Essay, 12 pages (3000 words)

A range of critical opinions english literature essay

Milton’s blank verse epic ‘ Paradise Lost’ published in 1667 deals with the biblical story of Adam and Eve who are exiled from the Garden of Eden, after being tempted by Satan to eat from the tree of knowledge, therefore bringing death and misery to man. In the early nineteenth century during the Romantic period, there was considerable controversy. William Blake claimed ” The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” Blake felt Satan was made more attractive than God so Milton unwittingly admired Satan. Other modern critics claim Milton made Satan attractive deliberately as a warning against the superficial seductiveness of evil. Similarly, Shelley’s contemporaries were fascinated by the gothic novel ‘ Frankenstein’ written in the early nineteenth century. It is about an overreaching scientist who tries to play God, by using the power of science to reanimate dead human flesh. He succeeds but he realizes what he has done was terribly wrong and abandons the monster. When it was published some critics were horrified and accused Shelley of blasphemy. The ” Quarterly Review” of 1818 criticised the novel saying ” Our taste and our judgement alike revolt at this kind of writing…it inculcates no lesson of conduct, manners or mortality.” ‘ Macbeth’, (1606) play by Shakespeare is about a warrior, Macbeth being given prophecies by three witches. Following the predictions, Macbeth murders the king. Shakespeare also demonstrates how fascinating and horrible evil can be by using the witches. Audiences were fascinated by the witches even though in that time witches were burned at the stake. In Book One of ‘ Paradise Lost’ Milton invokes a heavenly muse, which is one of the features of an epic. However, unlike Homer’s ‘ Iliad’ or ‘ Odyssey’ he doesn’t invoke pagan goddesses or other classical muses. Milton writes ‘ Sing heavenly muse’. The word ‘ heavenly’ suggests that Milton’s muse is Christian in origin; later on, revealed as the Holy Spirit. Milton claims that the Holy Spirit will inspire him like it did with Moses on Mount Sinai. Milton is suggesting that the Holy Spirit is superior to the mythological goddesses, because as a Puritan he believed the Holy Spirit was real. Milton states his aim in writing ‘ Paradise Lost’, which is to ‘ assert eternal providence’, and ‘ justify the ways of God to men’. If Milton were of ‘ the devil’s party’ he would not attempt to demonstrate how omnipotent God is or explain God’s actions in depriving man of immortality. Milton felt that poetry should glorify God, enlighten readers, and help people to become better Christians. The modern critic C. S Lewis, believed that ‘ Paradise Lost’ is a great poem because its justification of God is largely successful’, therefore, contradicting Blake’s view. Additionally, in ‘ Paradise Lost’ Milton uses blank verse unlike some of his earlier rhymed poems. Just like Shakespeare uses blank verse for serious characters and situations, Milton uses blank verse to highlight the seriousness of his subject. David Daiches said, ‘ Although Milton had shown himself a master of rhymed verse in his earlier poetry, he deliberately rejected rhyme for Paradise Lost’. Perhaps by not using a rhyme scheme, Milton wanted to prevent ‘ Paradise Lost’ having any light-heartedness, as the fall of man through the deception of Satan is a serious issue to a protestant like Milton. From Mary Shelley’s ‘ Preface’ to ‘ Frankenstein’ it can be deduced that she, like Milton was also inspired by writers of English and Greek Literature. This can be seen when she mentions. ” The Iliad, the tragic poetry of Greece-Shakespeare, in the Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream- and most especially Milton, in Paradise lost’. Certainly all these books inspired Shelley to write ‘ Frankenstein’ Later on in the book, Frankenstein’s monster even reads ‘ Paradise Lost’. Perhaps Shelley did this to convey to readers that Frankenstein’s monster feels abandoned by his creator like Satan felt by God. Shelley also shows that she was inspired by Shakespeare by demonstrating the loss of morality. In theCumulative Word Count: 673beginning of ‘ Macbeth’ the protagonist is originally noble. However, as the prophecy becomes more fulfilled he becomes more evil. Similarly, this is used in ‘ Frankenstein’ as Frankenstein’s monster becomes more evil the more people mistreat him. It is important to understand that he wasn’t created evil. The structure of ‘ Frankenstein’ is a double framed narrative because as Captain Robert Walton is writing Doctor Frankenstein’s story in a letter to his sister and within this Frankenstein recalls the monster’s narrative. By using the monster’s thoughts in this part of the narrative, Shelley probably intended to make the reader feel empathy to the monster who was abandoned by his creator. In the 17th century, when Milton wrote ‘ Paradise Lost’, Britain was gripped by unrest. Milton was part of the Roundhead, Puritan