The Poem

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Last Updated on January 25, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1105

In heaven, Lucifer, unable to abide the supremacy of God, leads a revolt against divine authority. Defeated, he and his followers are cast into hell, where they lie nine days on a burning lake. Lucifer, now called Satan, arises from the flaming pitch and vows that all is not lost,...

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In heaven, Lucifer, unable to abide the supremacy of God, leads a revolt against divine authority. Defeated, he and his followers are cast into hell, where they lie nine days on a burning lake. Lucifer, now called Satan, arises from the flaming pitch and vows that all is not lost, that he will have revenge for his downfall. Arousing his legions, he reviews them under the canopy of hell and decides his purposes can be achieved by guile rather than by force.

Under the direction of Mulciber, the forces of evil build an elaborate palace, Pandemonium, in which Satan convenes a congress to decide on immediate action. At the meeting, Satan reasserts the unity of those fallen and opens the floor to debate regarding what measures should be taken. Moloch advises war. Belial recommends a slothful existence in hell. Mammon proposes peacefully improving hell so that it might rival heaven in splendor. His motion is received with great favor until Beelzebub, second in command, rises and informs the conclave that God has created earth, which he has peopled with good creatures called humans. It is Beelzebub’s proposal to investigate this new creation, seize it, and seduce its inhabitants to the cause of the fallen angels.

Announcing that he will journey to earth to learn for himself how matters are there, Satan flies to the gate of hell. There he encounters his daughter, Sin, and his son, Death. They open the gate, and Satan wings his way toward earth.

God, in his omniscience, has beheld the meeting in hell, knows the intent of the evil angels, and sees Satan approaching earth. Disguised as various beasts, Satan acquaints himself with Adam and Eve and with the Tree of Knowledge, the fruit of which God has forbidden to them.

Uriel, learning that an evil angel has broken through to Eden, warns Gabriel, who appoints two angels to hover about the bower of Adam and Eve. The guardian angels arrive too late, however, to prevent Satan, in the form of a toad, from beginning his evil work. He has influenced Eve’s dreams.

Upon awaking, Eve tells Adam that in her strange dream she was tempted to taste of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. God, seeing that danger to Adam and Eve is imminent, sends the angel Raphael to the garden to warn them. At Adam’s insistence, Raphael relates in detail the story of the great war between the good and the bad angels that led to the fall of the bad angels to eternal misery in hell. At Adam’s further inquiries, Raphael tells of the creation of the world: how earth was created in six days, an angelic choir singing the praises of God on the seventh day. He cautions Adam not to be too curious, saying that there are many things done by God that are not for humans to understand or to attempt to understand. Adam then tells how he has been warned against the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, how he asked God for fellowship in his loneliness, and how Eve was created from his rib.

After the departure of Raphael, Satan returns to the garden as a mist and enters the body of a sleeping serpent. In the morning, as Adam and Eve proceed to their day’s occupation, Eve proposes that they work apart. Adam, remembering the warning of Raphael, opposes her wishes, but Eve prevails, and the two part. Alone, Eve is accosted by the serpent, which flatters her into tasting the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Eve, liking what she has tasted, takes the fruit to Adam, who is horrified when he sees what Eve has done. In his love for Eve, however, he also eats the fruit.

Having eaten, Adam and Eve know lust for the first time, and after their dalliance they know sickening shame. They also eat many apples, adding gluttony to their list, which they are rapidly completing, of the seven deadly sins. The guardian angels now desert the transgressors and return to God, who approves their efforts, saying they could not have prevented Satan from succeeding in his mission.

Christ descends to earth to pass judgment. Before Adam and Eve, who had been reluctant, in their shame, to come out of their bower to face him, Christ sentences the serpent to be forever a hated enemy of humankind. He tells Eve that her sorrow will be multiplied by the bearing of children and that she will be the servant of Adam to the end of time. Adam, says Christ, will eat in sorrow; his ground will be cursed, and he will eat bread only by toiling and sweating.

