Paradise Lost

Loyalty over Obedience College

Words with the root “obedient” or “obedience” appear thirty-two times in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, while the root word “loyal” appears only four times. Nevertheless, ties of loyalty are central to the narrative of man’s first fall. Questions of character morality are determined not only through obedience to God, but by the loyalties that men, angels and demons hold with each other. Milton sees value in the loyalty that the fallen angels have for Satan, even though they are disobedient and disloyal to God. Equally dynamic ties of loyalty exist between Satan and God, Abdiel and God, and Adam and Eve. The ethical implications of loyalty are redefined with each relationship until Milton arrives at an ideal of voluntary, reasoned allegiance. Milton admires the virtue of loyalty independently of obedience to God, such that characters who disobey God because of other loyalties are less culpable for their sins.

Obedience to God is the most explicit virtue propounded in Paradise Lost, though what God desires from his creations goes beyond obedience into the realm of loyalty. As the opening line states, this is the story “Of man’s first disobedience” (Milton 1.1). Obedience is defined as “The action or practice of obeying or doing...

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