verse, in longer works especially, but the invention of a barbarous age, to set off wretched matter and lame meter; graced indeed since by the use of some famous modern poets, carried away by custom, but much to their own vexation, hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse than else they would have expressed them.”
Study Questions: Book 1 (lines 1-270) • What, according to Milton, is Paradise Lost primarily about? • Believe it or not, the first 10 lines of the poem constitute a single thought. Paraphrase that thought below, in regular English, using conventional word order (subject, verb, object).
Who is the muse that Milton invokes in line 6? • What does the poet boast he will do in line 16? • What, in lines 24-6, does the poet propose to do in his poem? • Why has Satan been cast out of Heaven?
Who is Beelzebub? • What does Beelzebub say would be “an ignominy and shame beneath this downfall”? • Why do Satan and Beelzebub decide not to wage another war against God? • What do the devils eventually decide to do?
Identify the Quotation: Fall'n Cherub, to be weak is miserable Doing or Suffering: but of this be sure, To do aught good never will be our task, But ever to do ill our sole delight, As being the contrary to his high will Whom we resist. Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste Brought Death into the World, and all our woe With loss of Eden, till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, Sing Heav'nly Muse…
Identify the Quotation: To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n. The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
Study Questions: Book I (lines 271-521) • How does Milton characterize Satan and his devils in these lines? How does this affect our reading of this part of the poem? (Hint: Look closely at his word choice. What nouns does he use to describe them?)
Important Moments: Book I (lines 271-521) 337: “Yet to their general’s voice they soon obeyed Innumerable.” 356: “Forthwith from every Squadron and each Band The Heads and Leaders thither haste where stood Their great Commander… The long catalogue on lines 381-521.
Book I overview • We can break Book I down into the following sections: • Invocation and introduction of poem's theme • An account of Satan's revolt and expulsion from Heaven • Dialogue between Satan and Beelzebub • The other devils' rallying around Satan - the demonic host listed • Satan's speech to the legions (about the creation of man) • The building of Pandemonium (inspired by Mammon)
Study Questions: Book I (lines 522-798) • Look at lines 615-621: Satan tries to speak, but can’t—why not? • How does this complicate our image of Satan? • 636-642: What does Satan accuse God of here? • How does this complicate our image of God? • What rumor does Satan say he heard in Heaven (lines 650-654)? • 690: “Let none admire / That riches grow in Hell; that soil may best / Deserve the precious bane.”
Study Questions: Book I (lines 522-798) • Where does Satan say they should go? 655: “Thither, if perhaps but to pry, shall be perhaps / Our first eruption, thither or elsewhere…” • What does Satan say they should do? 661: “War then, war / Open or understood must be resolved.” • What do the devils build at the end of Book I?
Books II - VIII • [summarize what happens in the part they don’t read]
Book IX • One thing you’ll have to do for the Paradise Lost test is parse some lines of Milton’s. • Parse: to analyze (a sentence) in terms of grammatical constituents, identifying the parts of speech, syntactic relations, etc. • lines 412-416: For now, and since first break of dawn the Fiend, Mere serpent in appearance, forth was come, And on his quest, where likeliest he might find The only two of mankind, but in them The whole included race, his purposed prey.
Study Questions: Book IX (lines 412-612) • 421-422: “He sought them both, but wished his hap might find / Eve separate…” • What does Milton mean when he metaphorically calls Eve the “fairest unsupported flower, / From her best prop so far”? What “storm is nigh”? (lines 433-434) • What is Satan’s initial reaction to the sight of beautiful Eve? (463-472) (also continue reading to 479) • Look closely at lines 532-549. How does Satan tempt Eve? What strategies does he use?
What is Eve’s reaction to the serpent’s first words? (lines 553-566) • What is the serpent’s response to her reaction? (568-612) • What are some of the words Satan uses to address Eve? Why might he choose these particular words?
Now get out a clean sheet of notebook paper. In the remaining class time, I want you to parse lines 594-597: Amid the tree now got, where plenty hung Tempting so nigh, to pluck and eat my fill I spared not, for such pleasure till this hour At feed or fountain I had never found.
Study Questions: Book IX (lines 613-841) [Look at lines 651-654.] • What does Eve tell Satan in lines 659-663? Why might this be important? • What does the serpent say to Eve in order to convince her that her fears about eating the forbidden fruit are unfounded? [684-732]
What strategies does Satan use to tempt Eve here? [735-738] [758-772] • What happens to the Earth in lines 780-784, when Eve eats the forbidden fruit? • After she has eaten the fruit, what is Eve’s state compared to? [791-794] [804-6; 824-825; 830-833] Turn in your study questions!
I want you to practice parsing: rewrite lines 735-738 on your own paper, and in your own words. Be sure to include every meaningful aspect of the sentence and to not change the meaning of the sentence at all. Remember to find the subject and the verb first; then work from there to put together the rest of the sentence. Fixed on the fruit she gazed, which to behold Might tempt alone; and in her ears the sound Yet rung of his persuasive words, impregned With reason, to her seeming, and with truth. (You’ll want to read the lines as they are in your book, since there’s a helpful textual note there.)
Important Terms • Blank verse, epic, English Civil War, the characters in Paradise Lost, pandemonium
General Questions • The poem as an epic—how does it fit the characteristics of an epic? How does it not? • If PL is an epic, then Satan is an epic hero. Analyze this statement. Is Milton sympathetic to Satan? Why might this be? What’s the effect of his characterization of Satan? • What do you think is the true sin in Paradise Lost? Why? What details in the epic support that view? • Is Milton’s characterization of Eve sexist at all? Does she represent universal human frailties or failings characteristic of women specifically?