How far do you agree with this judgment on Milton's handling of Satan in ParadiseLost I & II?
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How far do you agree with this judgment on Milton's handling of Satan in Paradise Lost I & II? Satan in Paradise Lost presents an unusual dichotomy; he is both the personification of cosmic malevolence and a pathetic character. As a theist who is resolved to "justify the ways of God to man", one assumes that Milton would not deliberately show Satan in a wholly sympathetic light. Indeed, Milton warns that humans are particularly attracted to Satan's "guile" and that he is ultimately a deluded fraud. Yet Satan's villainy is caused by his faults and his conflict as the "the Antagonist of Heav'n" contributes to both the plot and God's over-aching scheme. It seems counter-intuitive to suspend the ethical context of a theodicy, however, Satan's exploits could be described as tragically heroic. As Milton engages in other conventions of classical epics such as epic similes and the invocation, one would assume that Paradise Lost has a hero of some kind.
In these admissions, Milton presents Satan as a complex character of some virtue. Satan's leadership is inspiring as he is able to rouse his initially hopeless army to draw "millions of flaming swords". He is morally admirable in believing that "to be weak is miserable". Yet one must be vigilant against viewing Satan as absolutely heroic. The first two books are from Satan's perspective, therefore his view of God and his resultant situation is somewhat perverted. Unlike tragic figures such as Oedipus, Satan's punishment does not lead to either self-knowledge or catharsis. He bitterly demands why he should "bow and sue for grace/With suppliant knee", re-enforcing his role as the antagonist of the poem. His unwillingness to repent is to his blinding "fixed mind" which proudly refuses to abandon his "high distain". The loyalty he inspires in his troops verges on sinister as they "bend/With awful reverence prone". This, coupled with Milton calling him "great Emperor" and "Sultan", shows Satan to be comparable to Ottoman Emperors whom the English despised as wicked, dehumanised despots.
This charade of democracy and ironic "full consent" is specious and affirms Satan to be deceptive. His reaction to Sin and Death perhaps best characterises his ability to manipulate. He initially casts a "disdainful look" and calls Sin an "execrable shape" until he realises her usefulness. This disgust is masked as he assures her he is "no enemy" and affectionately refers to her as "dear daughter". This "subtle" shift illustrates Satan's Machiavellian nature that is willing to cajole in order to gain. The Miltonic Satan deliberately provokes a moral tension as the reader is inclined to empathise, or indeed sympathise, with him. In his dilemma of being "confounded though immortal", the pathos does give Satan a tragic dimension. Although he may be a sophisticated literary character, Satan should not be entirely vindicated even though he is more recognisable than the abstract protagonist. Perhaps it is the reader's post-lapsarian state which is partly seduced by Satan in Paradise Lost. "In some ways Satan resembles villainous tragic heroes such as Macbeth, but there are many indications that the reader is supposed to regard him as a fraud."
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