Dr. Nathanael Gilbert
ONLINE British Literature I Section 02 Summer 2015 CO
23 June 2015
Did John Milton Believe Satan is a Hero or Villain in Paradise Lost?
The character of Satan is difficult to understand. According to Neil Forsyth, John Milton’s Paradise Lost is “an epic poem about the origin of evil” (Forsyth). In Paradise Lost Milton portrays Satan as both a single and plural entity and the reader is left to wonder if Milton intends to portray him as good or evil; a hero or a villain. He often contradicts himself; in one paragraph Satan is viewed as good and in the next paragraph inherently evil. Milton goes back and forth portraying Satan as both the hero and the villain. When in hero mode Satan leads an uprising and revolts against God who in his opinion was a tyrant. He speaks of freedom and a better life. He makes the other angels (and the reader) believe they are being mistreated. He is a powerful spokesman and leader, and yet he often contradicts himself and seems to have conflicting personalities. He is a chameleon, a humbug, and a phony and yet, at times, we the reader want to believe him. Did Milton intend to portray Satan as a hero or a villain? I had no idea, but decided to do some research to find out.
According to Edith Kaiter and Corina Sandiuc, the source for Milton’s Satan is unknown as the Bible has very little to say about him. They further state that the Bible says “he is the author of all evil, the master of disguise and man’s worst enemy” (Kaiter,
Name 2 and Sandiuc 452). Milton however is not as clear in his opinion. Throughout the poem, Milton presents evil as “real and isolated in a single being, and therefore punishable” (Kaiter, and Sandiuc 452). Kaiter and Sandiuc’s research shows that Satan’s portrayal as pure evil is not successful and that many believe that Satan is superior to Milton’s God. (Kaiter and Sandiuc 452). They went on to argue that Paradise Lost’s Satan deserves the “tragic hero status” (Kaiter and Sandiuc 453). They also state “in the Greek tradition, the tragic hero was supposed to stir up admiration, fear and pity and had to display a tragic weakness or flaw in his character which was to lead to his downfall” (Kaiter and Sandiuc 453). Satan is portrayed this way in Paradise Lost. He is cocky, proud, and extremely willing to do anything to reach his goals; he wants to be in control of the universe. He uses his eloquent speaking skills to convince the other angels to fight with him against God in a war he knows he cannot win. All of the same qualities that help him succeed in forming his army are the same characteristics that ultimately lead to his defeat. Milton writes the character of Satan in Paradise Lost in such a way that it makes it almost impossible not to like him. The readers at any given moment admires him or feels sorry for him. Rostrevor Hamilton states about the character of Satan “he wins our admiration the more firmly because he is ultimately real, while the inhabitants of Heaven are remote and strange” (Hamilton 39). Of all the characters portrayed in the book, Satan is the most real because the emotions he displays are the most human; the reader is able to easily relate to him because they feel the same things he is feels. The reader becomes emotionally vested in his pain, suffering, and frustration. He is the perfect hero because even at his lowest point he is able to make the best of a horrible situation. When it
Name 3 reaches the point in the story where he is surrounded by darkness and tortured by fire he adapts to his situation. Hell becomes his home and he names his palace Pandemonium the new residence of everything evil. As a reader, he wins our support because “not only does he survive the greatest battle in the history of the universe, he also finds the strength to rally himself and establish a new empire in Hell from which to conquer a new world” (Kaiter, and Sandiuc 454).
So based on my research thus far it