rebellion against Charles I. It is argued that the reason why Satan is so appealing is because Milton went through a similar experience, rebelling against the monarchy of Charles I like Satan did with the monarchy of God. After the Civil War ended in 1649, Charles I was dethroned and executed, Milton welcomed the new parliament. Two years after Cromwell’s death, Milton’s worst fears were realized. The Restoration brought Charles II to the throne, and the poet had to go into hiding to escape execution. Joan Bennett argued that Milton’s depiction of Satan has strong connections to Charles I, linking his exploration of tyranny in ” Paradise Lost” to his prose writing on the tyranny of the monarchy. This adds to the belief that Milton was ‘ of the devil’s party’. Milton believed that power corrupts human beings and he distrusted anyone who could claim power over anyone else. He even become disillusioned with Oliver Cromwell when he came to power. Dryden’s political affiliation prompted him to play on a crux in Milton’s poem: ‘ Satan, who disdains servitude and tries to overturn his monarch, becomes in Dryden’s rewriting an unmistakable portrait of Oliver Cromwell, the king killer. Like Blake he also believed that the fallen angel, and not Adam, was the hero and weighted his adaptation accordingly. In 1818, the time when ‘ Frankenstein’ was being written, there were many significant scientific advances such as the discovery of electricity, caused a great deal of ethical problems, about whether it was right to control nature; which Shelley believed that the right to control nature should be left to God, and if man were to interfere in this then there would be severe consequences. This is relevant today as there are still ethical debates on whether science should be, for example, making the perfect child for parents who can’t have children, through the manipulation of genes. Some readers believe that, contrary to Shelley committing blasphemy, ‘ Frankenstein’ was to warn against such scientific developments. Shakespeare reflects the early 17th century beliefs in witchcraft by presenting three witches. The witches’ chants contained real speeches from books of Black Magic of the time. Another way that Milton can be argued not to be ‘ of the devil’s party’ is the way that Milton describes Hell. He uses the metaphor ‘ A dungeon horrible’. This Latinate construction post-modifies the noun ‘ dungeon’ with the adjective ‘ horrible’. This accentuates the horror of the dungeon and makes it a much more fearful concept. Additionally the adjective ‘ horrible’ had more powerful connotations in the 17th century than today. The use of this metaphor is effective because in the 17th century, the idea of a dungeon was a terrifying concept as many people experienced torture in dungeons like those in the Tower of London. Milton makes hell terrifying because he works on the 17th century people’s fears. Milton focuses on another negative aspect of Hell in ‘ Regions of sorrow, doleful shades where peace/And rest can never dwell, hope never comes’. In the Christian 17th century, Christian belief was still prominent, and the concept of hell was truly frightening for them. If Milton were ‘ of the devil’s party’ he wouldn’t describe hell as such a frightening place. Perhaps Milton is warning his readers against sinning because they know what will wait for them if they do. Milton could be using ‘ scare tactics’ to prevent people from sinning. Additionally the repetition of ” Never” has connotations of finality, in ‘ where peace and rest can never dwell’, implies the eternity of hell. The concept that a person can never rest or find peace would be a truly frightful concept to them. Cumulative Word Count: 730Book I opens with Milton narrating and negatively presenting Satan by concentrating on his evil qualities in an attempt to prevent him appearing too alluring. He often uses negative imagery and animal imagery to describe Satan. An instance of this is ‘ Th’ infernal Serpent’. The word ‘ infernal’ has connotations of being sly and devious. These are not admirable qualities and therefore, the reader is prevented from being tempted by Satan because Milton has warned beforehand about how devious Satan is. Another way that Milton prevents Satan from being too appealing is by describing Satan as ‘ arch-enemy’ and ‘ arch-fiend’. The word ‘ arch’ means most, therefore it suggests that Satan is the worst enemy in creation. Milton juxtaposes the emotive language of ‘ arch-fiend’ with Satan’s eloquent speeches. Using such negative words before Satan’s speeches, it can be seen that Milton is not ‘ of the devil’s party’ as he is warning against the reader admiring Satan. Some critics argue that Milton can be seen as being ‘ of the devil’s party’ because of Satan’s skills as an orator. The critic Wendy Olmsted said that ‘ Paradise Lost’s Satan is a demagogic orator, a deceiver, a consummate actor, and seducer’. This can be seen in the line ‘ Awake, arise, or be for ever fallen’. Here Satan makes use of tripling of imperatives which are very powerful and persuasive. He isn’t giving the fallen angels any choice but to arise; if they don’t they will be disobeying Satan. As Lewalski writes, ” by measuring Satan against the heroic standards, we become conscious of the inadequacy and fragility of all the heroic virtues celebrated in literature” He rouses the spirits of the fallen angels calling their battle ” Glorious” and saying they ” Shook his throne”. Calling the attempt to overthrow God ‘glorious’, making it sound magnificent, is reminiscent of Lady Macbeth calling the potential murder of Duncan ‘This night’s grand business’.  