Paradise Lost Essay Prompts

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Perhaps because of the contradictions inherent in the attribution of human characteristics to a divine being, Milton's portrayal of God has been a frequent subject of debate among scholars and critics. Lewis explains the aversion that readers often feel towards Milton's God by blaming the modern reader: "Many of those who say they dislike Milton's God only mean that they dislike God: infinite sovereignty, by its very nature, includes wrath also" (126).

Milton presents God as a harsh and uncompromising judge over his subjects, hardly the figure one would expect a poet to present whose goal is to "justifie the wayes of God to men" ( 1.26). But Milton seems to be doing more than merely portraying the Christian God; he is, according to William Empson, "struggling to make his God appear less wicked than the traditional Christian one" ( 11).

Perhaps this is why Milton's God often appears on the defensive, explaining again and again that his foreknowledge of the fall has nothing to do with fate: Adam and Eve fall of their own free will, not because God in any way decreed it (see Argument to Book 3, 3.80-210, and 10.1-62).

This defensive tone is hardly becoming in an omnipotent deity, yet Milton needs to use it in order to justify God; hence the endless potential for contradiction in Milton's presentation of God (and those of many seventeenth-century writers as well).

Empson and other critics also bring into question God's justice.

The Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley writes that Milton "alleged no superiority of moral virtue to his God over his Devil" ( 527).Genre, therefore, is important not only as a mode of framing a story, but also as a model that produces expectations in readers.In Book 2 of , Milton declares his desire to write a great work that will serve to glorify England as earlier poets had glorified their native lands and cultures: "what the greatest and choycest wits of Athens, Rome, or modern Italy, and those Hebrews of old did for their country, I in my proportion with this over and above of being a Christian, might doe for mine" ( 2).Like Raphael, Milton solves the problem by expressing the infinite in terms of the tangible by portraying God as if he were an individual, when he is really something much greater.Therefore, although Milton credits God with speech and with enough form that the Son can sit "on his right," everything relating to God in 3.62). From the one point of view it is an expression of opinions and emotions; from the other, it is an organization of words which exists to produce a particular kind of patterned experience in the readers" (2). Lewis wrote, "Every poem can be considered in two ways — as what the poet has to say, and as a thing which he makes.As Barbara Lewalski writes, the incorporation of multiple genres into the poem invites us "to identify certain patterns and certain poems as subtexts for portions of Milton's poem, and then to attend to the completion or transformation of those allusive patterns as the poem proceeds" (20).Return to the list of topics Unlike the gods and goddesses of classical epics, whose desires and disagreements often mirror those of humans, Milton's God is invisible and omnipresent, a being who cannot be considered an individual so much as an existence.Throughout the poem Milton makes use of soliloquy, another tragic convention.And even the ten-book structure of the 1667 edition, according to John Leonard, "might owe something to English tragedy, forming five dramatic acts of two books each" (Introduction to xi).


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