Meanwhile, Death and Sin, having divined Satan’s success, leave the gates of hell to join their father on earth. Within sight of earth they meet Satan, who delegates Sin and Death as his ambassadors on earth. Back in hell, Satan proudly reports his accomplishments to his followers. He is acclaimed, however, by hisses as his cohorts become serpents, and Satan himself is transformed into a serpent before their reptilian eyes. Trees similar to the Tree of Knowledge appear in hell, but when the evil angels taste the fruit, they find their mouths full of ashes.

God, angered at the disaffection of Adam and Eve, brings about great changes on earth. He creates the seasons to replace eternal spring and creates the violence and misery of storms, winds, hail, ice, floods, and earthquakes. He causes all of earth’s creatures to prey upon one another. Adam and Eve argue bitterly (adding anger to their sins) until they realize they have to face their common plight together. Repenting their sins, they pray to God for relief. Although Christ intercedes for them, God sentences them to expulsion from Eden and sends the angel Michael to earth to carry out the sentence. Adam and Eve, lamenting their misfortune, contemplate suicide, but Michael gives them new hope when he brings to Adam a vision of life and death; of the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires; of the activities of Adam and Eve’s progeny through their evil days to the flood, when God will destroy all life except that preserved by Noah in the ark; and of the subsequent return to evil days and Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension as the redeemer. Despite the violence, evil, and bloodshed in the vision, Adam and Eve are pacified when they see that their children will be saved. They walk hand in hand from the heights of paradise to the barren plains below.

Places Discussed

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Unlike the other places described by Milton in Paradise Lost, the scenes in heaven are not memorable for their physical description. When God the Father and his Son, Jesus, speak in book 3, they do so from the heights of heaven. All the speaker asserts about the scene of this dialogue is that it is high above both earth and hell, and that it is bathed in celestial light. God’s throne is mentioned, along with the choirs of angels surrounding it, but traditional images of clouds and stars are absent. The book opens with Milton’s famous hymn to light, and the overall effect is the repeated emphasis on the brilliance of the empyrean, the highest heaven which, in the medieval cosmology surviving in Milton’s day, was the home of God and the angels.


The underworld into which the rebel angels fall in book 1 of Milton’s epic is the first fully visualized scene. After describing the precipitous fall of Satan and his cohorts amid the chaos of floods and whirlwinds, Milton has the demons remark on how different this place appears in comparison with the heaven from which they have come. Just as heaven is characterized mostly by light in book 3, hell is known by its dimness. Even flames give forth no light, and there is no land, though Milton teases the reader’s visual imagination by speaking of lakes of liquid fire and lands of solid fire. Specific locations within hell include its capital, Pandemonium; the large gates through which Satan flies; and the Paradise of Fools, a borderland where foolish monks believe, in their vanity, that they are in heaven.


Pandemonium is a word coined by Milton to describe the capital of hell in this epic that now has a broader meaning. Milton invented the word by analogy with the Pantheon, the temple of all gods in ancient Rome. The Pandemonium is thus an infernal temple honoring all demons. Milton describes it near the end of book 1, and the first half of book 2 takes place there as well. As in Milton’s other place descriptions in Paradise Lost, the emphasis is on the spaciousness of this capital of hell, the throngs of demons filling the hall, the wide gates and porches. Yet, since Milton is using this spaciousness as an emblem of greatness, he effects a sudden change in point of view at the end of book 1, making the demons, who seemed gigantic, become minuscule. The change is due to their fall, which has just taken place. In Pandemonium, as elsewhere in Milton’s cosmology, place has moral significance.

Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden is the biblical site in which the bulk of Paradise Lost after book 3 takes place. For Adam and Eve, the physical beauty of paradise represents the unfallen world. They are in harmony with all creatures, and they receive all the food they need without effort. To Satan, however, the place represents a painful reminder of all the joys he and the other fallen angels have lost forever. His first reflection on the sight of Eden, near the beginning of book 4, is a curse hurled at the sun for showing him its beauties. There, it becomes clear that place is a function of one’s moral state. For example, Satan, though in paradise, brings his hell with him because of his unrepentant, fallen nature. Conversely, at the end of the epic, Adam and Eve, though banished from paradise, carry a small reflection of it with them in their love for each other.

