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ENGL 200 Lecture 21 - Paradise Lost Part I.docx

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McGill University
English (Arts)
ENGL 200
Wes Folkerth

Paradise Lost Book 1 Introduction John Milton lived from 1608 to 1674 He wrote Paradise Lost, and it was published in 1667, and the second edition was published in 1674 He thought about this poem about a long time as a statement He writes a lot of political pamphlets, and that is what he is famous for, his prose and he even writes a defense for divorce and the necessity for the freedom of the press. He supports a lot of liberal values that are enshrined in the values various revolutionary constitutions that result from the revolutions in the centuries after this and they come after this period in English culture People are making vigorous defenses in the freedom of speech and you should say what you believe and not what the state tells you to say A lot of this was paid for by the lives of people who supported liberal values He was a protestant poet, and so he is very supportive of the regime change that takes place in England during his lifetime He saw it as an opportunity during a period called the interregnum, when Cromwell comes to power and they dissolve the House of Lords and there is a huge revolution. In 1625 they coronate King Charles, but they behead him in 1649, and it is the first time a European monarch is killed by beheading Milton is alive during all of this stuff and he was given a very a high post in the protestants and he was writing defenses in the things he believed in At the end of his life, the monarchy was restored, and what you get is a man without a country kind of sense A man who devoted all of his energy supporting his values, when this happened, all of his hopes were lost when the monarchy came back (Paradise Lost) The political situation that was going on in England and the context that Milton is writing here makes him an object of interest later on in the romantic era, when there are revolutions going on in places like France, and writers in England saw it as an opportunity for power but Napoleon came in, and so power juts kept on coming back The poem itself has an ironic cast to it You can read into the poem and Satans own desire for freedom (or the way he describes it) is something that is laudable or admirable about him Satan can be thought as a revolutionary and he can been seen as combating the tyranny of God, and this kind of representation as a revolutionary figure made him a favorite among romantic writers as something to admire However, he is doing this ironically as well he is saying that Satan is also a tyrant himself, by how he talks to his minions and his devils it has got a kind of dual quality there as well Page 1832 Lines 1-26 Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast Brought Death into the World, and all our woe, With loss of Eden, till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, [ 5 ] Sing Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed, In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill [ 10 ]1 Delight thee more, and Siloa's Brook that flow'd Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song, That with no middle flight intends to soar Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues [15] Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme. 2 And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer 3 Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure, Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread [ 20 ] Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark Illumin, what is low raise and support; That to the highth of this great Argument I may assert Eternal Providence, [ 25 ] And justifie the wayes of God to men. 4 First period comes at line 16! One of the first things to note is the repetition of the work First This is typically what epic poems are about: origins And they are usually about the origins of a people What Milton is going to do with this is sort of exploded: he is not going to write only about a people, he is going to write an epic about everybody The epic typically has a nationalistic quality to it, meaning a people who share a typical birth, an origin What Milton is doing is that is he is going to talk about Humanity, and it is an ambitious task he is setting for himself here The ambition that characterizes his approach is so close to Satans ambition (that is quite ironic), and he is such an ambitious poet Taking this form that Spenser writes the faerie queene, and explodes that sort of form to cover not only the origins of all humanity, but he critiques all of humanity and all the things that they handle He simultaneously engages in the epic, but in some ways tries to improve it or ironize it to augment our understanding of it and what it says to us Poems all start off in medias res (in the middle of things), an epic convention Book 1 is not exactly a chronologically opening Where we start off here is in the middle, after all of these fallen angels have fallen into hell and they decide what to do here on out 1He starts off with an invocation to the muse, part and parcel of the sacred quality of the poem, a biblical/protestant epic poem He is invoking the help of the muse, and he sees himself as a writer in that as a vates or in that vatic mode, he is divinely inspired to do it Youll notice that he does not invoke just any classical muse, like the ones that Spenser asked for help on, but he asks an unnamed muse, one who helped Moses write the first five books of the bible a very strong authority You dont get a verb until line 6, because he is telling us what he is going to talk about before he tells us what he is asking us for 2There is a lot of flying imagery here, and he says that he is not going just a standard kind of altitude he is going for a lofty diction song, he wants to sing of the highest things in the highest manner Who is aligning himself here is with authors like Jesus, Moses, and those are the kinds of authorities he is lining himself together instead of someone like Virgil This flying imagery here is associated with the flying Satan will do later, and the gracefulness that Satan flies in The setting for this poem is a cosmological setting When the angels are cast down from heaven, they are sent down not to earth, or below
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