English 513: Blake and Shelley Handout
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93), Plates 5-6
Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling.
And being restrained it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire.
The history of this is written in Paradise Lost. & the Governor or Reason is call'd Messiah.
And the original Archangel or possessor of the command of the heavenly host, is calld the Devil or Satan and his children are call'd Sin & Death.
But in the Book of Job Miltons Messiah is call'd Satan.
For this history has been adopted by both parties.
It indeed appear'd to Reason as if Desire was cast out, [PL 6] but the Devils account is, that the Messiah fell & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss.
This is shewn in the Gospel, where he prays to the Father to send the comforter or Desire that Reason may have Ideas to build on, the Jehovah of the Bible being no other than he, who dwells in flaming fire. Know that after Christs death, he became Jehovah.
But in Milton; the Father is Destiny, the Son, a Ratio of the five senses. & the Holy-ghost, Vacuum!
Note. The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it. (emphasis added)
Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defense of Poetry (1821, 1840)
Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil. Implacable hate, patient cunning and a sleepless refinement of device to inflict the extremest anguish on an enemy, these things are evil; and, although venial in a slave, are not to be forgiven in a tyrant; although redeemed by much that ennobles his defeat in one subdued, are marked by all that dishonours his conquest in the victor. Milton's Devil as a moral being is as far superior to his God, as one who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture, is to one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments. Milton has so far violated the popular creed (if this shall be judged to be a violation) as to have alleged no superiority of moral virtue to his God over his Devil. And this bold neglect of a direct moral purpose is the most decisive proof of the supremacy of Milton's genius. He mingled as it were the elements of human nature as colours upon a single pallet, and arranged them in the composition of his great picture according to the laws of epic truth; that is, according to the laws of that principle by which a series of actions of the external universe and of intelligent and ethical beings is calculated to excite the sympathy of succeeding generations of mankind. The Divina Commedia and Paradise Lost have conferred upon modern mythology a systematic form; and when change and time shall have added one more superstition to the mass of those which have arisen and decayed upon the earth, commentators will be learnedly employed in elucidating the religion of ancestral Europe, only not utterly forgotten because it will have been stamped with the eternity of genius. (emphasis added)
Lois Potter, A Preface to Milton, page 74
Milton is notoriously good at playing devil's advocate. The lush enticements of Comus, the fine heroic speeches of Satan in Paradise Lost and his even more moving weariness and despair in Paradise Regained, Dalila's smooth justification of her treachery towards Samson--all these may be designed to enhance our admiration for the characters who successfully resist such temptations, but they also force us to make a choice between good and evil and to recognize that this choice is much harder for us than for Milton's heroes.
C.S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost, page 96
'He thought himself impaired' (V, 662). He thought himself impaired because Messiah had been pronounced Head of the Angels. These are the 'wrongs' which Shelley described as 'beyond measure'. A being superior to himself in kind, by whom he himself had been created--a being far above him in the natural hierarchy--had been preferred to him in honour by an authority whose right to do so was not disputable, and in a fashion which, as Abdiel points out, constituted a compliment to the angels rather than a slight (V, 823-43). No one had in fact done anything to Satan; he was not hungry, nor over-tasked, nor removed from his place, nor shunned, nor hated--he only thought himself impaired. In the midst of a world of light and love, of song and feast and dance, he could find nothing to think of more interesting than his own prestige.
Barbara Lewalski, The Life of John Milton, page 469
"Some aspects of Satan invite association with Cromwell--his use of republican rhetoric and his promotion of rebellion as a cloak for ambition--but the more fundamental associations are with the Stuart monarchs, especially Charles I." She mentions that the council in hell "does not suggest a republican House of Commons, but a House of Lords controlled by a monarch." "Then Satan sways the council to his will through the agency of his chief minister Beelzebub. The scene closes with Satan accorded divine honors: 'Towards him they bend / With awful reverence prone; and as a God / Extoll him equal to the highest in Heav'n' (2.477-9). This is an exaggerated version of the idolatry Milton had long associated with the Stuart ideology of divine kingship...."