What social issues of the time come across in Milton's Paradise Lost?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the central social issues in John Milton's period was the authority of kings. Charles I (19 November 1600–30 January 1649) had believed in the divine right of kings, and in his efforts to assert his authority, he provoked a civil war that pitted king against parliament in a civil war that culminated with Charles' execution. Milton saw the arrogance of rulers such as Charles as a violation of the divine order and hierarchy, in which humans were by rights distinctly subordinate to God and human attempts at absolute rulership were seen as a form of hubris, in which human kings tried to play God. The figure of Satan in Paradise Lost is an emblem of the arrogance of the great leader who rebels against God rather than submitting to and carrying out God's will. Satan, however, is a complex figure, representing both rebellion against authority and usurpation of authority, a fraught duality that prompts readers to understand the complexity of divine and human power.

The next social issue that was important for Milton was individual freedom. He was a strong advocate of freedom of the press and individual liberty. For him, this was grounded theologically in the notion of free will. Adam, Eve, and other human characters in the Bible are shown as guaranteed the freedom to make their own moral choices, including the choice to sin. For Milton, this was essential to divine justice. If God, or authoritarian governments, limited free will, then humans could not act as moral agents but salvation and damnation are predicated on moral agency.

Finally, the relationship between Adam and Eve reflects the social position of women in Milton's period, and to a degree justifies the subordination of women.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team