Historical Context

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The English Civil Wars, Interregnum, and Restoration

The civil wars of the 1640s in England were rooted in the conflicts between Charles I and his Parliament in the 1620s and the policies which were instituted in the 1630s, when Charles ruled without Parliament. His religious policies were resented: the apparently weakened stance regarding Catholics incensed the Puritans, as did the emphasis on the prayer book and its procedures, which curtailed the development of new religious practices and observances. In 1640–1642, a new Parliament was called which attempted religious and political reform, ultimately resulting in the first Civil War (1642–1646), which pitted king against parliament. The war was disorganized, and its outcome was determined not primarily by military factors, but by economic, religious, and political factors. The heavy taxation, extreme religious reform, and wide powers granted to parliamentary agents led to the second Civil War (1647–1649), which was primarily a revolt of the provinces against centralization and military rule, and which culminated in the beheading of Charles in 1649.

From 1649 to 1660, the period known as the Interregnum, England was a republic (though not a democracy). Cromwell governed from 1653 to 1658 as Lord Protector and Head of State. He saw England as representing God’s chosen people, working toward a Promised Land where church and state would be as one. His religious radicalism led to what was seen as undue control of individual behavior and arbitrary government. Cromwell’s son had neither the strength nor the character to follow in his father’s footsteps, and with Cromwell’s death in 1658, the Republic collapsed. Eighteen months later, free elections were held, and Charles II was recalled unconditionally.

Milton’s own disillusionment with the attempt to combine politics and religion and the collapse of the government which he served so loyally can be seen in Paradise Lost, as he outlines the political consequences of the fall in Michael’s revelation to Adam in book 12. Yet, the poem also conveys his conviction that political justice can be achieved in this world. The Puritan stress on overcoming temptation is also a theme which recurs throughout his work and is especially dominant in Paradise Lost. Yet Milton’s Puritanism is not as strict as that of many in his day; for example, Milton loves beauty and stresses both the beauty of Eden and the beauty and sexual bliss of Adam and Eve.

Religious Thought

The civil wars produced a chaotic variety of sects which were never entirely rooted out. Although Charles II attempted to introduce the religious toleration which was lacking in both his father’s reign and the Interregnum, he was not successful, and the entire period is characterized by religious intolerance and conflict. Yet, there are some general trends which can be traced through the seventeenth century.

In the early part of the century, scientific, philosophical, and political writings are infused with hope as scholarship, scientific inquiry, and Christian faith are combined. The Protestant commitment to the authority of Scripture is combined with a philosophical search for “truth,” and perceived anomalies between science, philosophy, and religion are resolved in various ways. For example, some thinkers propose the existence of various orders of truth, separating reason and faith (which is informed by scripture and therefore above reason), while others argue that the Bible is to be read allegorically, since it conveys truth figuratively, rather than literally. Revelation, however, is not confined to Scripture. God’s laws are revealed externally in the laws of nature and internally through reason, or the moral law within. Milton shares these views, emphasizing moral guidance and free will. Scripture, passed down by human intermediaries, is less reliable than reason inspired by the Holy Spirit, which is the final authority.

There is also a stress on the combination of religious and political spheres, on God’s activities within human history. It is this ideal which Cromwell attempted to realize in the Interregnum. After the Interregnum, however, the concept of the Kingdom of God was internalized, and the limitations of church and state acknowledged. The search for peace and salvation became a personal, rather than collective, quest, and politics, science, and philosophy became increasingly secularized.


