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What is Paradise Lost about? Free essay! Download now

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What is Paradise Lost about?

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Downloads to date: N/A | Words: 3330 | Submitted: 29-Mar-2011
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What is Milton's Paradise Lost about?

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In the mid-seventeenth century, John Milton was a successful poet and political activist. He wrote scathing pamphlets against corruption in the Anglican Church and its ties to King Charles. In Milton’s day Puritanism meant having politically radical views. And at one point Milton was actually jailed for recording them on paper. Paradise Lost, as much as anything, is a series of arguments put forth by the characters, which in turn ultimately expresses Milton’s personal truth. It is, in that sense, a Puritanical work.

Milton had contemplated the composition of an epic poem for many years. For his subject matter he chose the fundamentals of Christian theology. By the time he began writing Paradise Lost in the late 1650’s, Milton had become blind. He dictated the entire work to secretaries.

Paradise Lost has many of the elements that define epic form. It is a long, narrative poem; it follows the exploits of a hero (or anti-hero); it involves warfare and the supernatural; it begins in the midst of the action, with earlier crises in the story brought in later by flashback; and it expresses the ideals and traditions of a people. It has these elements in common with the Aeneid, the Iliad, and the Odyssey.

The poem is in blank verse, that is, non-rhyming verse. In a note he added to the second printing, Milton expresses contempt for rhyming poetry. Paradise Lost is composed in the verse form of iambic pentameter—the same used by Shakespeare. In this style, a line is composed of five long, unaccented syllables, each followed by a short, accented one.

The first edition of Paradise Lost was published in 1667, in ten chapters or books. In 1674 Milton reorganized the poem into twelve books, by dividing two of the longer books into four. He also added an introductory prose “argument” summarizing the plot of each book, to prepare readers for the complex poetry that was to follow. Part of that complexity is due to the many analogies and digressions into ancient history and mythology throughout the poem.

The central story line is built around a few paragraphs in the beginning of Genesis—the story of Adam and Eve. The epic also uses elements from many other parts of the Bible, particularly involving Satan’s role. Focusing his poem on the events surrounding the fall of Adam and Eve, Milton intended, in his words, to “justify the ways of God to men,” by tracing the cause and result for all involved.

In the last two books of the epic, Milton includes almost a complete summary of Genesis. This lengthy section may seem anti-climactic, but Milton's mission was to show not only what caused man's fall, but also the consequences upon the world, both bad and good. ...

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