The Mind Is Its Own Place

What is the meaning of the quote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven,” from Paradise Lost, Book I, by John Milton, and does it have any connection to the pastoral theme in As You Like It by Shakespeare?

Excerpt Book I

... Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy for ever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail,
Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell,
Receive thy new possessor—one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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When meaning is unclear, it is important to analyze a quotation in context with the rest of the text [I've inserted the whole contextual quote above]. You must ask questions like: Who is speaking? What is the subject spoken of? Is there a conflict, a resolution, a conclusion, a need, a paradox stated?

In this quotation, the speaker is Lucifer, or Satan, also called by Milton "the lost Archangel." He and his legions have just fallen from Heaven to the newly made Hell. Lucifer is adjusting his psychological reactions to their new state of being.

"Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,"
Said then the lost Archangel, "this the seat
That we must change for Heaven?—this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so,..."

He is saying farewell to the joys and happy environs of Heaven and hello to the misery and "horrors" that now surround him. Milton comes close to giving Lucifer a note of remorse or regret at what his rebellion has cost him, though the hint of remorse is immediately thereafter snuffed out, which in itself is an interesting characterization to examine:

'... Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy for ever dwells!
[...]
... in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:'

As said, Lucifer is adjusting his psychological perspective. He bids hello to Hell and bids Hell receive him: "Receive thy new possessor." He says that he brings with him to Hell a mind (here equating himself with God through the attribute of Reason) that is independent of time or place: "not to be changed by place or time." It is now that Lucifer speaks the quote you ask about.

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

Lucifer is emphasizing the fact that he believes his mind is sacrosanct, immutable, immortal ("not to be changed") and that even a fall from Heaven will not change his essential attributes. He further asserts a mind over matter philosophy by stating that the mind, independently functioning, has (1) the power to transcend circumstances and lead to a happy life regardless of circumstances as well as (2) the power to descend to horrible circumstances and lead to a life of misery. Lucifer chooses to transcend circumstances of place and ascend to happiness. He later explains he does so because he is still motivated by ambition to reign, to rule as God rules: "To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell."

This idea has some connection to As You Like It in relation to Duke Senior and his followers in pastoral Arden Forest. In keeping with the pastoral theme, Duke Senior explains that the forest treats them kindly, giving them all they need, and treats them honestly, showing them the truth of what they are. This may be analyzed as an instance of Duke Senior and his men using their independent minds to "make a Heaven of Hell" instead of succumbing to descent into adversity and making "a Hell of Heaven."

DUKE SENIOR
Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
...
The seasons' difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
'This is no flattery: these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.'
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, ...
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head; 

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williamfallon | Student

It's been said a miserable man will be miserable in the dappled light beside a waterfall in Hawai'i.

Heading to the closing on his brimstone bath -- he's the "new possessor," indicating the ink is dry -- Old Scratch tries to be both bold and bland. In modern parlance: "Screw you."

Miserable? Yes. He knows what awaits.

But he is so, so well dressed up with the English language, some of the best ever. This is the heart (and soul, given the player) of "Paradise Lost." It's all about the words. Even the title seems so common and simple a person pauses to realize it is a poetical invention.

Perhaps only William Tyndale, the original English Bible wordsmith who wrote stunners like, "In the beginning," got it so right with such disarming simplicity.

The poem's twin pillars -- that it might be better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven and that hell was all inside your noggin -- team up for one of literature's great lightbulb moments. Did he just say what I think he said? Milton designed the concepts to to be head-spinners and conversation starters. (Their durability attests to his slam dunk.) There is no need for a rambling discourse. It's as if Satan is on the couch of a learned psychologist (Milton, way ahead of his time!) who insists his patient doesn't get lost in the weeds.

One can almost imagine Milton getting burned at the stake for his ideas. They did just that to Tyndale in 1536, 131 years befor "Paradise Lost" hit the streets.

The addition of any pastoral theme from the Bard's "As You Like It" to this equation appears contrived compared with the outrageous boldness of "Paradise Lost." There is, however, room in the mix for Shakespeare's Prince of Denmark, who would surely have read Milton in his studies (by way of unpublished back story).

"Screw heaven," Milton says. "I'll party wherever the hell I want."

"I just might have to frikkin' kill myself," Hamlet says.

"GTF OUTTA TOWN," the student texts. "THIS IS SO COOL."

It's all in the phrasing.