The seventeenth century was characterized by a new emphasis on empirical “truth” rather than metaphysical “reality.” For example, Francis Bacon stressed the importance of observation and experimental science. These principles allowed many advances in the study of plant and animal life, and the study of physiology and anatomy progressed following William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood. The seventeenth century also saw advances in physics (Isaac Newton), chemistry (Robert Boyle), and geology (Robert Hooke). Galileo transformed human knowledge of the heavens, showing change and mutability in heavenly bodies, arguing that perfection could no longer be identified with the incorruptible or the unalterable. Milton was ultimately uninterested in “scientific truth” and was indifferent to the ultimate success of either the old Ptolemaic model of the universe or the new Copernican model, yet he was fascinated by new scientific discoveries and their implications. He incorporated the separation between perfection and immutability in his portrait of unfallen humankind, created perfect but mutable and therefore free to fall.


Copernicus had shown that things are not necessarily what they seem, nor what they have been said to be, and scientific advances suggested that many things which had previously been attributed to God had new, natural explanations. Yet much remained unknown, and philosophy in the seventeenth century focused on the questions of epistemology, of what can truly be “known” about reality. Rene Descartes suggested that God and the soul were the first “certainties.” Yet both were ultimately reduced in Cartesian thought to intellectual abstractions: God no longer had any relationship to religious experience, and the “I” whose existence was proven by conscious thought (“I think, therefore I am”) was only the thinking part of a person. Thus, there was no certainty concerning either the properties or attributes of either God or the soul. Yet Descartes’s break with the past is important, embodying a new appeal to the internal authority of reason, rather than the external authority of religion. Shaking off the influence of the past also enabled the growth of the idea of “progress” (both scientific and philosophical) which was rooted in Renaissance humanism and its celebration of human potential. The world was no longer constructed from “historical” realities, but rather from inner certainties, endorsed by reason. Thomas Hobbes went a step farther, identifying the real with the material, reflecting the increasing secularization of politics and science. Hobbes replaced the divine justification of political authority with de facto power and the sovereign’s ability to protect his subjects. Religion was relegated to the realm of superstition, but religious beliefs were nonetheless valuable in forming attitudes and actions, in teaching humankind how to behave as subjects and citizens. The sovereign was thus viewed as God’s earthly lieutenant; the laws of God were paralleled with the laws of nature and principles of morality; and scripture was granted a limited authority. With John Locke, a new emphasis on individualism and religious toleration became the groundwork for what would become modern liberal democracy.

Literary Style

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Subject Matter

The standard definition of an epic, or heroic poem, is that it is a “noble story told in noble verse” (Hutson and McCoy, Epics of the Western World), a continuous narrative concerning a heroic person from history or tradition. The epic uses historical and mythological material to exemplify a truth which is greater than both. The subject of an epic poem is to be a story which both delights and instructs, embodying the cultural and moral ideals of its time but with universal implications.

Milton chooses an unusual subject for his great epic poem, ostensibly shunning “Wars, hitherto the only Argument / Heroic deem’d” (book 9, lines 28–9), in favor of the sad task of relating an “argument / Not less but more Heroic than the wrath / Of Stern Achilles on his Foe pursu'd / Thrice Fugitive about Troy Wall” (book 8, lines 13–15). The “higher argument” which Milton chooses is the story of the creation, fall, and redemption of humankind, combining the epic conventions of high moral purpose with the conviction that in presenting a biblical theme, he is also representing a higher truth. The fate of humankind thus becomes the unifying force of the poem, as Milton presents the ideals of private virtue and public rectitude by exploring both the nobility and weakness of fallen humanity.

Poetic Style and Techniques

Milton’s dramatic and magnificent manipulation of language in Paradise Lost has aroused the admiration of generations of readers. His choice of blank verse goes against the spirit of the times, which saw rhyme as the highest evidence of disciplined mastery of language, as well as a means of restraining an overactive fancy. This is typical of Milton’s use of the classical poetic techniques associated with the epic form. The poem contains many formal parallels with classical forms: the beginning of the poem in medias res; the repetition of the formula “what cause?”; the epic games pursued by the rebel angels; the alternation of setting between earth and heaven or hell; lists of armies and the description of councils (both heavenly and demonic); wars and their descriptions; and the alternation of dialogue with description and narration. Yet, Milton consistently adapts these classical forms to his own purposes and style. For example, in his statement of theme and purpose, he follows the pattern of Homer and Virgil. However, he replaces the assertion of fate with an assertion of providence, and though he begins his poem with the standard invocation to the muse, he alters that invocation. He appeals, not to Calliope, the traditional muse of the epic poet, but to Urania, the muse of astrology and the heavens, who, he asserts, inspired Moses. However, above Urania, he invokes the Holy Spirit (associated with heavenly light) as the true inspiration for his Christian epic.


