Date of Award
Master of Arts
Susan H. May
Massie C. Stinson, Jr.
When one first mentions John Milton's Paradise Lost, one is reminded of the fall of Adam and Eve. Yet for the reader who encounters this epic poem for the first time, a surprise is waiting. Milton centers his poem around Satan, the fallen leader of the band of angels who rebel from heaven. Through his verse, Milton explores the thoughts and motives of Satan, leaving the reader with an astonishing reaction: Satan is a pitiable character. From the war in heaven, to the regions of hell, to the Garden of Eden, Milton closely follows this downfallen character. He first emphasizes the heroic acts of Satan, and then slowly, layer by layer, adds to the degradation of the leader of hell. Satan uses speeches of lament and is described as being downfallen as well as eloquent; through these characteristics the reader is moved to sympathy for Satan because he is so miserable in his fallen state. One may wonder why Milton concentrates so much on Satan. According to the poet William Blake, "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 it (6)." Could this accusation be true? was Milton really on Satan's "side" when he wrote Paradise Lost? One cannot deny that Milton shows Satan to be heroic, yet Milton also shows Satan to be pitiable. Only through careful analysis and interpretation of these two aspects may one fathom Milton's reason for portraying Satan as he does. The purpose of this study is to show the reader what the consequences are for feeling sorrow for Satan and the statement these feelings make about the fallen, human condition.
Stephens, Elizabeth Wickham, "Sympathy for the Devil" (1988). Theses & Honors Papers. 530.