Book IV tells
of Satan's first attempt to seduce Eve in her sleep, his
discovery by the angel Gabriel, and his defeated flight.
Following Book V through Book VIII's
lengthy lecture in which Raphael attempts to explain history since Creation to enable Adam
to protect himself from Satan, Book IX records the Fall and the first
effects of sin on Adam and Eve (they fight, of course).
After X's description of God's
judgment, Satan and the rebel angels' transformation to serpents (a great scene, ll.
460-584), and Adam's observation of Eden's transformation by sin, the angel Michael
arrives in XI to give Adam visions of the ups and downs of humanity's "future
history" up to the Great Flood. XII records Michael's "future
history" from the Tower of Babel through the promise of the Incarnation of Jesus and
the Second Coming's Last Judgment to remake "New heav'ns, new earth,
ages of endless date" (XII: 549), ending in the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden
and the first morning of our world. In effect, these angelic
narratives "bracket" our existence within the poem's cosmic vision, so the last
line marks our ancestors' first steps toward where we are, and Michael's promise of the eschaton
or Second Coming marks the end of the world and time in which our descendents will live.
Genre: still an epic poem.
Form: 10,565 lines of blank verse divided into twelve books, each
headed by a prose "Argument" or summary of the contents. The first edition
of 1667 divided the poem into only 10 books and no prose "Arguments." The
1674 revised edition's
additional book divisions divided the first edition's enormous Book X into three books
(the current X, XI, and XII) and the arguments were added to help readers follow the plot.
Issues and Research Sources:
- Milton's alterations of the Temptation and Fall may have escaped your
notice if you are, like most people in this culture, only vaguely aware of
what Genesis actually says. We have so
completely absorbed Milton's vision of the Fall that unless you consult
Genesis again, you may fail to notice the crucial facts about what Adam was
told vs. what Eve would have known only through Adam, not directly from God.
Notice especially how richly he expands the dialogues among the characters.
- The Norton Anthology's introduction,
still under the spell of Stanley Fish's
"Reader-Response" critical reading of the poem (in Surprised by
Sin, 1967), emphasized the way the poem forces unconscious choices
upon readers, enticing the reader to take sides and then revealing further
complexities that result from choosing incorrectly. Don't be worried
about being taken in or deceived. That's also what the poem is
about--re-experiencing and re-understanding the First Parents' faults and
coming to terms with how humans make mistakes. You will also be able
to tell what Milton believes is heroic about humanity,
weak and psychologically gullible though we may be.
One tool Milton used to control
and change his readers' minds about the way the Cosmos works is our old friend, "point of view." The
novelist, poet, and dramatist all have to decide from what perspective to
represent their "second Nature" (Sidney), and once audiences are seduced to view
things from that position, strange sympathies can be established. How else
to explain our initial amusement or even excitement by Edmund's bold challenge
to accepted morality in Lear? We hear it from his point of view,
and it sounds like just vengeance for a lifetime of being "the bastard."
Similarly, the speaker of Wyatt's "They Flee from Me" gets to control our view
of that middle stanza's bedroom tryst so that we do not ask ourselves what it
felt like to be the "she" who dared come to his bedroom in the night, and who,
after who knows what subsequent embarrassments and triumphs, decided to cut the
speaker loose and pursue her own pleasure, even as he had pursued her.
Lady Mary Wroth provides us with "her" point of view, but in doing so, excludes
"his." That's often the way the game is played. Practice keeping track of "from whose point of
view are we seeing this?" Milton's voice sometimes is Satan's, usually bursting with ambition and
indignation and pride (e.g., Satan himself about remembering Heaven in IV.32-113), and at other times,
the voice is his narrator's (e.g., IV.114-119), frequently reinterpreting
what we have just seen/heard, for instance, undercutting Satan's or another
Fallen Angel's speech. Some of his most gorgeous effects, the ones which
build Satan to the towering, old-fashioned, Achilles- or Odysseus-type epic
hero, are produced when Satan or Beelzebub controls "the camera," when we see
and hear things from a demonic point of view. What's the cumulative effect
of seeing the universe through a Fallen Angel's eyes for many lines? What
do you expect to happen when he sees Eden ( IV.131-355 and 356-392) or when the inhabitants
of Eden, Adam and Eve, begin to control what we see and hear (IV.411 and
- Now that you've met Adam and Eve, can you see their relationship to characters drawn
from the English drama and poetry of Milton's predecessors? Think about Eve as a
misunderstood daughter trying to do the right thing, and Adam as a son whose filial
obedience is strained by the demands of his lovely wife. Remember that none of this
is found in Genesis, but almost all of it seems to be Milton's invention to explain the
fact of the Fall, embroidering upon Adam's response to God's question about his knowledge
of his nakedness and Eve's response to Adam's claim that she tempted him to eat. We
are like friends of a married couple in counseling, hearing only one side of the story,
but a compellingly told version. How does their dialogue construct a Miltonic
"marital drama" that acts out the cosmic struggle in human terms? Where do
you feel yourself agreeing with Milton's version of the quarrel, and where do you feel
- How does Satan's character and appearance change from the heroic rebel to the envious,
frustrated, and finally defeated (in X) victim of his own ambitions? What kinds of
details does Milton introduce to his characterization to dramatize this transformation,
and how would you explain them in terms of a dramatic representation of the effects of
sinful disobedience? Note that they might begin in books I and II, but while in
Hell, Satan seems grander than his surroundings. The journey through Chaos, with its
awkward flight, reduces his size, but his arrival in Eden dramatically alters his interior
and exterior. How might Milton be using Satan as a "reader" of Eden, or
perhaps a "misreader" of Eden, to encourage us to read properly?