The problem of the “epic hero” has plagued the analysis of Paradise Lost. The epic hero is generally defined as a hero of extraordinary magnitude, who is identified with a national or cult hero and exemplifies heroic and moral values. But there is no “real” hero of this world in Milton’s poem. This has led to a debate as to who the “hero” of the piece really is. On the surface, it is humankind, represented by Adam and Eve. Yet it is Satan who displays the typical qualities of the classical hero, while Adam never really attains epic stature. To assume, however, that Satan is the “hero” is to misread Milton’s assessment of both humanity and evil. Satan’s character exposes the true danger of evil, which lies in the very fact that it is attractive. Through Satan, Milton exposes the false view of heroism as “egotistical magnificence” and the equally false idea that heroic energy is admirable, even when exercised in a bad cause (Daiches, Milton). Adam and Eve, on the other hand, reveal the central paradoxes of the human condition: capable of standing yet free to fall. Humankind as a moral being is both noble and weak. Yet, this tragic ambiguity is balanced by the conclusion of the poem, which reveals humanity’s capacity to derive hope from an exile which includes companionship and purpose. The story of fallen humankind may be a lament for a lost Eden, but it is also a challenge to triumph over despair and to explore an infinitely engaging new world.


Like the classical epic, Paradise Lost alternates its setting between the world of men and the worlds of God and the angels (fallen and unfallen). The activities of God and the angels, both fallen and unfallen, project both the ideals and the realities of human behavior. The council of devils, for example, parallels the abuses of public “reason” and civil responsibility in the royalist parliament, as well as the secrecy and other sinister features which Milton attributes to the papacy. Eden is a real world yet is described using classical imagery. It is the setting for the highest human ideals, such as perfect conjugal bliss, as well as extreme human weakness, such as recrimination and malice. Both heaven and earth are battlegrounds where virtue and vice, good and evil, fight for dominance.

Epic Motifs

As well as the typical epic forms described above, a number of epic motifs are incorporated by Milton into the poem. For example, he incorporates mythology, though it is biblical, not classical, myth which dominates Paradise Lost. Although he claims that war, the traditional subject matter of the epic, is not to be his theme, he does incorporate the motif of battle into the poem. The war in heaven and Satan’s subsequent fall and exile both prefigure and precipitate the central conflict of the poem, which takes place on earth. The conflict between Satan and God is continued in Eden and projected into conflict between human desire and God’s command, between desire and reason, between Adam and Eve. Finally, after the fall, the entire earth becomes the battleground for the ongoing conflict between good and evil. The epic motif of the journey as a symbol of life is also present. Again, the journey of Satan from hell to earth both prefigures and contrasts humanity’s journey out of Eden and the progression of history presented to Adam by Michael as a panoramic journey through time.

Compare and Contrast

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1642–1660: The English civil wars resulted in the Interregnum, during which England was a republic, although not a democracy, ruled by Parliament alone. In 1660, the republic collapsed and the monarchy was restored.

1700s: The late eighteenth century saw the French Revolution and the American Revolution, both of which sought to establish republics in the place of monarchies. The French Revolution was a civil war which toppled the French monarchy. The American Revolution was the revolt of a colony against England, and while the English monarchy survived intact, its colonies in what became the United States were lost.

Late twentieth century: England is governed by a democratically elected parliament. Although the monarchy survives, the queen, as head of state, has little real political power.

1600s: The seventeenth century saw scientific advances which included William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood, Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity, and developments in chemistry (Robert Boyle) and geology (Robert Hooke). Science was only just beginning to be seen as a discipline divorced from theology and philosophy, based on empirical observation of “objective fact” rather than metaphysical speculation about “truth.”

