Milton and Paradise Lost: A Quest to Understand

Today, I am beginning yet again on my quest to understand Milton’s epic Paradise Lost. I have already listened to it on audio and read it once through using the Barnes and Noble edition. Now, I have purchased the Norton Critical Edition. I will read AND listen to the Norton Critical edition, and compare to the footnotes in the Barnes and Noble edition. I will read supplementary materials. I will record my quest here, because I know everyone who reads my blog is raring to hear follow me on my quest. 🙂

My first notes will be on David Hawkes’ introduction in the Barnes and Noble edition:


During the time building up to the writing of Paradise Lost, the “free market” concept was emerging. In this system, land was being taken away from peasants and their labor was being exchanged for money. This emerging free market system seemed like objectification of labor, as if the laborers were “signs” or “symbols.” This system seemed idolatrous to Milton. 

Henry VIII separated from the Roman Catholic Church so he could get a divorce, but he disliked many of the Protestant ways, so the Anglican church was more similar to the Roman Catholic Church than Puritans were comfortable with. They wanted to be free of religious practices they viewed as idolatrous. 

Meanwhile, the new market economy provided a means for non-gentlemen to get money, so the long-established structure of the English society was breaking apart. Charles I kept trying to get Parliament’s consent to raise taxes, but Parliament insisted on economic or religious reformation as stipulations. Therefore, Charles I increased taxes without Parliament’s consent (around 1640). In 1642, Charles I needed to raise an army to quell the rebellion in Ireland, but Parliament no longer trusted him. Charles I left London and raised his army in Oxford, which initiated civil war. This is when Milton emerged into history. He considered the “free market” and legitimization of usury to be idolatrous. He wrote many political pamphlets about his views.

Paradise Lost is about Satan’s idolotry. It could even be viewed as a prophecy of today’s world, in which everything is represented as a symbol (think of virtual reality and the internet). To Milton, even viewing our perception of the world as reality was idolatrous. We forget that, through the filters of our human minds, we can not perceive the truth as it really is. Therefore, when we view our perceptions as reality, we are idolatrous.

…At least, so says Hawkes. I find this an interesting opinion and will look more into Milton’s political writings to see if I agree that Milton’s view of the political and economic state of affairs was idolatrous and consider how this may be represented in his epic allegory.


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