Paradise Lost

Themes

Marriage

Milton first presents Adam and Eve in Book IV with impartiality. The relationship between Adam and Eve is one of "mutual dependence, not a relation of domination or hierarchy." While the author does place Adam above Eve in regard to his intellectual knowledge, and in turn his relation to God, he also grants Eve the benefit of knowledge through experience. Hermine Van Nuis clarifies that although there is a sense of stringency associated with the specified roles of the male and the female, each unreservedly accepts the designated role because it is viewed as an asset.[22] Instead of believing that these roles are forced upon them, each uses the obligatory requirement as a strength in their relationship with each other. These minor discrepancies could be interpreted as an indication of the author’s view on the importance of mutuality between a husband and a wife.

When examining the relationship between Adam and Eve, critics tend to accept an either Adam- or Eve-centered view in terms of hierarchy and importance to God. David Mikics argues, by contrast, these positions "overstate the independence of the characters' stances, and therefore miss the way in which Adam and Eve are entwined with each other".[23] Milton's true vision reflects one where the husband and wife (in this instance, Adam and Eve) depend on each other and only through each other’s differences are able to thrive.[23]

Although Milton does not directly mention divorce, critics posit theories on Milton's view of divorce based on inferences found within the poem, and, of course, the tracts on divorce Milton wrote earlier in his life. Other works by Milton suggest he viewed marriage as an entity separate from the church. Discussing Paradise Lost, Biberman entertains the idea that "marriage is a contract made by both the man and the woman".[24] Based on this inference, Milton would believe that both man and woman would have equal access to divorce, as they do to marriage.

Feminist critics of Paradise Lost suggest that Eve is forbidden the knowledge of her own identity. Moments after her creation, before Eve is led to Adam, she becomes enraptured by an image reflected in the water (her own, unbeknownst to Eve).[25] God urges Eve to look away from her own image, her beauty, which is also the object of Adam’s desire. Adam delights in both her beauty and submissive charms, yet Eve may never be permitted to gaze upon her individual form. Critic Julia M. Walker argues that because Eve “neither recognizes nor names herself ... she can know herself only in relation to Adam.”[26] “Eve’s sense of self becomes important in its absence ... [she] is never allowed to know what she is supposed to see.”[27] Eve therefore knows not what she is, only what she is not: male. Starting in Book IV, Eve learns that Adam, the male form, is superior and “How beauty is excelled by manly grace/ And wisdom which alone is truly fair.”[28] Led by his gentle hand, she yields, a woman without individual purpose, destined to fall by “free will.”

Idolatry

Milton's 17th-century contemporaries by and large criticised Milton’s ideas and considered him as a radical, mostly because of his well-known Protestant views on politics and religion. One of Milton's greatest and most controversial arguments centres on his concept of what is idolatrous; this topic is deeply embedded in Paradise Lost.

Milton's first criticism of idolatry focuses on the practice of constructing temples and other buildings to serve as places of worship. In Book XI of Paradise Lost, Adam tries to atone for his sins by offering to build altars to worship God. In response, the angel Michael explains that Adam does not need to build physical objects to experience the presence of God.[29] Joseph Lyle points to this example, explaining "When Milton objects to architecture, it is not a quality inherent in buildings themselves he finds offensive, but rather their tendency to act as convenient loci to which idolatry, over time, will inevitably adhere."[30] Even if the idea is pure in nature, Milton still believes that it will unavoidably lead to idolatry simply because of the nature of humans. Instead of directing their thoughts towards God, as they should, humans tend to turn to erected objects and falsely invest their faith. While Adam attempts to build an altar to God, critics note Eve is similarly guilty of idolatry, but in a different manner. Harding believes Eve's narcissism and obsession with herself constitutes idolatry.[31] Specifically, Harding claims that "... under the serpent’s influence, Eve’s idolatry and self-deification foreshadow the errors into which her 'Sons' will stray."[31] Much like Adam, Eve falsely places her faith into herself, the Tree of Knowledge, and to some extent, the Serpent, all of which do not compare to the ideal nature of God.

Furthermore, Milton makes his views on idolatry more explicit with the creation of Pandæmonium and the exemplary allusion to Solomon's temple. In the beginning of Paradise Lost, as well as throughout the poem, there are several references to the rise and eventual fall of Solomon's temple. Critics elucidate that "Solomon’s temple provides an explicit demonstration of how an artefact moves from its genesis in devotional practice to an idolatrous end."[32] This example, out of the many presented, conveys Milton’s views on the dangers of idolatry distinctly. Even if one builds a structure in the name of God, even the best of intentions can become immoral. In addition, critics have drawn parallels between both Pandemonium and Saint Peter's Basilica, and the Pantheon. The majority of these similarities revolve around a structural likeness, but as Lyle explains, they play a greater role. By linking Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon to Pandemonium—an ideally false structure, the two famous buildings take on a false meaning.[33] This comparison best represents Milton's Protestant views, as it rejects both the purely Catholic perspective and the Pagan perspective.

In addition to rejecting Catholicism, Milton revolted against the idea of a monarch ruling by divine right. He saw the practice as idolatrous. Barbara Lewalski concludes that the theme of idolatry in Paradise Lost "is an exaggerated version of the idolatry Milton had long associated with the Stuart ideology of divine kingship".[34] In the opinion of Milton, any object, human or non-human, that receives special attention befitting of God, is considered idolatrous.


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