Describe the chracter of Satan in Book 1 of Paradise Lost.
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It is clear that Satan is presented as a charismatic leader who is able to rule his minions and convincingly persuade them through his speech of their chances of gaining victory through alternative means. At the beginning of this epic, it is clear that Satan and his troops are somewhat bemused and shocked by the transformation that has occurred. They have gone from being "Clothes with transcendent brightness" to languishing in hell. However, in spite of the sudden shift of circumstances, he believes he has not lost everything:
What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield...
Satan is thus presented as being implacably opposed to God in his determination never to yield or submit to God and to maintain his hatred. He is able to encourage Beelzebub and to turn what is a terrible situation into a kind of victory. Note how he famously addresses his legions in hell, encouraging them to see the positives in their new situation:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n.
Thus it is that Satan is presented as a cunning leader who is able to inspire confidence in his troops in the most desperate of situations, even after suffering a grim defeat. He shows that he is confident and charismatic in how his speech inspires his legions with new hope. The twisted logic that he applies to his situation is admirable, as is the way that he shows that in defeat his spirit is still not broken.
Satan has often been romanticized by later writers (such as the Romantic poet William Blake) and also by some literary critics. It is possible to argue, however, that Milton presents Satan quite satirically and often depicts him as a genuine fool rather than as a tragic hero. In his first appearance in Book I, for instance, Satan is decribed as having "Raised impious war in Heav'n and battle proud / With vain attempt" (1.43-44). The word "vain" suggests the futility of the effort -- a futility later suggested once more when Satan is described as having been willing to "defy th'Omnipotent to arms" (49). Obviously it makes no logical sense to challenge a being (God) who is, by definition, "omnipotent" or all-powerful. Satan's decision to wage war against God when he is guaranteed to lose is just the first of his many foolish choices. Perhaps the best treatment of Satan as a laughable fool is offered by C. S. Lewis in his still-classic short work titled A Preface to Paradise Lost (London: Oxford University Press, 1960). Lewis's book is worth reading simply for its lucid prose style alone, although some of his descriptions of Satan as a fool are also quite funny.
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