PARADISE LOST ~ A BRIEF OVERVIEW
In the mid-seventeenth century, John Milton was a successful poet and political activist. He wrote scathing pamphlets against corruption in the Anglican Church and its ties to King Charles. In Milton’s day Puritanism meant having politically radical views. And at one point Milton was actually jailed for recording them on paper. Paradise Lost, as much as anything, is a series of arguments put forth by the characters, which in turn ultimately expresses Milton’s personal truth. It is, in that sense, a Puritanical work. Milton had contemplated the composition of an epic poem for many years. For his subject matter he chose the fundamentals of Christian theology. By the time he began writing Paradise Lost in the late 1650’s, Milton had become blind. He dictated the entire work to secretaries. Paradise Lost has many of the elements that define epic form. It is a long, narrative poem; it follows the exploits of a hero (or anti-hero); it involves warfare and the supernatural; it begins in the midst of the action, with earlier crises in the story brought in later by flashback; and it expresses the ideals and traditions of a people. It has these elements in common with the Aeneid, the Iliad, and the Odyssey. The poem is in blank verse, that is, non-rhyming verse. In a note he added to the second printing, Milton expresses contempt for rhyming poetry. Paradise Lost is composed in the verse form of iambic pentameter—the same used by Shakespeare. In this style, a line is composed of five long, unaccented syllables, each followed by a short, accented one. The first edition of Paradise Lost was published in 1667, in ten chapters or books. In 1674 Milton reorganized the poem into twelve books, by dividing two of the longer books into four. He also added an introductory prose “argument” summarizing the plot of each book, to prepare readers for the complex poetry that was to follow. Part of that complexity is due to the many analogies and...
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