Milton's Paradise Lost - Political Satire? How does this help to understand the poem?
Milton’s Paradise Lost – Political Satire? How does this help to understand the poem?
Milton takes the traditional epic and transforms it with the clarity of his moral vision and with the power of his language, turning it into piece of rich and powerful verse. In the early parts of "Paradise Lost", Milton manages to convey sympathy with Satan's heroic energy, with Satan's rebellion against Milton's god seen as an epic battle where the devil and his followers are banished to the external and horrid place of hell. Satan describes the "hell within him" wherever he goes and, yet as the epic narrative progresses, the allegiance subtly shifts to Christ's message of love and a vision of Paradise free of Satan's destructive force.
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Milton believe that the proper end to all activities should be in God or goodness, based on this central belief of good and evil and its association with the Augustine concept of the ‘chain of being’. Milton beliefs in a heaven, chaos and hell, as clearly defined entities, are more consistent with poetic myth rather a rational, scientific belief although Milton had visited Galileo, and the concept of physical space and the Universe clearly influenced his thoughts.
Milton’s blindness prevents him from seeing any light, except in strong symbolic terms, as the light of God illuminates and inspires the mind. Milton makes references to the greatest classical epic poet, Homer, who according to tradition, was also blind, and to two mythic blind prophets, Tiresias and Phineas, who, even though blind, saw what others could not because of a gift from the gods.
But on the common man, Milton exposes the very weakness about the fall of man, presenting how vulnerable man is to the temptation of sin. To some extent, Milton’s characterisation of Satan justifies the ways of God to men.
From Moloch’s speech, he argues from the notion that the natural motion of angels is upward and that re-ascent will be easier than fall. As the devils have nothing to lose, they should not fear battle for if God destroys them, this will be better than a miserable existence in Hell. This use of false or hollow rhetoric perhaps gives some insight into Milton’s views on the corruption or false credibility of politicians.
By the 17th Century, the Protestant Church was beginning to restrict individual freedom and choice. Whilst other sects such as Quakerism began to develop, others tried to restore Catholicism to its former glories, despite earlier efforts to burn and torture those who sought religious opposition. Milton had good reason to dislike the catholic faith but he had no time for any form of religious intolerance, at a time when religion and politics were effectively one of the same.
Milton's attacks on religious formalism, both that of the Roman Catholic Church and that of the established Church of England mark a strong religious polemic, perhaps continuing a theme or long tradition of religious satire in England, including Chaucer who was one of Milton's acknowledged influences.
Paradise Lost is well known for its use of strong, visual symbology, clearly defining good and evil, Satan and God, and the battle of mankind, in all its weakness, against the temptation of sin. The lines between poetic myth and scientific belief become blurred, as Milton draws on his own personal experience and views. And there can be no doubt that Milton was strongly influenced by both the political and religious circumstances of the day. With a strong dislike for religious intolerance and a mistrust of politicians, during a period of long established religious satire, recognising these important background issues is key to developing an understanding of the poem as a whole.