Critical appreciation of Paradise Lost
Critical appreciation of Paradise Lost
Background of the Composition of Paradise Lost- Milton said to his friend Diodati in 1637 that he wanted to write some monumental poetic work. He wrote― I am letting my wings grow and preparing to fly; but my Pegasus, has not yet feathers strong enough to soar a loft in the fields of air.” He believed strongly that by labour and intense study joined with the strong propensity of nature, he might leave something so written to after-times as they should not willingly let it die. By the time he was sure whether he should he should write a drama or an epic. He made a list of ninety-nine subjects. After long deliberation he decided to write an epic. He had already become blind and could neither read nor write but he had digested so much of Latin and Greek Literature, theology and scriptural literature that he needed no more study.
He composed verses in his mind and retained them in his memory until he dictate them so to anyone available at hand. The verses were written largely by his nephew Philips, and sometimes they were taken down by his daughters. By 1665 the manuscript of Paradise Lost was complete. In 1667 he was granted the license for its publication. He sold the manuscript to Samuel on April 27,1667. It was first in 1676 in ten books. In the second edition of the epic in 1674 he divided Books VII and X into two each. Therefore Paradise Lost was made an epic of twelve Books in the manner of Virgil’s epic Aeneid.
Influences Shaping Paradise Lost
Verity writes- “We must indeed recognize in Paradise Lost, the meeting point of the Renaissance and the Reformation, the impress of four great influences― the Bible, the Classic, the Italian poets and English Literature. Of the Bible Milton possessed the knowledge such as few have had.” There are thousands of allusions to the Bible and the very spirit of the Bible pervades the epic. The classic have also influenced Paradise Lost. There are many references to the great classic. A critic has rightly remarked that the epic is full of the exquisite charm of endless reference to the noblest things that the ancients have thought and said. He was also influenced by Dante, Petrach, Tasso, Arioso and others. In English Literature he was fond of Shakespeare, Spenser and Marlowe.
Theme of Paradise Lost
The theme of Paradise Lost is the Fall of Man, his redemption through the Son of God, and the aim of Milton in writing the epic is justify the ways of God to men. The epic opens with a description of the fallen angels-Satan and his crew in Hell. Then the account of the war in heaven resulting in the fall is given. Then comes the description of the creation of the world. Satan has been defeated, but does not lose hope. He encourages his followers to collect in Pandemonium to decide upon endless war against God to take revenge on him. After discussion they have decided to have revenge on God by corrupting the newly created Man. Satan takes a journey to the world through chaos and reaches the Earth. He assumes the form of a serpent and tempts Eve to taste the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge. He succeeds in seducing Eve and Adam to eat the fruit. Adam is guilty of the Sin of Disobedience. The result is the fall of Man and he is condemned to a lot of sufferings and woes and death. Satan is condemned for ever while man is restored to the mercy of God by Christ.
In Paradise Lost Milton described the action against the background of Heaven, Hell and Earth, for which he had to put the structure of the universe before readers. He had to choose either of the two astronomical systems prevalent during his times. He chose Ptolemaic system with the earth fixed at the center and the heavenly bodies revolving round it. This system was better suited for poetic and imaginative purposes. Milton presented Hell and Heaven on the lines of the Bible. Heaven is above and higher than Haven is the Holy Mount where God and the Son live. The universe and heaven are joined by ladder. In the universe is situated the paradise. Below the universe is Hell, surrounded by Chaos. The gates of Hess are guarded by Sin and Death. Eden is a town and there is a garden named Eden. Through Eden runs a river which waters the garden with springs.
Characterization of Paradise Lost
The characters in Paradise Lost are high and lofty. The first Man and the first woman Adam and Eve, Angels and God, and the Son of God. Even Satan has been described as a heroic figure who is never to yield or submit to the will of God. He considers himself an equal of God. There is God’s plenty in the epic as there are numberless characters if the rebel-angels are included. Adam who is very clam and quiet and does not fight even with enemy Satan is matchlessly noble and good character. He represents the whole of mankind. God is also made too human. He is ready to explain the things. He is very garrulous. He is the arbitrary tyrant of Heaven. Christ represents heroic energy, which is devoted to good ends and controlled by reason. It is only Christ who is ready to atone for the sin of Adam and thus redeems man. The fallen angels are spirits that are imperishable and can assume any shape and sex they like. Sin and Death are personified abstractions. Sin is the daughter of Satan. Satan falls in love with Sin and Death is child of this unholy marriage. Death commits rape on Sin and the result is a brood of numberless dogs. Both Sin and Death guard the gates of Hell.
Style and Language of Paradise Lost
The style of Paradise Lost is grand and the language is sublime. The epic is written in blank-verse without rhyme. The epic replete with Homeric or epic similes. Meltons sentences are full of substance and weight. At many place Milton uses old English words or words in their original Latin sense. He has changed the normal word order and structure to make his language more effective. He has used proper names of celebrated things and famous places to give richness to his style. He has made variations in stresses and pause to achieve grandeur in his style. His poetry is the work of consummate scholarship. Allusions to classical literature, mythology, the Bible and contemporary literature of Europe and of Italy are profuse in the epic. Milton uses the words that sound the sense. His verse is highly musical and pleases the ear more satisfies the eye.
Motive of Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost is of universal appeal. The epic presents the origin of Evil-eating of the forbidden fruit and disobeying the command of God, the combat of Evil and Good-battle between Satan and his crew against God and the defeat of Evil–the defeat of Satan. Milton wanted man to experience a variety of happy and sorrowful experiences of life, and still by using the free will, to have faith in God and God’s grace. It was possible by his Fall and by his existence in the world full of many odds, where he could use his reason better, and get the grace of God. The message of the epic is to revel the history of Creation and Redemption, and display the power and mercy of God.
Milton’s paradise has a few limitations. It is not the story of the epic which is ever present in the mind of the reader but the sheer majesty of music and the shaping spirit of imagination that constantly delights and surprises him. Paradise Lost is a prolonged meditation on the Bible by a Puritan. He lets nothing intervene between the Bible and himself. He accepts the whole of Biblical history as authentic. Melton projects himself, his feelings knowledge and aspirations into the characters of Paradise Lost. Satan is the mouthpiece of Milton.
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