Late twentieth century: The value of scientific and technological research is taken for granted, to the extent that more philosophical study of issues such as ethics is now being called for. Radical advances have occurred in all fields, producing results which would have been viewed as miraculous in Milton’s day.

1600s: In the field of astronomy, Galileo was transforming human knowledge of the heavens with his telescope, viewing the surface of the moon. Copernicus had developed an entirely new concept of the universe, in which the earth, like the other planets, revolved around the sun. This theory had not yet displaced the old Ptolemaic view, in which the sun and planets revolved around the earth. The Ptolemaic view was preferred by theologians, who wished to maintain man’s place at the center of creation, and Milton is carefully noncommittal in his epic, relegating knowledge of the motions of the heavenly spheres to the category of unfathomable, and therefore not useful, knowledge against which Raphael warns Adam.

Late twentieth century: While our knowledge of the universe is still in its infancy, technology has begun to open up “the final frontier,” and our knowledge of our own solar system is expanding. Space travel has become a reality, and satellites and space telescopes are expanding our knowledge of planets beyond the reach of space stations and shuttles.

1660s: Milton’s presentation of Eve assumes that women are naturally inferior to men in reason and intelligence, as well as physical strength. Eve is characterized by wanton beauty, physical desire, and domestic achievements.

Late twentieth century: The feminist movement has exposed gender bias in society and literature, fighting for the recognition that women are not intrinsically inferior to men and striving for equal rights in the home and in the workplace.

1643: Bitterly disillusioned with his own failed marriage, Milton published On the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, arguing that unsuccessful marriages should be dissolved. His arguments had little effect in an age where the Church had a large influence on public policy.

Late twentieth century: Divorce, while not welcomed, is now publicly accepted.

Media Adaptations

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Paradise Lost has never been adapted as a film or play. However, it is discussed in the video Milton and 17th-century Poetry (Films for the Humanities and Sciences, Princeton N.J.).

The story of the garden of Eden is included in the film The Bible—In the Beginning (1966), directed by John Huston and produced by Dino DeLaurentis, starring Ulla Bergryd as Eve and Michael Parks as Adam.

There is a reference to Paradise Lost in the 1967 Star Trek episode ''Space Seed.'' Ricardo Montalban portrays Kahn (who resurfaces in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn), a eugenically enhanced human who flees earth after leading an unsuccessful revolt of “supermen” like himself. Having taken him aboard the Enterprise, Kirk offers Kahn and his “rebel angels” the choice of exile on an untamed and uninhabited planet or returning to earth to face trial. Kahn chooses exile, referring to Satan’s statement that it is “Better to reign in hell, than serve in heav’n.” This is consistent with the theme explored in other Star Trek episodes, such as “The Apple,” “Return of the Archons,” and “This Side of Paradise”—that if there is a paradise, unredeemed humanity does not belong there. The devil’s work is presented in four periods, one of which is the temptation of Adam and Eve in Eden, in Luigi Maggi’s film Satan—or the Drama of Humanity (1912).

Paradise Lost is an important source for Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, which explores the themes of forbidden knowledge and the proper relationship between creator and creature. Frankenstein has been adapted as a film several times. A recent adaptation, by Francis Ford Coppola (Tri Star Pictures, 1994), stars Robert DeNiro and Kenneth Branagh and is available on video.

Frankenstein and its presentation of Paradise Lost is also a source for Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), which was adapted into a popular movie in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (The Ladd Company, 1982), starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, and Sean Young. It is also available on video.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Adams, Robert M. and George M. Logan, eds. “The Seventeenth Century” in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 6th ed., Vol. 1, Norton, 1993.
Provides a good introduction to both the period and the poem, situating Paradise Lost in the context of Milton’s life and works, the seventeenth century as a whole, and the epic tradition.