However, both are, in fact, inglorious and the opposite of ‘grand’. Satan can be seen as heroic as he seems like they are rebelling against tyranny. However W. Ruddick has said that ‘ Satan is impressive and heroically determined to be victorious, but he is evil none the less’. However, it can also be seen that Milton is not ‘ of the devil’s party’ by the words ‘ In dubious battle’ as Milton juxtaposes Satan’s confident boasting with the truth, saying Satan ‘durst defy the omnipotent to arms. The reader knows that there was never any uncertainty in the battle. God was always going to win because he is omnipotent. Milton might have made this speech ironic to prevent the audience agreeing with Satan. Nicholas Zeng said that ‘ Satan is charismatic, eloquent, and unanswerable; the bright angel speaks again and again, tempting with knowledge, tempting the reader, as he tempted Eve, to think, question and explore reinterpret, and eat of ‘ this intellectual food’. However before Satan speaks, Milton directs the reader to be cautious of him. One way that he does this in the epic simile comparing Satan to Leviathan. ‘ By ancient Tarsus held, or that sea-beast Leviathan’. The word ‘ Leviathan’ is a reference to a Greek monster who destroyed ships. By comparing Satan to a Leviathan, perhaps Milton is suggesting that Satan’s ambitions and his personality are deceitful. Perhaps he is also suggesting that even though Satan might seem like a good hero, he is really a vicious monster. W. Ruddick said that ‘ we realize how much we have let ourselves be swept along and deluded by Satan’s language’. In ‘ Macbeth’ the imagery of the witches also prevents us from being lured in by them. In ‘ You should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret That you are so.’ Shakespeare could have used this quote, to make the witches seem inhuman. Similarly, Mary Shelley in ‘ Frankenstein’ has her protagonist try to take away the power of God and this would be considered blasphemous. Victor tries to take away God’s power through the power of science. This can be seen in ‘ They have acquired new and almost unlimited power; they can command the thunders and heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.’ The idea that man could be as powerful as God would be considered highly blasphemous. Man is the creation of God, and therefore no-one should try to imitate his power. However, it could be argued that Shelley was intentionally trying to be blasphemous to make the reader aware of the powerCumulative Word Count: 739of science. The verb ‘ mimic’ means to imitate or to copy. Possibly by using this word, Shelley is suggesting that science can only copy God’s power on a very limited scale, whereas, God’s power is infinite. Furthermore; Shelley uses the verb ‘ mock’ to describe science’s power. The word ‘ mock’ means to ridicule or to make fun of. Possibly Shelley could be giving her own opinion on science, that science ridicules or takes away the power of God, that even though scientists are able to be creative, they will never truly omnipotent. This is further emphasized in the metaphor ‘ It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn’. The noun ‘ secrets’ has connotations of something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others. Possibly Shelley uses this word intentionally to suggest that some ‘ secrets’ aren’t meant to be learned. Also readers question what the consequences of learning God’s secrets are. Furthermore the ‘ secrets of heaven and earth’ could also be a reference to science and how science is now able to do things almost God like. Perhaps Shelley is suggesting that the more knowledge man has the further away he is from God. Additionally, the word ‘ desired’ has connotations of a strong wish for something. Shelley might have used the word ‘ desired’ to suggest Victor’s overreaching personality. But she is stressing such desires have consequences. An instance of this is what happened to Prometheus in ancient Greek mythology when he overreached, he was punished by the gods. Similarly, Macbeth can be seen as overreaching because he sets out to be the king through killing the original king. However, like Satan his actions have consequences. Satan’s overreaching results in them being cast out from heaven. With Macbeth because he killed the original king his consequence is being killed. However, it can be