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Flashcards in Context - Paradise Lost Deck (16):

Milton's background

- born in London, 1608-74
- he went to St Paul's School and Christ's College in Cambridge
- his father was a scrivener (legal secretary)
- he lived at home quietly with his father
- he got married in 1642 to Mary Powell supporting himself by teaching and writing


Milton's political status: on divorce

- he wrote pamphlets on divorce, he separated from his wife after two months, he became known as 'Milton the Divorcer'
- he celebrated the sanctity of true marriage with Puritan zeal, but insisted that this was only possible if one could free oneself from an unworthy or incompatible partner:
"That the ordinance (order) which God gave to our comfort, may not be pinned upon us to our undeserved thraldom; to be cooped up as it were in mockery of wedlock, to a perpetual betrothed loneliness and discontent, if nothing worse ensue


Milton's political status: on freedom

- during his teaching years he became well known as an advocator for the cause of freedom for the individual subject
- he saw freedom as humanity's rightful inheritance from Adam
- his writings on Church government and theology insisted on religious toleration and on the individual's right to think and act independently (although this made it impossible for him to work within the established Anglican Church)


Milton's political status: on good and evil

- Milton argued that evil was allowed into the world in order to show us good by contrast, and enable us to exercise our virtue in choosing to reject it: "good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil"


Milton's political status: on the King

- his public writings are political, and they reflect his increasing involvement in the opposition to King Charles I which developed during the 'eleven years' tyranny' of 1629-40, and the civil war (1642-9) which followed it. The conflict eventually resulted in the beheading of the king in 1649, and England's only period o republican government. Milton's important tract 'Of the Tenure of Kings and Magistrates', written during Charles I's trial, was one of the few contemporary publications to wholeheartedly endorse the revolutionary act of regicide - executing a king - which was considered treason by its opponents
- for Milton, abolishing kingship was a step back towards the original freedom of Adam:
"all men were naturally born free, being the image and resemblance of god himself [...] and were born to command and not to obey"
- 1660: the revolutionaries still held power, the royalists had been defeated, although they were desperately scheming revenge



- Cromwell took charge of the republican 'commonwealth' after the execution of Charles I
- but he was just as unwilling to share power with parliament
- when England restored itself to the monarchy, Milton felt that England had feebly given away their newly recovered freedom and published this in 'A Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth'
- Satan can be seen to parallel with Cromwell as he rebels against God but wants just as much power as him: "To me shall be the glory sole among"


Milton on Satan

- he put into Satan's mouth many of the aspirations against tyranny which he himself and his fellow republicans had fought for
- Satan represents Milton's political rebelliousness


other poetry of Milton's

- 'Comus' represents the sensuous and freedom-loving side of Milton himself
- 'Comus' attempts to persuade a virtuous Lady to drink from his magic cup (which would transform her into a beast, as Circe's cup does in Homer's Odyssey)



- Milton describes how Eve persuades Adam to let her work in the garden alone, how she meets and is flattered by Satan disguised as a serpent, and is finally persuaded to eat the Fruit of the forbidden Tree
- when she offers some to Adam, he decides to eat in order to die with her
- both of them are intoxicated by the Fruit and make love lasciviously, though their excitement is followed by a loathing of themselves and each other


Milton's religious ideas on the Fall

* God explains in book 3 of Paradise Lost that although he knew that both Satan and Adam would fall from obedience, he did not 'determine' or ensure their Fall would happen

- it was accepted that all human kind was descended from Adam and Eve
- God's gift of his own son to die on the cross had 'redeemed' or paid for this 'original sin'
- Catholics saw the Fall as caused by the Devil
- whereas Reformed Protestants followed the teachings of John Calvin in emphasising God's supreme power and so seeing the Fall as desired by him, to make humankind dependent on Christ's salvation
- Satan was a reformed protestant
- he believed in God's power and grace, but he also believed in human freedom
- he presents Satan in the Catholic way as attempting to replace God and then being expelled from Heaven to hell, from where he escapes to earth and tempts Mankind to fall as a way of revenging himself upon God.
- Satan is utterly responsible for his own fate
- Milton makes the point that human beings have to be free to commit evil, or they could never prove their love for God by choosing good
- Milton gives both the angels and Mankind an almost existentialist freedom


Milton's views on marriage

- seventeenth century theories on the relationship between husband and wife often see it as mirroring the relationship between king and subject:
"the subordination of the wife to the husband figures Christ's rule over his church, and the lawful sovereign rule ever the state. Milton specifically compared the marriage contract to the political contract between king and people
- Milton's Divorce Tracts which were 300 years ahead of their time in claiming that failed marriages were not true marriages and should be legally ended
- 'The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce' (1643) was condemned by Parliament as a 'wicked book'
- he viewed marriage as being more about companionship than about dominance and submission
- the restored King Charles II prided himself on his family life, and many seventeenth century writers followed Shakespeare in praising the 'marriage of true minds'


Chain of Being

- The great chain of being is a concept derived from Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and Proclus
- further developed during the Middle Ages, it reached full expression in early modern Neoplatonism.
- It details a strict, religious hierarchical structure of all matter and life, believed to have been decreed by God. - The chain starts from God and progresses downward to angels, demons (fallen/renegade angels), stars, moon, kings, princes, nobles, men, wild animals, domesticated animals, trees, other plants, precious stones, precious metals, and other minerals


John Dod and Robert Cleaver on sex and marriage

- they present the family in political terms: 'a household is as it were a little commonwealth, by the good government whereof, God's glory many be advanced'
- the governors of the house 'are the chief governor, which is the Husband, secondly, a fellow-helper, which is the wife' presenting the wife as a near-equal belonging to the same class
- but when Dod and Cleaver reach the section on the duties of the wife they are almost exclusively concerned with her subordination to her husband



The Puritans were a group of English Protestants that formed in the 16th century to bring about religious reform. The Puritans wanted to “purify” the church by following intensely strict religious principles, which earned them the name Puritan.



a rationalist outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.
a Renaissance cultural movement which turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought.
noun: Humanism
(among some contemporary writers) a system of thought criticized as being centred on the notion of the rational, autonomous self and ignoring the conditioned nature of the individual.


political and cultural conflict

- the conflict between humanism and puritanism tore apart Catholic culture
- which indeed led to the execution of the King
- Milton presents the political conflicts that organised his world and the cultural conflicts which organised his works, into a story about the author's mind