Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Analysis of Satan's Soliloquy from John Milton's "Paradise Lost"

One of my all time favorite books is John Milton's Paradise Lost. Yes, it is a book from the 17th century (1667) and yes, it consists of 12 books with over 10 thousands lines of verse. It's an epic poem written in blank verse, so it does not read like a regular novel. It's one, huge poem. But it's a classic. And it deserves to be.

We had to read this book in my Advanced Placement (AP) Literature class in my senior year of high school...but back then, I was in all AP and Honors classes and had an insane amount of school work to complete every day...so I skimmed or spark-noted a lot of the readings in the book, struggling to keep up with my school work. But I am now re-reading the book, just for the sake of pleasure and appreciation of real, classic literature on a worthy topic.

The book contains the story of the Fall of Man - primarily how Adam and Eve fell to the temptation of the fallen angel Lucifer aka Satan, how God expelled them from the Garden of Eden aka Paradise, and their lamentation over all that they lost. However, throughout the books are also dispersed the internal struggles of Satan - the fallen angel....struggles between good and evil. As an assignment in my AP Lit class, we had to analyze Satan's famous Soliloquy. (A Soliloquy is a part in a play where a character is by himself on stage, expressing his thoughts/struggles aloud).



This is the actual cover of the edition of Paradise Lost that I read.

And here is my essay on Satan's Soliloquy and the analysis of his character
as John Milton presents it, from when I read it for the first time (at 18 years old).

