Milton’s epic Paradise Lost is entitled to take its rightful place among half a dozen classical epics in the world. The first essential feature of the epic is its fable or its theme. According to the practice of the ancient classics, epic must have a national important or significant theme; that is, the epic must be a true and faithful mirror of the life and thought of a nation or a race through the action presented in it. Accoringly ,Paradise Lost is of a cosmic character. The Fall of Man is the theme of the epic. It was the subject unattempted yet in prose or rhyme, but Milton gave this theme a practical shape, and wrote an epic dealing with the whole human race and indicated the destiny of all humanity through the sin of the first man created by God.
The action of Paradise Lost has the unity of texture. The central action is the Fall of Man, and everything in the epic, as the battle of angels, the creation of the world, is subordinated to this central action. The whole action of Paradise Lost is single and compact. Further, its action is ‘entire’ which means it has a beginning, middle and an end. Again Milton’s subject is greater than Homer’s Illiad or Virgil’s Aeneid. It does not determine the fate of one single person or nation but of the whole human race. In conformity with the classical tradition, Milton plunges into the middle of the action i.e. Mediasres. Milton in imitation of the great epic poets, opens his Paradise Lost with an infernal council plotting the fall of man, which is the action he proposes to celebrate.
The epical characters must have dignity and variety. In Paradise Lost, we have human as well as superhuman characters. Adam and Eve are human characters, where as God, Christ, Satan the good and Evil angels are superior emblem. They have been endowed with qualities befitting their inclusion in the epic. Satan the arch-friend and the evil incarnate is significant for his mental fortitude and comradeship. Adam in Paradise Lost is heroic because he is not a warrior or a conqueror, but a noble figure justifying the praise that Shakespeare showered on the figure of Adam (Man) in Hamlet:
“What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How express and admirable in notion! ………”
There is not room for pleasantry, fun and light hearted gaiety in a classical epic. Paradise Lost is a serious poem embodying sublime and nobler thoughts. Milton’s high seriousness is in moral “to vindicate the ways of God to man, to show the reasonableness of religion, and the necessity of obedience to the Divine Law”.
Milton in conformity with the tradition begins Paradise Lost by an invocation. As Milton’s work is of religious character he seeks the aid, not of pagan muses of poetry, but the Heavenly Muse, the Holy Spirit. He says –
“And chiefly thou, O spirit that dost prefer
Before all temples the upright and pure
Instruct me, for thou knowest …..”
The famous ‘grand style’ of Milton’s Paradise Lost echoes the sublimity of theme and sheer scale of action. Milton’s ‘ocean roll of rhythm’ is grand in literature. He is the ‘God gifted organ voice of England’.
Paradise Lost has thus many epical touches but its allegorical tendency and personal reflections, strictly speaking, are not permissible in an epic.