- Acting out of kindness and practical necessity, I have eliminated Raphael's and
Michael's lengthy historical instructions which Adam receives before and after the Fall.
What am I setting you up for? Certainly this cannot be a "full
reading" of Milton's poem, but we're used to accepting the need for excerpts in a
survey course. However, this decision has certain doctrinal and poetic implications
which you might want to ponder. Also, Milton continues to expand upon his gendered
view of political order in these episodes (see for instance XI: 628-37). If you are
exploring that theme for a paper, you might find it worth your while to prospect in those
books I left off the reading list for the moment.
- Note that, while Adam is watching Michael's future-history visions, Eve has been
sleeping and, in sleep, has been sent dreams by God "and dreams advise" her of
things to come which will comfort her (XII:611). The one thing she lets slip is that
"By me the Promised Seed shall all restore," indicating she also has been
informed of the Incarnation and Eschaton. What does Milton mean by giving Eve
those dreams and not reporting most of them to us, whereas he paraphrases vast swaths of
the teachings of Professors Raphael and Michael? Does God give males and females two
different "pipelines" of information, and if so, which is better/more accurate?
Remember that Satan's first assault upon Eve was in her dreams. How does this
affect your reading of her happy reception of this one?
- When you've finished XII, note its last "paragraph" (ll. 624-49). I find
it exceptionally affecting, in part for its manipulation of subjective time and
perspective. First, our perspective sweeps up and out in accelerating haste as the
Cherubim assume their stations on walls of Paradise and Michael rushes "Our ling'ring
parents" out of the gates of Eden. Then we're focused only on Adam and Eve, and
time slows a moment to watch the fall of their tears and an enormous journey begins, just
as the poem ceases to speak to us. What kinds of emotional effects is Milton
striving for here, and how is that linked to his readers' exit from the world of his poem?
Once, in my graduate school days, I spoke with William Kerrigan about his first
encounter with this work. He said he began reading Book I shortly after dinner and
ended Book XII at dawn. How would such a cumulative and compressed experience of
Milton's whole work affect your intellectual and emotional reception of these last lines?
If you're interested and aren't otherwise occupied on the nights before and after
December 21, the Winter Solstice and shortest day of the year, you'd have the longest
nights of the year at your disposal for the attempt. Good luck and tell me what you
- Milton's successful publication of Paradise Lost in 1667
(1st edition) helped to rehabilitate his reputation, after he nearly had
been executed as a member of Cromwell's government. As difficult as
the poem's language and content are, Paradise Lost sold enough copies to
make it profitable for a printer to bring out a second edition in 1674, the
year of Milton's death. This edition included several changes Milton
made: he split books 7 and 10 into 2 books each so that the whole epic would
more neatly match Virgil's twelve-book masterpiece, The Aeneid; and at
readers' requests, he added a prose introduction to every book explaining
the action and characters. Think about that compromise with his
readers as evidence of his extraordinarily powerful desire that this poem
should succeed. They're a lot like the "footnotes" Eliot
added to "The Wasteland," which routinely are invoked in graduate
school theory courses on the issue of whether they're "part of the poem
or not." A prefatory poem by Andrew Marvell is third thing which
the second edition contains and the first did not.
Click here to read Marvell's poetic
reaction to his friend's poem, and consider the concerns AM says attended
his first reading of the work. Are these
concerns that also should be considered by the modern reader?
If you would like to work with online, electronic scholarly editions of
Milton's works, including more than those available to you via the Norton
Anthology, I recommend that you visit
Dartmouth's "Milton Reading Room." Take a look even if you are not
going to write on Milton to get some idea of the range of his writing and the
size of his achievement. To visit a University of Richmond web site dedicated to the study of Milton's
poetry, click here. The site
contains links to whole text scholarly articles on Milton, but your most obvious source
for Milton scholarship would be the
Milton Quarterly, which the
Library has access to via Project Muse.