John Milton was born in Bread Street, Cheapside, London, on the 9th of December 1608. The first sixteen years of Milton's life, coinciding with the last sixteen of the reign of James I. His father, a prosperous business man, was known ass a man of great taste, and was interested in the music of London at the time. Music was thus a part of the poet's life since birth. His father forced him to get an education in all scholarly areas. He was taught by Puritan clergymen who gave Milton his extreme ideas about God. At the age of eighteen he was excepted as a student of Christ's College, Cambridge, and in less than two months moved up to University. He attended the prestigious Cambridge University four seven years where he learned Latin and studied many books on religion. After schooling, he traveled all over Italy [this is also the time of the Italian Renaissance] and learned much about theology, philosophy, and literature. He lived in the rich culture of Rome for almost ten years. After returning to England, he began writing and publishing stories in local papers. He wrote many controversial things about the government and God and was put on trial for Heresy upon all counts. His punishment was exile and his eyes were removed so he could Phillips 2
no longer write. To the surprise of high officials he wrote the epic Paradise Lost: A poem in ten books. It sold millions of copies, and is still considered the greatest piece of English literature ever written.
On the 8th of November 1674 Milton died at the age of 66, due to gout-fever. He was buried the next Thursday beside his father.
As stated in the first book of Paradise Lost, Milton's intentions for writing his religious epic are to "assert Eternal Providence/And justify the ways of God to men" (Book I, ll. 25-26). Milton's audience, of course, is a fallen audience like the narrator of the epic, Therefore, because the audience is innately flawed there is a danger that we may not read the text as it is intended to be read. Some may think Satan is the hero of the epic. Others may be inclined to blame God for allowing the fall to occur. However, both of these readings are shortsighted and are not what Milton explicitly intended. Therefore, to prevent these deviant readings Milton has deftly interwoven a theme of personal responsibility for one's actions throughout the epic. As stated by Klender, Milton neutralizes God from any just blame, exposes Satan for the Arch-Deceiver he is, and Phillips 3
justifies the falls of both Angel and Man. (345) A careful reading by the post-lapsarian audience reveals the author's intentions.
Fist and foremost, Milton clears God' omniscience from any suspicion of blame by post-lapsarian readers for "letting" the Angels rebel or Man eat the forbidden fruit. Milton skillfully defends God's foreknowledge in Book III, when God says to His Son, "...they [rebel Angels] themselves decreed their own revolt, not I: if I foreknew, Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault, which had no less prov'd certain unforeknow" (Book III,ll.116-119). God establishes that His knowledge of future events is not the same has predestination. For example, we may know from the news that a murder will be executed next Thursday, this foresight does not mean that we forced the man to kill, nor are we the ones to execute him. We are simply bystanders to the situation. In this way, God is a knowing bystander to the falls. To force His Divine will on the Angels or Man would be an injustice to each particular creature's own free will. Instead, God must let each creature act on its own choices. In turn, God must act as a strict yet temperate, judge: He must honestly reward the faithful and Phillips 4
justly punish the sinners. For this reason, God's foresight cannot be charged with the falling of Satan or Adam and Eve or the reader. The responsibility for each fall resided in the active participant; that is, responsibility for one's action lies in his own...
Cited: 1. Adams,Robert M. Ikon: Milton and Modern Critics. Ithaca,
2. Bloom, Edward. John Milton. New York, 1986.
3. Crosmen,Robert. Reading Paradise Lost. Bloomington,1980.
4. Klender, Scott. Milton Essay. New York, 1992.
5. Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Merrit Y. Hughs. New York: Macmillan publishing Co.,1957.
6. Thorpe, James. Milton Criticism. New York, 1970.
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