argued that they both possess brave and admirable qualities, which could make them hero like. A further way that Milton cannot be seen as ‘ of the devil’s party’ is suggesting even though Satan thinks he is in control, he is deceiving himself. He seems heroic and he rouses the fallen angels to leave it also as he has the courage and the bravery to get off the burning lake. Because he is the first one, it further emphasises his bravery which makes him a good leader. However, it can be argued that Milton isn’t of ‘ the devil’s party’ because the reader realizes that God is allowing him to get off the burning lake. It is because ‘ high permission of all-ruling Heaven left him at large to his own dark designs’. Satan hasn’t done anything without the permission of God but Satan doesn’t realize it. He believes he is getting off the burning lake with his own strength. It can be argued that Milton is ‘ of the devil’s party because of Satan’s heroic actions which evoke admiration. In Book Two of ‘ Paradise Lost’ Satan faces the allegorical Death. His heroic behaviour can be seen in the line ‘ Satan stood unterrified’. The adjective ‘ unterrified’ means a lack of fear, which suggests that Satan is brave. Fearlessness is what anyone would expect from a hero. It can be argued that since Satan and Milton had similar experiences, rebelling against people who held too much power, Milton got carried away with making Satan reject everything that he rejects, so much so that he seems like a hero. In some ways Satan could be admired for his bravery. Most readers think that Milton realized that he was presenting Satan too positively, and concentrated in his later books on Satan’s evil qualities. Mary Shelley could be considered of having ‘ unseemly blasphemous ideas’ is that Mary Shelley takes away the role of women. In Shelley’s time women were seen as only being useful to make babies. Shelley takes away this role, and even goes as far as to assign the main character, Victor, who is a male, the role of giving birth and creating a life. He describes the process of giving life to the monster a ‘ monster labour’. By using the noun ‘ monster’ perhaps he is describing the gruesomeness of giving birth. Furthermore the noun of ‘ labour’ has a double meaning, which perhaps Shelley uses intentionally. The first meaning of labour is hard work, perhaps indicating the amount of hard work that Frankenstein put in to create the monster. The other meaning is actually giving birth. He possibly feels that by taking out the role of women, that women aren’t needed anymore. It can also be argued that not only is he taking away the role of a women but, he is also taking away the role of God. Cumulative Word Count: 782Another instance where Frankenstein can be seen as taking the role of a mother is in ‘ Winter, spring, and summer passed away during my labours.’ The three trimesters calculate to nine months which is the average to nine months which is the average time a women spends in labour. When ‘ Frankenstein’ was written, babies were seen as creations of God; however in Frankenstein’s monster’s case he is the creation of Frankenstein. Taking away the role of God and women, would be considered highly blasphemous and would go against the very foundation of society. It can be argued that Frankenstein is quite literally giving birth to a monster. On the other hand, perhaps Shelley was intentionally blasphemous to show us how important women are in society and that to take away God’s position would cause dire consequences. Another way that this could be looked at is that Shelley is indirectly criticising God through Victor’s abandonment of his ‘ child’. Which could be argued to draw a parallel with God’s abandonment of his creation, man. Laura Claridge says ” The story demonstrates the failure of human beings to parent their offspring in such a way that they will be able to take part in society.” In conclusion, after reading both ‘ Frankenstein’ and ‘ Paradise Lost’ it seems these books were criticised so heavily because they went against what was traditional for their time periods. 21st century readers are desensitised to the idea of blasphemy and are instead captivated by how fascinating they are. It is possible that in ‘ Paradise Lost’ Milton was not of ‘ the devil’s party’. He was simply trying to evoke the fear of hell and portray the fascination man has with evil. He warns readers not to sin, no matter how tempting it is because they will end up in hell. Additionally, after reading ‘ Frankenstein’ it is convincing that Mary Shelley’s wasn’t trying to be blasphemous. Instead she was trying to warn, that if man overreaches into God’s territory then there will be repercussions. This message is also echoed in ‘ Macbeth’ as Macbeth tried to overreach by killing the king. However, in that time they believed in the ‘ divine right of kings’. So in essence Macbeth being king would be encroaching onto God’s territory. Cumulative Word Count: 372

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