 “The Foundations of Satan’s Character”
Through presenting Satan’s thoughts upon first seeing the beauty of Paradise in the form of a soliloquy, John Milton reveals for the first time the most sincere reflections and inner conflicts of the greatest fallen angel of the epic Paradise Lost.   Milton uses Satan’s soliloquy to illustrate and explain thoroughly the devil’s malicious intentions, motives, as well as his mentality.  Even at the opening of the soliloquy, Satan expresses his anguish and suffering as he looks upon the glorious sun and speaks to it in apostrophe: “O Sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams / That bring to my remembrance from what state / I fell, how glorious once above thy Sphere” (IV.37-9).   Not only has Satan once held a place above the sun physically, but also his power and glory overshadowed those of the sun.  Throughout the soliloquy, Satan continues arguing with himself and even develops a new definition of hell as a spiritual state of separation from God.  He proves the magnitude and complexity of his circumstance through his attempt to accuse his creator of causing his fall and the resulting malice as well as his abrupt realization that he possessed the “free Will and Power to stand,” but chose to fall (IV.66).  Through the use of rhetorical question, paradox, and apostrophe within his soliloquy, Milton depicts Satan not as an absolute embodiment of evil, but rather as a contemplative, intelligent, and appealing character who utilizes his eloquence and deceptive nature in order to create sympathy and establish credibility among the readers, the world’s first parents, and ultimately among the entire human race.
In Satan’s soliloquy, Milton portrays the fallen angel as an individual characterized by human psychology and emotions as well as very noble characteristics that cause Satan to appear as a tragic character that deserves sympathy and understanding.  The human emotions of envy, lust, pride, and despair that describe Satan cause humans to have the ability to relate to him and the flaws of his nature.  On the contrary, humans cannot relate to God since he symbolizes pure good, righteousness, and flawlessness.  As all humans have at one point in their lives experienced anguish, envy, and despair, they identify with Satan and understand the faults that led to his fall and the reasons that prevent his repentance.  Milton depicts Satan behaving and speaking in a very imperfect and human-like manner, and he shows that even the greatest of the devils feels shame and regret about the irrationality of his past actions.  Satan evokes respect when he admits, “my dread of shame / Among the Spirits beneath, whom I seduc’d / With other promises…/ Than to submit, boasting I could subdue / Th’Omnipotent” (IV.82-6).  In this manner, Satan demonstrates that he cannot submit and repent since he preached against the two in hell.  Milton’s usage of rhetorical question reveals Satan’s state of hopelessness when he questions, “is there no place / Left for Repentance, none for Pardon Left? / None left but by submission” (IV.79-81).  Consideration and understanding for Satan arise when Satan admits that false repentance would lead to an even greater downfall.  Moreover, the hell and evil that exist in Satan’s mind torment him endlessly; therefore, he has no hope for repentance.  Although Satan despairs and regrets his rebellion, his anguish only stimulates his rising pride and evil instead of laying the foundations for remorse and repentance.  Milton uses paradox to illustrate Satan’s ultimate resolve to sin. Satan fearlessly exclaims, “Farewell Remorse: all Good to me is lost; / Evil be thou my Good” (IV.109-10).  Satan’s intelligence, his clever but deceitful words, as well as his seemingly tragic downfall evoke sympathy and respect, and also conceal his purely evil nature.
Satan’s numerous rhetorical questions, his argument with himself, as well as his accusation of God for causing his downfall further reveal his agony and the enormity of his inner conflict.  When he realizes that his detachment from God and the hell within him will always torture him, Satan raises a rhetorical question, “Me Miserable! Which way shall I fly, / Infinite Wrath, and infinite Despair? / Which way I fly is Hell: myself am Hell” (IV.73-74).  Milton establishes Satan’s state of helplessness and suffering by having him address both wrath and despair in an apostrophe.  Furthermore, within the soliloquy, Satan discovers the source of his hatred but quickly recognizes his flawed reasoning.  He blames his banishment from heaven and his evil nature on God, but almost immediately reevaluates his false accusation and admits that his own free will caused his rebellion.  This sudden acknowledgment and acceptance of the truth portrays Satan as a reasonable and intelligent character, but simultaneously arouses in the reader feelings of pity at the extent of his devastation as well as the loss of his residence in heaven.  Satan, yet again, raises a rhetorical question after reflecting upon God’s goodness, “Forgetful what from him I still receiv’d, / And understood not that a grateful mind / By owing owes not, but still pays, at once / Indebted and discharg’d: What burden then?” (IV.54-58). Satan comprehends the immense debt he owes God for creating him and finally realizes that in a simple understanding of the magnitude of this debt, one is released from it.  In addition, Satan acknowledges the ease and beauty of life in heaven.  Milton uses paradox to demonstrate that although Satan admits God’s equal distribution of love in heaven, he is torn between love and hate because both yield the same outcome to him.  Satan suffers for he has no alternative but evil and hatred; he laments, “Since love or hate, / To me alike, it deals eternal woe” (IV.69-70). Paradoxically, he claims that both love and hate bring woe as neither love and submission nor hate and evil delight him.  No matter which path he chooses, Satan will encounter endless suffering.  Satan’s continuous argument with himself in his soliloquy reveals the complexity of his character and the depth of his misery.
Although Milton’s suggestion contradicts completely the common belief that Satan represents pure evil and sin, the author nonetheless presents Satan as a clever but tragic character who comes particularly close to repenting yet realizes that he cannot escape the hell and torment that follows him wherever he goes. Satan’s very compelling soliloquy reveals the complexity and craftiness of his character and it also demonstrates that Milton employed Satan’s emotional appeal in order to establish Satan as a suffering figure deserving of pity and sympathy. Satan’s disgraceful human characteristics and flaws give his own prey the ability to relate to him and understand his motives.  Milton sets deception as a foundation upon which he constructs the character of Satan. As a result, Satan deceives both the reader as well as man in the epic—his misleading lies convince Adam and Eve  that sin does not go against God’s will and that it will raise them up to become equivalents of God. Milton’s contradictory depiction of Satan as an alluring and philosophical creature allows Satan to furtively tempt and mislead the human race without revealing his vile and repulsive intentions.

I will be sharing some more of my writing with you in the days/weeks to come. I figured why not. I have some great writing, which I spent hours and hours and hours to write, only for one person (the Literature professor) to read them and give me an A. (Not to boast, but I did get A's on all of my essays in all of my Honors / AP English and Lit classes....and I'm proud of it!!! haha)

God bless
Agnes

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