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The Byronic Hero

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University of Alberta
Alison Rukavina

Not until the age of the American and French Revolutions more than a century after Milton wroteParadise Lost did readers begin to sympathize withSatan in the war between Heaven and Hell admiring him as the archrebel who had taken on no less an antagonist than Omnipotence itself and even declaring him the true hero of the poem In his ironic Marriage of Heaven and Hell NAEL 8 211120 Blake claimed that Milton had unconsciously but justly sided with the Devil representing rebellious energy against Jehovah representing oppressive limitation Lecturing in 1818 on the history of Hazlitt named Satan as the most heroic subject that ever was chosen for English poetry a poem and implied that the rebel angels Heavendefying resistance was the mirror image of Miltons own rebellion against political tyranny A year later Percy Shelley maintained that Satan is the moral superior to Miltons tyrannical God but he admitted that Satans greatness of character is flawed by vengefulness and prideIt was precisely this aspect of flawed grandeur however that made Satan so attractive a model for Shelleys friend Byron in his projects of personal mythmaking The more immediate precedents of the Byronic heroa figure that Byron uses for purposes both of selfrevelation and of selfconcealmentwere the protagonists of some of the Gothic novels of the later eighteenth century Examples are Manfred the ominous herovillain of Horace Walpoles The Castle of Otranto 1764 NAEL 8 257982 and the brooding guilthaunted monk The Italian1797 who each embody traits of Miltons Schedoni of Ann Radcliffes Satan Byron identified another alter ego in the towering histor
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