John Milton (1608-1674)

Warning: This page posted in great haste! An outline of some of my own teaching notes. . . .

Major works: "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" (1631-1632?), Lycidas (1637), various prose essays, mainly on subjects religious and political, Paradise Lost (1667), Paradise Regained (1671), Samson Agonistes (1671).

Biographical notes:
Son of middle class parents, raised and educated for church, but stopped short of joining the clergy.
Knew from an early age he wanted to be a great poet, set about becoming one with determination, reading extensively in eight different languages in a course of self-education.
Was completely blind by 1651 (blindness a major concern in much of his poetry, Paradise Lost included).
Actively committed Puritan participant in English Civil War (a.k.a. English Revolution) throughout 1640s and 1650s: began in 1642, rising tensions between newly burgeoning middle class and old feudal system, Milton on side of middle class gaining power through parliament and in response to Charles I's excesses. Milton was for the middle class having a greater say in government (democratic); significantly evolving constitution in this time; also increasing diminishment of church's authority in this time (separation of church and state). Revolution reached flashpoint with execution of King Charles I in 1649; reign of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector 1653-1658; ended with "The Restoration," the restoring of the monarchy with Charles II in 1660 But monarch was no longer absolute ruler, more power held now in Parliament as force to be reckoned with.
Milton outspoken on side of Protestant anti-royalist parliamentarians—also anti-Anglican, distrustful of power of bishops.
Planned three decades before putting into execution to write the greatest epic ever, on theme of England and the heroic—King Arthur e.g. Instead turned to even greater stage and subject, the "epic of all epics" portraying the war between good and evil, God and Satan, heaven and hell, with all the earth, heaven, Chaos, and hell for a stage.

The primary theme: Milton's justification of the ways of God to humankind: his take on the origins and necessity of evil, on "man's fallen nature," and on the essential free will of all humans.

Reading points: As you study or read, consider or be on the lookout for the following:

Epic features.
Satan's strangely attractive qualities as a powerful leader: is he in some ways a protagonist figure?
Milton's explanation through various demons of wickedness and sin in the Old Testament world.
Satan's power of persuasion, in hell and in Eden.
Milton's depiction of and commentary on the nature of evil.
Satan's many sins, or sinful qualities.
Milton's use of his biblical sources.
The matter of Eve's "responsibility": i.e. Milton's depiction of the antifeministbiblical account of the fall.
Adam's responsibility for his own downfall?

Book 1: the basic plot, by lines:
1-26: invocation and theme
27-75: history leading to present moment: Satan cast into hell
76-126: Satan's first speech
127-155 - Beelzebub's reply
156-91: Satan vows evil to spite and confront God
192-241: Satan and Beelzebub move from lake of fire towards land
242-70: Satan claims possession of hell
271-82: Beelzebub urges Satan to wake up their host
283-330: Satan moves onshore and calls his followers to awake
331-375: They arise
376-521: catalogue of mightiest devils
522-621: gathering of host, forming in regiments and awaiting orders
622-62: Satan's address to his troops: we shall fight!
663-751: magical construction of Pandemonium (as opposed to Pantheon)
752-98: call for council, and the leaders gather

Book 2:
1-10: introduction: Satan's hopeful aspirations
11-42: convocation of council
43-108: Moloch urges open war
108-228: Belial counsels patience: God may relent
228-98: Mammon says let's accept hell and make the best of it
299-389: Beelzebub urges ruin of God's new world and man
390-429: Beelzebub asks who will go?
430-85: Satan accepts risk and keeps glory for self
486-505: all in agreement, unlike men
506-628: troops fall out and explore hell
629-80: Satan approaches gates of hell
681-726: Satan and Death prepare for battle
727-814: Satan's unholy trinity—his family
815-70: Satan convinces Sin to open gates of hell
871-967: Satan travels through the abyss of Chaos
968-1009: Satan convinces Chaos to let him pass
1010-55: Satan approaches earth

Book 9:
1-47: Author's introduction
48-98: Satan's return to Eden
99-178: Satan's lament in Eden
179-91: Satan enters serpent
192-204: Adam and Eve's worship
205-385: Adam and Eve debate separation
386-411: Eve on own
412-93: Satan sees Eve
494-552: Satan reveals himself to Eve
553-614: Satan's explanation of speech in serpent
615-46: Satan leads Eve to the Tree
647-732: Satan tempts Eve
733-79: Eve's sophistry (reasonable but fallacious argument)
780-833: Eve eats apple, decides to share with Adam
834-1016: Eve tempts Adam; he eats
1017-66: Lust and guilt
1067-1133: Shame, passion over reason and judgment
1134-89: Blame and argument: trouble in paradise

The other books:
Book 3: God predicts fall: by free will, not by predestination; Jesus offers self as ransom and becomes "Savior." Satan makes way to earth.
Book 4: Satan in Eden, overhears Adam and Eve on Tree of Knowledge, discovered as toad near Eve's ear and kicked out of Eden by cherubim.
Book 5: Eve's dream of temptation suggested by whispering toad; she and Adam discuss free will; Raphael starts story of Satan's uprising after Jesus made savior.
Book 6: Raphael continues: the great battle in heaven, Jesus defeats Satan and casts devils out of heaven.
Book 7: Raphael describes the six days of creation, reiterates warning re: the Tree.
Book 8: Adam requests Eve, and he and Raphael discuss relations between sexes—Adam warned not to let passions get best of judgment.

Book 10: Jesus sent to judge Adam and Eve (death original sentence); Sin and Death determine to enter world and pave broad road to/from hell; Adam seeks mercy from Jesus.
Book 11: Jesus pleads before God; God send Michael to kick A&E out of Paradise; Michael tells Adam of upcoming OT events through the covenant after the great flood (Noah's).
Book 12: Michael tells rest of OT history and of coming Messiah; then on corruption of men and church till Second Coming. A&E leave garden determined to obey and submit.

Works Cited (and consulted)