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Paradise Lost Essay, Research Paper
Paradise Lost: A Comedic Tragedy
?So oft they fell / Into the same illusion, not as man / Whom they triumphed once lapsed. / Thus were they plagued? (Milton, Book X, 570-72). Leaving the underworld, once again, defeated by the heavens. Although John Milton?s epic poem, Paradise Lost, is considered to be a tragedy, it displays some reminders of a comic end. In its tenth book, when Satan returns to hell, there is the realization of two of the poem?s purposes: to ?assert Eternal Providence? and to ?justify the ways of God to men.?
Book Ten is the end of Satan?s epic journey, portraying his return to hell. Throughout the poem, Satan, a figure of legendary signifigance, goes on a heroic quest. A quest in which he seeks power over God?s creations, Adam and Eve, to prove he will not be subjected to God?s ways. Satan?s passing into God?s paradise, the Garden of Eden, unveils his valour. He uses his superhuman forces to transform himself into a serpent and deceive Eve into eating a fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge. This proves to be a tragic decision on his part, for when he returns home from his quest, he and the rest of the residents of hell are transformed into serpents. This is their punishment for betraying the ways of God. Satan?s journey follows the usual tragic pattern, ending in horror. Due to fact that Satan is an evil character, and attempts to use God?s own creation against him, it is difficult for some to believe that he is the hero in this epic story. In fact, Francis C. Blessington thinks of Satan as not a classical hero but a classical villain:
Satan is made the archetype of the sophistical rhetoric, the shallow egotism, and the
destructive pride, the vices of the classical epic as well as of the classical world. In addition, he is the perversion of the classical heroic virtues. He often begins by resembling a victim, sometimes even a perversion of that?. [He is] not a classical hero but a classical villain who unheroically defeats creatures far below him in stature (18).
Though he may not seem to be a hero to the conventional person, he still is the hero to the many leaders and followers in the depths of hell. He believes that God is wrong in his ways, and therefore tries to build an empire to replace the one in heaven. He has all of the characteristics of a heroic figure; ?Indeed, you can?t be really bad unless you do have most of the virtues. Look at Milton?s Satan for example. Brave, strong, generous, loyal, prudent, temperate, self-sacrificing? (Bush 72). He is the heroic figure, who believes that he can be better than God. However, he finds that he is not powerful enough, and is brought to a tragic end.
Although Satan and the rest of his followers are tragically defeated, there are still reminders of comedy toward the end of this epic. When Satan sets out on his quest, his goal is to corrupt Adam and Eve, and persuade them to betray God. He accomplishes this task, and rejoices in victory:
For in possession such, not only of right,
I call ye and declare ye now, returned
Successful beyond hope, to lead ye forth
Triumphant out of this infernal pit
Abominable, accursed, the house of woe,
And dungeon of our tyrant!? (Milton, X. 461-466).
This accomplishment in itself is a huge deal for Satan and his followers. It is because of him that man is disobedient, resulting in the harsh punishments bestowed on the human race, by God.
In hopes of turning God?s na?ve creation against him. He succeeds in his quest; the devil himself is the main reason for hard child labour, death for all humans and the extinction of paradise. To Satan, this is victory; this is his comic end.
Throughout the poem, Milton repeatedly ?[justifies] the ways of God to men.? In Book X, when Satan returns to hell and informs his followers of his victory, they hiss at him. They cannot help but hiss, for the reason that God turns them all into snakes and serpents. God is in the right when he does this; after all, Satan corrupted the entire human race. Satan persuades the naive Eve into thinking that if she disobeys God, and eats an apple from the tree of knowledge, life will improve. So as a punishment, God gives the snakes and serpents, ?parched with scalding thirst and hunger,? sodom thirst-quenching apples (Milton, X. 556). These apples look to be appetizing, but instead they dissolve into ashes when plucked from the tree. This punishment is a just one, within great reason. Satan tricks Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, and so God deceives the residents of hell into eating the apples. It is just as God says in the first testament of the bible, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. They are getting exactly what they deserve.
Another one of Milton?s main purposes in this poem, is the realization of the assertion of eternal providence. Even though Adam and Eve fall, and are take away from the garden, they still possess the ability to make the best of things: ?The loss of an earthly paradise should leave a happier paradise to be achieved within the soul, a paradise independent of the world without and
Sattained only through the Christian virtues for which modern man has had little use ? humility, faith, and obedience? (Bush 87). They will always have their creator taking care of them. Satan, however, does not receive an opportunity for redemption. He does not get a second chance, he betrays God several times, turning his own creation against him. For this, he is not guaranteed eternal providence. He is instead transformed into a serpent, a form in which is said to be what
devils transform into for their humiliation at certain times in the year. God will still watch him, he watched him after he betrayed him the first time and he?ll do it again. As long as God is caring for his kingdom, he will keep watch over everyone. Those who are dutiful will be kindly cared for, and those who disobey will be punished. God is a fair ruler; how you treat one person, is how you will be rewarded or punished in return.
This entire poetic epic, is a tragic one for the heroic figure. Although Satan does successfully complete his quest, he still ends up being punished for attempting to turn God?s creation against him. Throughout the journey of Satan, Milton continually gets across his two main purposes. We find that God?s is fair in all of his punishments, and that he asserts eternal providence to all. This epic is a renewal of the Christian faith, putting God into the spotlight. Even though man was disobedient, he still receives a second chance: ?The world was all before them, where to choose / Their place of rest and Providence their guide? (Milton, XII. 647-648).
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