Berry, Boyd M., Process of Speech: Puritan Religious Writings and Paradise Lost, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.
Discusses Paradise Lost in the context of the English Civil Wars and Puritan ideology. He compares the battle scenes in heaven to the unheroic Puritan militarism of Cromwell’s troops

Chnstensen, Inger, “ ‘Thy Great Deliverer’: Christian Hero and Epic Convention in John Milton’s Paradise Lost and C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra,” in Excursions in Fiction, Kennedy, Andrew and Overland, Orm (eds), pp. 68–88, Novus, 1994.
Compares the presentation of the epic hero and the epic form in Paradise Lost to C. S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy, especially Perelandra.

Daiches, David, Milton, Hutchinson and Co., 1957.
Provides an excellent introduction to Milton’s major works, including a general overview and reading of Paradise Lost.

DuRocher, Richard J., “Dante, Milton and the Art of Visual Speech,” Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 27, no. 3, 1990, pp. 157–71.
Provides a comparison of Milton’s use of the epic tradition in Paradise Lost with Dante’s use of the same tradition in The Divine Comedy.

Dyson, A.E. and Julian Lovelock, eds. Milton: “Paradise Lost”: A Casebook, Macmillan, 1973.
Provides a selection of critical responses to the poem, ranging from its earliest reception to 1973.

Eliot, T. S., “Milton,” The Sewanee Review, Vol. LVI, no. 2, Spring 1948, pp. 185–209.
Repeats but modifies his earlier claim that Milton was a bad influence on later writers, retracting this claim in part.

“Milton II,” in his On Poetry and Poets, pp. 165–183, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1957.
Close analysis of Milton’s versification, through which Eliot argues that Milton’s influence on later authors and on the English language is a bad one.

Empson, William, Milton’s God, Chatto and Windus, 1961.
Studies Milton’s major works for evidence of his beliefs about God. He develops the claim made by Blake and others that Milton unconsciously elevates Satan to the role of the epic hero, presenting God as, by contrast, a rather weak character. This is a classic study and well worth reading.

Evans, J. Martin, “Milton’s Imperial Epic,” in Stanwood, P. G., ed., Of Poetry and Politics: New Essays on Milton and His World, pp. 229–38, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1995.
Studies Paradise Lost in relation to its historical context, relating it in particular to the imperialism and colonialism of seventeenth-century England.

Fish, Stanley, Surprised by Sin: The Reader inParadise Lost,” Macmillan and St. Martin’s, 1967.
A classic study, in which Fish answers the arguments of critics who suggest that Satan is the true “hero” of the poem. Fish argues that Milton’s presentations of Satan and God are deliberate attempts to manipulate the reader, thus showing both the attraction and the danger of evil.

Frye, Northrop, “Agon and Logos” in his Spiritus Mundi: Essays on Literature, Myth, and Society, pp. 201–27, Indiana University Press, 1970.
Studies the use of classical genres in Milton’s major poetry.

Gardner, Helen, A Reading of “Paradise Lost,” Oxford University Press, 1965.
A classic study by a leading Milton scholar. Gardner examines such issues as the subject matter of the poem, the character of Satan, Milton’s personal comments through the voice of the narrator, and the human elements of the poem.

Golstein, Vladimir, “Tolstoi and Milton: How to Open an Epic,” Studies in Scottish Literature, Vol. 40, 1994, pp. 23–36.
Compares the use of the epic genre in Paradise Lost and Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Hughes, Merritt Y., ed., John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose, Odyssey Press, 1957.
The standard edition of Milton’s poetry and translations of his major prose works. Hughes provides an excellent introduction to each piece, as well as extensive annotations to the texts.

Hutson, Arthur E. and McCoy, Patricia, Epics of the Western World, J. B. Lippincott, 1954.
Provides a solid introduction to the epic form and to the major epics of Western civilization, from Homer and Virgil to Dante and Milton.

Johnson, Lee M., “Language and the Illusion of Innocence in Paradise Lost,” in Stanwood, P. G., ed., Of Poetry and Politics: New Essays on Milton and His World, pp. 47–58, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1995.
Explores Milton’s use of language and symbolism in relation to themes of innocence and the loss thereof.

