Paradise Lost Here May We Reign Secure Term Paper

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Paradise Lost

Here may we reign secure, and in my choice

To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell.

Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven."

Paradise Lost (bk. I, l. 263)

Symbolism is not hard to find in John Milton's Paradise Lost. Over the centuries since Milton published this book, many scholars and intellectuals have critiqued Paradise Lost and found symbolic substance and deep meaning throughout the work. This paper will review several points of symbolism that have application and deeper meaning within the work. One thing is clear upon conducting research into Paradise Lost: John Milton was a giant of literature and spiritual philosophy in his time, he retains that status today, and likely always will. The impact of his writing is far more universal and germane to mankind than his symbolism, but finding poignant and meaningful symbolism is a good beginning into comprehending Milton.

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Scholar Jane Partner writes in Essays in Criticism (Partner 2007) that Milton used the phrase "...that false Fruit that promis'd clearer sight" (XL. 413) as a way of alluding poetically to the "fall of man." In other words, mankind has given in to false temptations. And hence, "Fruit" symbolizes something humans search for as a quick solution, to find a sense of happiness by looking in the wrong place. In modern times, in 2008, "Fruit" would symbolize things like automobiles, homes, and other possessions that are status symbols. Even alcohol would be on the list of things that "Fruit" today would be symbolic of - a person who drowns his or her sorrows in drink, or celebrates some event by imbibing large quantities of booze as the "Fruit" that follows success.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Paradise Lost Here May We Reign Secure, Assignment

Milton employs several different ways of illustrating the process of "seeing," Partner goes on (p. 129); and the reader needs to understand the precise way the Devil is seeing because that is "...crucial to the reader's relationship with the fallen archangel." Indeed, when Milton uses the term "gaze" it refers to and is symbolic of a trance-like, mesmerizing stare, different from the word "behold" which just symbolizes seeing something without any particular emotional context. In another passage, Satan sets the table for Eve's temptation using the symbol of Fruit again: Satan states that once the Fruit has been eaten, "...Your Eyes that seem so cleere, / Yet are but dim, shall perfectly be then / Op'ned and cleerd" (IX. 706-8). The use of "gaze" as a symbol (or metaphor) for being addicted or charmed or mesmerized by the Fruit is employed also in the Devil's lines (IX. 575-8) as follows: "I chanc'd a goodly Tree farr distant to behold, Loaden with fruit of fairest colors mixt, Ruddie and Gold: I nearer drew to gaze." (p. 133). Here Satan actually sees what appears to be riches, as "Ruddie" could well symbolize rubies, and "gold" of course is what it is - every dreamer hoping for wealth and fame wants to find gold.

Looking at another strong bit of symbolism employed by John Milton, he points to Satan's "moral degeneracy" through the use of the phrase "looking askance" (p. 136). Looking askance (or as Partner puts it, "sideways looking") refers to "covetousness and deceit" in this kind of literature, Partner explains. In the passage found at IV. 502-4 "...the Devil...with jealous leer maligne / Ey'd them askance." And taking the "askance" theme a bit farther, Partner explains that the "sideways quality of Satan's looking forms part of a larger symbolic pattern of obliquity and misalignment" that comes to the reader through the Devil's promotion of sin.

Writing in the journal ELH, Valerie Carnes adds to the symbolism research when she discusses the three aspects of time in Paradise Lost. There is the "time" (epoch) prior to the Creation of Heaven and Earth; the time after Creation "but before the establishment of the present order of unequal days and diverse seasons"; and there is the time since the present order of human existence and "after the Fall." In that context, on page 519 Carnes asserts that "After the Fall" the concept of time changes and instead becomes "historical, finite, limited" as the symbolic emblems of human order are lost and symbols of "cosmic disorder, unnatural birth, death, and sexuality..." replace that previous order. Also important to remember when reading Paradise Lost - when the time concept embraces the verb phrase "to fall" (p. 524) it symbolizes mankind's "lapse from grace," Carnes explains, not "to stumble"; and when Milton uses "light" it is a symbol of "enlightenment" or an "inner state of true vision." And "mortal" is a symbol for "deadly" or "subject to death" not simply being human.

God's chief symbolic act" in Paradise Lost, Carnes concludes, is in fact "...the creation of the world...and the hierarchy of being" (p. 525). And Milton's use of "God...the great imagist" is part of the poet's "symbolic perception" of the universe and man's role (p. 523).

Writing in the Michigan Law Review, authors Jillisa Brittan and Richard a. Posner present a case that Paradise Lost has within its structure and character strong symbols of justice and justification. "There are no human laws" in Paradise Lost, the authors write on page 1051 of the journal, but "there is plenty of punishment - of the fallen angels, of Adam and Eve and all their descendants, of the Son (who is going to be executed by the Romans during his incarnation as a human being), of the hapless serpent and of the other animals," some of which become prey and some predators after the Fall of man."

Moreover, this scholarly article from lawyers points out that in the beginning of Paradise Lost God punishes Satan in an act symbolic of "Eternal Justice"; Satan is hurled from the "Etheral Sky" to "...a Dungeon horrible...torture without end" (I, 44-48, 61-64, 67). and, Brittan and Posner continue, God is actually demonstrating not only his symbolic form of justice, but his act symbolized "unlimited power" to Satan and to the angels (p. 1055). God is "unconstrained by any limitations of time or space or physics," the authors write, and indeed He made Satan a symbol of what can happen to all those who disobey Him. "Since Satan was the first criminal," the authors continue on page 1057, "he was the first 'example' of punishment" that God chose to put on display.

In the case of God's punishment of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost, the authors continue on page 1059, he set out apparently to make the punishment symbolic of His reasonable use of power. In this example, God made the punishment "...both deter further disobedient acts and rehabilitate the offenders so that they and their descendants will become obedient subjects."

Writing in ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (Kenton, 2005), Ph.D. candidate William Kenton III ("English liberty and Turkish tyranny: the symbolic function of the East in Milton's poetry and prose") asserts that the tension between Europe and Islam finds its way into Paradise Lost, an interesting idea that the author works hard to justify. An important part of European identity (in other words, how Europeans saw themselves) at the time John Milton wrote Paradise Lost was formed by "...the thousand year confrontation from the seventh to the 17th century with an aggressive and expansionist Islam" (Kenton). The dissertation goes on to suggest that in fact European Christians witnessed in Islam "...a symbolic inversion of themselves" that was built into the geography on an "East/West axis," Kenton continues.

A conclude that Milton did recognize an East/West dichotomy ["East" being Islam, or the Turks, and "West" being Europeans], and this dichotomy was expressed most obviously in his chorographic descriptions in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained." To put it into context, Kenton explains that the "Muslim East" offered a "paradigmatic example of heresy for English writers… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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