The Son may be the most dynamic character (in terms of development and change) in Milton’s great works. Trace the character from his start to his finish (through Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained). How does the character develop, and what might Milton be trying to illustrate through that development?
Milton’s Paradise Lost is grounded in Protestant theology. God’s Son first appears in the poem as the resplendent progeny of God the Father, co-eternal with Him:
Hail holy light, offspring of Heav’n first-born,
Or of th’ Eternal Coeternal beam
May I express thee unblam’d? since God is light,
And never but in unapproached lightDwelt from Eternitie, dwelt then in thee... (Paradise Lost 1)
While in God the Father we see the perfect monarch of the universe, whose main attributes are power, justice, and reason, the Son epitomizes the compassionate aspect of the Godhead, because He is going to become the redemptive sacrifice for humanity. His mercy balances the Father’s judgment. Because of His perfect relationship with the Father, the Son is willing to do the Father’s will to the utmost:
Then with the multitude of my redeemd
Shall enter Heaven long absent, and returne,
Father, to see thy face, wherein no cloud
Of anger shall remain, but peace assur’d… (Paradise Lost 3)
In Book 6, the Son as the Messiah is sent by the Father to battle Satan and his legions, and He triumphs over the powers of darkness. As the fallen enemies are cast into the abyss, the victorious Son return to the Father.
In Book 7, angel Raphael narrates the story of creation of the cosmos. Again, in line with Christian doctrine, God the Father creates the world through His Son.
In Book 10, the Son is depicted as the merciful judge. He is sent from heaven to pass judgment on the Serpent, Adam and Eve. He shows mercy to the first man and woman, again, tempering the severity of the Father’s condemnation.
In Book 12 the Son is presented as the one who will become Jesus Christ, the divine human who, by His incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension will redeem the great multitude and will secure a place in heaven for them.
While in the first poem, Milton emphasized the Son’s divinity and heavenly perfections, in the second, He is shown as the perfect human whose example all men are to follow. The attributes of the Son’s humanity and mercy are revealed more fully in Paradise Regained. The plot of the second poem is structured around Jesus’s temptations that Satan subjects Him to, according to the Gospels.
There are five temptations in the poem rather than three. Milton adds to the Gospel narrative the temptations with knowledge and “with terrors dire.” (Paradise Regained 4) The augmentation of the temptations allows Milton to build a dramatic tension in the narrative and to show the Son’s moral character in greater detail.
In the second poem, Milton is clearly drawn to the human and psychological aspect of the Gospel drama. The mystical dimension in the presentation of the Son plays a somewhat lesser role. Through this battle with man’s archenemy, the Son has matured for His future feats. He is prepared for them by the end of the poem, after He has determined to reject earthly glories. Subjecting His own passions to reason, Jesus recovers the Paradise once lost:
By one mans firm obedience fully tri'd
Through all temptation, and the Tempter foil'd
In all his wiles, defeated and repuls't,
And Eden rais'd in the wast Wilderness (Paradise Regained 1)
A dramatic change of character takes place: Jesus becomes the ultimate Hero who has proven His election. There lies a path of struggles ahead of Him, but He has already won the victory through His moral superiority.
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