Consider ‘Paradise Lost’ as an Epic.
What qualities of an epic do you find in ‘Paradise Lost’?
Answer: Paradise Lost is one of the finest examples of epic tradition in all of literature. Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton. It was originally published in 1667 (though written nearly ten years earlier) in ten books, with a total of over ten thousand individual lines of verse. A second edition followed in 1674, re-divided into twelve books (in the manner of the division of Virgil’s Aeneid) with minor revisions throughout and a note on the versification; the majority of the poem was written while Milton was blind, and was transcribed for him.
Like the classical epic writers, Milton succeeds in lending “Paradise Lost” with perfect unity of plot. Everything or even in the poem leads up to or flows from it. The plucking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, the war between God & Satan, followed by the fall of Satan, Long descriptions of hell and heaven and seduction scene all these events are closely woven and seem a single and a compact action. As a masterly person, Milton plunges into the middle of the story, instead of beginning, but in the middle he traces the earlier story and forwards the story to a striking end. During this Milton still is following a rule of epic writing.
In the course of the events Milton convincingly shows the utter powerlessness, helplessness and depravity of evil beside the almightiness, beauty and benevolence of God. Evil never succeeds; it never does under any circumstances. Milton shows this in the defeat of Satan:
“so stretch’d out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay,Chain’d on the burning lake; nor ever thence Had ris’n, or heav’d his head, but that the will And high permission of all-ruling heaven, Left him at large to his own dark designs.”
War like speeches is another feature of epics. Through these speeches, the poet actually explains the background and the scenery, the characters themselves speak fully explaining their thoughts, feelings and motives. Milton once again seems at the top, while presenting the war like speeches of Satan, who emerges as a giant leader with all heroic qualities inspiring all the readers. In Book-I Satan has been represented in heroic dimension. He displays unyielding courage, shrewdness as leader. From the very first speech, he appears to be a great orator with profound leadership qualities.
“What though the field be lost, all is not lost, The unconquered will ……… immortal hate”
He like a great leader arranges a council and gives them the urge to wage another war against The Supreme Victor. Thorough analysis of their defeat is done to formulate new strategy. He like a great leader praises his fellows and gives them boost by calling them Princes, The Knights and the Warriors he also pinches them by his words.
“Wake up or be fallen forever”
The whip of words works and all of the fallen shrubs rise and whole dark hell resounds with their slogans and flashes with blazing swords and shields as Milton describes the scene in these lines,
“Highly they raged Against the highest, and fierce with grasped armsClashed on their soundings shields, the den of war Hurling defiance towards the vault of heaven.”
The use of similes, metaphors and allusions are another ingredient of epic writing and ‘Paradise Lost’ is the best blend of this quality. Especially Book-I can aptly be declared as one of the best example of Milton’s skill in using similes and metaphors. Milton being the most learned uses similes, metaphors and allusions to suit their appropriateness adding to the grandeur of the poem. He found an inexhaustible store of learning and experience in classical literature and mythology, from which he drew material for his similes. He tells us that the palace of hell is far beyond the magnificence of “Babylone, or great Alcairo”, and the army of rebel angel far exceeds those,
“That fought at Thebes and Ilium, on each side mixed with auxiliary gods; and what resounds In fable or romance of Uther’s son, Begirt with British and Armoric Knights; And all who since, baptized or infidel; Jousted in Aspramount or Matalban, Damasco, Morocco, or Tribisond,When charlemain with all his peerage fell By Fontarabia.”
The classical writers set another tradition ie, the use of supernatural machinery, which develops the plot and solves its complications. John Milton’s skill once again excels other poets in exhibiting the superb usage of supernatural machinery in the poem. There are only two human characters, Adam & Eve, rest of all the characters including God, angles, Satan and rebellion angels all are supernatural beings. Thus the use of supernatural machinery in this epic is very convincing.
As paradise Lost primarily deals with supernatural powers and agencies, there is very little scope for the expression of human sentiments. Adam and Eve are the only two human characters. Their sentiments both of fears and repentance have, of course, been beautifully and forcefully rendered. The anguish rising from the horrors attending the sense of the divine displeasure are very justly and powerfully described. But the real greatness of Milton lies in the fact that he has rendered supernatural powers as human beings and ascribed to them human sentiments. Dr Johnson says that, “The sentiments, as expressive of manners, are appropriated to characters are, for the later part, unexceptionally just.”
To conclude it would be very apt to remark that “Paradise Lost” fulfills all the requirements and the convictions laid down by the classics and is one of the best epic ever written in English literature. A sane critic is justified in giving these remarks; “There is nothing in English literature, but Paradise Lost”
English literature will remain indebted to Milton for his remarkable and glowing piece of literature for all the ages. Milton following the classical tradition matches his own purpose i.e. “justifies the ways of God to men” and has transformed the classical secular epic into a theological and universal one. He actually has enriched the epic tradition and it is apt to say that ‘Paradise Lost’ is the best example of the tradition and the individual talent. Therefore, it’s confirmed that the subject of this epic is more ancient, serious and lofty than any other epic. It promotes a universal view of man’s life.