"Th’ infernal Serpent, hee it was, whose guile

Stirr’d up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv’d

The Mother of Mankind; what time his Pride

Had cast him out from Heav’n, with all his Host

Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring

To set himself in Glory above his Peers,

He trusted to have equall’d the most High."


Passion for revenge moved Satan, pride led to his fall, and ambition caused him to assert himself above his fellow Angels and seek equality with God.

The one word that could summarize Milton’s characterization of Satan is ambivalence. This is apt for the master of deceit and lies. Milton’s Satan is consistently ambiguous, full of uncertainty, metamorphosing into various forms in pursuing his conspiracy of evil. There is very little in the Bible about Satan; in his tract, Christian Doctrine, Milton managed to gather it all into just a few sentences.

For Milton, evil is derived from Satan. This is perhaps drawn from his Puritan outlook, something that confined evil to a particular source so that it could be contained or suppressed. In a literary context this forges a sharp contrast with the ‘Shakespearean’ approach – that is, one that perceives evil as a collective part of human experience itself.

William Blake declared that "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 Devil’s party without knowing". Burns called Satan "my favourite hero". Hazlitt wrote "the daring ambition and fierce passions of Satan. . . the most heroic subject that ever was chosen for a poem", while Baudelaire considered "the most perfect type of manly beauty is Satan – as Milton saw him." Such assumptions that Milton, as a propagandist and apologist for the Republic and the Parliamentarian cause, must have sympathized with the rebels in Paradise Lost, and that Satan is the ‘hero’ and represents ‘liberty’, are far too simplistic. To understand this apparent paradox, one must consider Milton’s underlying purpose for Paradise Lost.

As with his characterisation of God, there has been a great deal of critical debate about Milton’s Satan. Some critics have presented Satan as the ‘hero’ of Paradise Lost, emphasizing his classical virtues. However it is these vary martial virtues that Milton seeks to disprove. Therein lies the answer to the critics’ ‘problem’ of Milton’s Satan. Criticism concerned with Satan as ‘hero’ or ‘antihero’ has missed the point; Milton is quite clear that Satan has fallen because of his pride and ambition. Furthermore, the Free Will that operates throughout Paradise Lost allowed Satan to decide his own fate. At the beginning of Book IV we are given the opportunity to access the ‘true’ Satan. There we learn of Satan’s own undoing and inherent evil. The archfiend deliberates over his fallen status, considers that he has caused his own fall, realises God’s grace remains open to him, but resolves that he is too ambitious: "Evil be thou my good" (IV.110).

Satan’s passions, gestures, conduct and disguises make him the archetype of the very tyranny he claims to despise: that is, irrational and self-aggrandizing, developed to exploit absolute authority without regard for natural or divine laws. Satan sits far within his palace with a select council, "In close recess and

  By PanEris using Melati.

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