I decided to take a class this semester called Studies in Milton. Last semester in my Shakespeare class, my teacher (who teaches Milton) mentioned that she was trying to get students to sign up for the class and she told us that we would be studying poetry and John Milton. Now, I am a Communications Major so all my friends wondered why I decided to take it. I wanted to better myself in the literary world. And I think that I did.
A few days ago we as a class finished reading Paradise Lost, an epic poem written by John Milton. So I want to have a discussion/review of my thoughts and insights into the poem. (And hopefully encourage some of you to read it.)
Ok, so you’ve never even heard of Paradise Lost. Overall, it is the story of how Lucifer fell from heaven and then how humanity fell from Eden (Paradise). For those of you who like Greek Mythology, there is a bit of that in here too. Milton emphasizes several themes throughout the epic including freedom, the character of God and Satan, and obedience. (I will be focusing on freedom because I have to write a paper on it.) The poem is split up into 12 books.
In Book 1, Line 26 the whole reason of the poem is explained. The reason for this writing is to justify God’s actions to us.
In Book 3 we begin to get a feel for the definition of freedom. We also get the sense of it’s importance to the epic. At this point in the poem, Satan has formed his plan to get revenge on God and is ready to put it into action. God, knowing this, has a talk with His Son and the angels about what can be done about the problem.
At the very beginning Chaos is mentioned and to me, chaos is the opposite of freedom. Because when people think that they have freedom to do what they want,they are essentially enslaved to themselves and the Chaos that they make. They do what they want only if it doesn’t hurt anyone (which is a Hedonistic point of view).
Both Satan and Adam had the choice to rebel or not; “I made him just and right, Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall” (Book 3 line 99). I also think that reason, choice, and freedom are connected and needed for each other to exist.
“But God left free the will, for what obeys reason, is free, and reason he made right” (Lines 351-352).
Another quotation later talks about knowledge and food; “But knowledge is as food and needs no less her temperance over appetite, to know in measure what the mind may well contain” (Book 7 Lines 127-129). I think Milton made this connection/metaphor because of this battle between eating and sinning. What Eve wanted was knowledge but her hunger (real and mental) was exploited.
The epic ends with Adam and Eve being told to leave Eden and begin a new (sinful) life elsewhere. But the angel that was talking to them left them with the hope of the savior who was to come to save them. We also get a quick overview of the big Bible events that lead up to it.
While the language and style of the poem can be nearly impossible to understand (believe me, I still don’t really get all of it) this is a beautiful epic and worth the read. If you do decide to read it, I recommend listening to an audio-book. I found one for free on Librivox. If you have read it tell me what you thought. When I finish my research essay on freedom, I might put it here if you guys want to read it. But for now, back to Shakespeare! (I’m reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream right now).