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John Milton is most famous today as the epic poet who published Paradise Lost , which traces the fall of Man. In addition to his work as a poet—and he was among the most important poets in the history of the English language—Milton published many significant political pamphlets and essays,...

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John Milton is most famous today as the epic poet who published Paradise Lost, which traces the fall of Man. In addition to his work as a poet—and he was among the most important poets in the history of the English language—Milton published many significant political pamphlets and essays, some of which are considered foundational to Anglo-American and Western democratic concepts.

Milton's life spanned one of the most tumultuous periods in English history, and he was at the peak of his writing talents in the midst of the English Civil War. As a Puritan, Milton supported the Parliamentarians in the civil conflict, approved of the execution of King Charles I, and was a supporter and propagandist for Oliver Cromwell. His religious beliefs, however, diverged from many mainstream Puritans—he advocated, for example, freedom of conscience, which stemmed directly from his own personal radicalism. In his famous essay "Areopagitica," for instance, written at the height of the civil war, he argued against the licensing, and therefore censorship, of printed materials. This was in response to a law under debate in Parliament and reflected his belief that truth could only be pursued through open debate.

After the Civil War, Milton faced retribution for his support of the Cromwell government and spent some time in the Tower of London. It was during the Restoration—the return of the Stuart monarchy under Charles II—that he wrote his magnum opus, Paradise Lost. Blind, still reeling from more than a decade of personal and political turmoil, and still uncertain about his personal fate, he wrote the epic. The poem was published in 1667, and he published several others, including Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, in the years before he died.

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