Paradise Lost

Sympathy for the Devil: Satan as a Tragic Hero in Paradise Lost College

The tragic hero is a popular archetype of classic literature, generally referring to a character that embodies the qualities of a classic hero as well as a fatal flaw that dooms him to failure. In his epic poem Paradise Lost, John Milton illustrates Satan specifically as a tragic hero, which is most evident during a scene in which he is surveying his defeated army of revolutionaries (lines 587-621). Milton is keen to emphasize the heroic aspects of the character by drawing Satan as a military commander and justifying Satan’s revolt as one that was necessary against an unfeeling and punishing God. This scene also reveals a notable degree of pathos within the character, which pushes the audience to feel sympathetic towards him and his cause. Nonetheless, Satan is fatally flawed by his inflated sense of pride and because his actions are driven entirely by this attribute, Satan is kept from embodying true heroism and is thus a tragic figure in Paradise Lost.

An element of Satan’s character that solidifies his persona is his role as a military commander, an occupation that oftentimes characterizes the protagonists and heroes of pre-Milton literature. The first line of this chosen passage states: “Thus far these beyond/Compare of...

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