The God that Milton portrays in Paradise Lost is boring. That’s not quite right – he’s just too moral, too good. I guess that comes with the job. However, compared with the heroically constructed Satan, he has no chance of appearing entertaining. As Fish mentioned in his article, Milton very specifically applies heroic conventions to Satan: his speeches, his lamentable fate, and his quest for “redemption.” Additionally, as we’ve discussed, Milton probably wrote Satan’s speeches when he till envisioned PL as a play, and so those speeches are very dramatic and powerful. God’s, in comparison, fall a little flat – they’re like a glass of soda left on the counter for a few hours. The substance is the same, but there’s no spark. God’s speeches are usually dogmatic and didactic: they get to the point, instruct his angels or his Son, or convey the proper way to do things. I think that they are Milton’s vehicles for explicit religious instruction, and his portrayal of God and Heaven his imagining of the scene. The Son is always a constant presence, and it is he, unlike what appears in the Bible, who appears to Adam and Even in the Garden to admonish them for eating the fruit. The Son’s speeches are just like the Father’s, though this is most likely the point – Milton wants to emphasize that they are the same entity, and what better way to do this in a poem than to make the Son’s words echoes of God? Why, though, would Milton make the Lord’s word so boring? Is it because he didn’t want any fluff getting in the way of the message he (Milton) or He (God) wanted to impart? Or, in a more revolutionary vein, maybe Milton (subconsciously?) wanted to make Satan’s speeches more enjoyable – he did have to believe in what he was writing at least a little, right? If we read PL as a political allegory, this makes even more sense, as God (the monarch) would have to be portrayed respectfully, but not necessarily eloquently. Satan on the other hand – Satan who could be a stand in for Milton – must appear entertaining, intelligent, and subversive in this allegory. This seems like a fairly accurate description of Paradise Lost’s Satan to me….
Responding to Colin’s post, I think the dichotomy between Satan’s and God’s speeches have multiple suggestions. Reading the text as a political commentary, I think it’s entirely reasonable to consider God’s “dogmatic and didactic” style as a representation of the monarch’s rigid religious views, presenting a complete separation between good and bad that leads to narrow religious interpretation. Also, I don’t think Milton made Satan’s speeches more entertaining subconsciously. I think he’s elaborating on satanic myth to play in on the dramatic power of deception. We don’t really trust Satan as a narrator, but the fact that we find his speeches more entertaining and persuasive play into the power of poetic (and satanic?) deception. One of this year’s senior theses analyzes Louse Gluck’s poetry, specifically focusing on the poem “A Myth of Devotion,” in which Hades is the speaker. (check it out: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19144) I was fascinated with the poem’s parallels with PL, especially how Satan’s deceptive narration affects the reader’s experience. Just thought I’d share with the class!
In searching for a topic for my final paper, I have been continually struck by the breadth and depth of work published on Paradise Lost. There seems to be something in it for everyone, from historicists to feminist critics to religious folks to songwriters. It’s not that I didn’t know that it was an important piece of literature; we’ve spoken in class before about it’s prominence and popularity. Still, before reading it I had a bit of trouble understanding how one piece of literature could be so profoundly popular, especially so long after it’s publication. I have always been interested in the ways that a work is reinvented and reinvigorated by each generation, and really each reader that reads it, and I believe that there are certain aspects of the story that spark our interest more than they interested, for example, the puritans. Still, there is something about the story, and the way it’s told, that has given the poem a permanence that’s rarely paralleled. Is it the focus on the fall of humanity, the universality of temptation, the depiction of how we all came to be on the earth? I don’t want to over simplify; certainly any number of poets in the 1700’s could have written about Adam and Eve and it would have fizzled out and disappeared with them, Milton’s writing is pretty amazing in and of itself. But there is something about Paradise Lost, the story itself of innocence, temptation, loss, failure, disappointment and revenge that continues to interest and perplex readers. It’s no prospectus topic, just something that has been occupying my mind.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *