In what ways could Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost be read as an allegory on the "paradise" of Interregnum Britain that he and other supporters of Cromwell had lost?

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While there is no way one can "prove a negative" (in other words, to demonstrate beyond question that an author did not intend a certain meaning) with regard to this issue or anything else in the history of literature, I would tend to doubt that Milton had this idea in...

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While there is no way one can "prove a negative" (in other words, to demonstrate beyond question that an author did not intend a certain meaning) with regard to this issue or anything else in the history of literature, I would tend to doubt that Milton had this idea in mind in writing Paradise Lost.

Regardless of how great Milton and others may have considered Cromwell as a religious and political leader, to view him on the same plane as God would have been heresy, even to them. The Paradise of the Bible is a state in which God's newly-created earth has not yet been corrupted by evil. By contrast, the English Commonwealth came after a period of civil and religious conflict. In other words, the "devil" (if this is how Milton and others on the Puritan side would have regarded the king, Charles I) had already been in power, was executed, and was replaced by a form of government in which the "true" form of Christianity, according to its adherents, was finally empowered. And England during the Commonwealth was hardly in an Eden-like state.

Any connection between Cromwellian England and Paradise is even more tenuous if one tries to analogize specific characters in Paradise Lost with figures in seventeenth-century English politics. Who would correspond to Adam and Eve? Was Charles I the equivalent of Satan, in Milton's view? Or was Charles II, whom the people welcomed as their sovereign in the Restoration, the equal of Satan? I see little in Milton's biblically-inspired epic poem to support any of these analogies, regardless of how vehemently anti-royalist Milton himself may have been.

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The idea that John Milton’s Paradise Lost may partly allude to the political paradise of the English Interregnum – a paradise “lost” through the restoration of the monarchy during the reign of Charles II – is an intriguing possibility. This idea has been touched on by a number of critics, who have raised various interesting points. (For fuller information, see the link to Google Books below.)

  • C. S. Lewis, for instance, has explained how Milton could sincerely profess allegiance to God as king of the universe while still rebelling against the Stuart monarchs.  For Milton (Lewis explains), the Stuarts were illegitimate usurpers of power that truly belonged to God, the only real king. Thus Milton could justify rebellion against the Stuarts while still giving his full allegiance to a kingly God.
  • John N. King suggests that Milton’s celebration of married love in Book 4 of Paradise Lost is a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) criticism of the debauchery of the court of Charles II. King notes that Charles II was often considered a crypto-Catholic; thus the Interregnum could indeed be seen as a kind of paradise preceding the fall into what Milton would have considered a kind of Satanic religion.
  • Antony Easthope notes that the restoration of the monarchy was probably associated in Milton’s mind with a kind of Satanic corruption.
  • R. A. Bosert makes these links between Milton’s poem and recent political conditions:

. . . as a prince seeking restoration, Satan could . . . easily be read as an allegory for Charles II. Satan’s banishment parallels Charles’ exile: both face afflictions, both declare themselves kings, and both establish courts in foreign lands.

  • Anna R. Beer compares Satan’s triumphal return to hell to Charles II’s triumphal return to London.
  • Neil Forsyth sees Paradise Lost 1.498-505 as especially relevant, in its satire, to the court of Charles II.
  • Robert Thomas Fallon discusses (but disputes) an argument by David Quint suggesting that Paradise Lost draws parallels between the rise of Satan and the restoration of Charles II.
  • Quint himself suggests that Adam and Eve resemble the English people during the Interregnum: unable to use their liberty wisely, they enslaved themselves by accepting the Restoration.
  • As long ago as 1913, John Walter Good suggested that Milton “drew his Pandemonium with an eye upon the debased Court of Charles II.”
  • Achsah Guibbory argues that “Satan's insistence that he wants to restore the previous order also aligns him with Charles II and Royalists.”

In short, numerous critics (especially Quint) have seen connections between Paradise Lost and the politics of the Interregnum and Restoration, and certainly the topic deserves fuller exploration than it has already received.

 

 

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