Kurth, Burton O., Milton and Christian Heroism: Biblical Epic Themes and Forms in Seventeenth-Century England, University of California Publications, English Studies 20, University of California Press, 1959.
Explores the poem as a cosmic drama which exposes true and false heroism. He focuses on the idea of the Christian hero as a fallen hero.

Langford, Larry L., “Adam and the Subversion of Paradise,” Studies in English Literature, Vol. 34, No. 1, Winter, 1994, pp. 119–34.
Studies the nature of humankind as expressed through Adam and the problems of man’s relation to paradise.

Lewis, C. S., A Preface to “Paradise Lost” Oxford University Press, 1942.
A now-standard work which provides an excellent introduction to the poem, with a positive view of Paradise Lost as a great Christian epic as well as a classic of English literature.

Low, Lisa, and Anthony John Harding, eds., Milton, the Metaphysicals and Romanticism, Cambridge University Press, 1994.
A new volume studying the influence of Milton on the Romantic poets. A must for any student of literary heritage.

Martin, Roberta C., “ ‘Thy Heart’s Desire’: God the Father and the Feminine Ideal in Milton’s Perfect World,” English Language Notes, Vol. 33, no. 4, June 1996, pp. 43–52.
Provides a feminist reading of the character of God the father as it relates to the feminine ideal in the poem.

Milton, John. The Poems of John Milton, ed. James Holly Hanford. New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1953.

Norvell, Betty G., “Milton’s Satan-Origins and Nomenclature,” The Bulletin of the West Virginia Association of College English Teachers, Vol. 12, Fall, 1990, pp. 26–34.
Provides a study of the sources for the presentation of Satan in Paradise Lost.

Pavlock, Barbara, “Milton’s Criticism of Classical Epic in Paradise Lost,” in The Classical Heritage: Virgil, edited by Craig Kallendorf, pp. 291–314, Garland, 1993.
Shows how Paradise Lost can be read as a critique of the classical epic genre by comparing the poem to Virgil and Homer.

Peter, John, A Critique of “Paradise Lost,” Columbia University Press and Longman, 1960.
Provides an insightful analysis of the “satanist” argument (that Milton was unintentionally of the devil’s party) and continues the arguments begun by Waldock.

Porter, William M., Reading the Classics and “Paradise Lost,” University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
Pedagogical approach to the relationship between Paradise Lost and the classics, providing a useful introduction for first-time students.

Ricks, Christopher, Milton’s Grand Style, Oxford University Press, 1963.
Another now-standard study of Milton’s epic style which is a fine analysis of the power of Milton’s poetry and his command of language. This is a “must read.”

Ricks, Christopher, ed., John Milton: “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained, Signet, 1968.
An inexpensive and extremely useful edition of the two poems, with a good introduction, a short bibliography, and brief but useful notes.

Rumrich, John, “Milton’s God and the Matter of Chaos,” PMLA, Vol. 110, no. 5, October, 1995, pp. 1035–46.
Examines the presentation of chaos and the story of the creation in Paradise Lost and compares it to the ancient Near Eastern creation story, The Enuma Elish. This would be a useful study to those who are interested in the epic style in Milton and The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Sharratt, Bernard, “The Appropriation of Milton,” Essays and Studies, Vol. 35, 1982, 30–44.
Studies the influence of Milton on later authors. This is an excellent source for students interested in the literary descendants of Milton and the lasting influence of his work.

Steadman, John M., “The Arming of an Archetype: Heroic Virtue and the Conventions of Literary Epic,” in Concepts of the Hero in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Norman T. Burns and Christopher J. Reagan, pp. 147–96 SUNY, 1975.
Explores the use of the Homeric epic tradition in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, arguing that both involve a reworking of the readers’ expectations concerning the epic form.

Tillyard, E. M. W., Studies in Milton, Chatto and Windus, 1951.
A collection of Tillyard’s major essays on Milton and is a good representation of the thought of a major scholar in the field.

von Maltzahn, Nicholas, “The First Reception of Paradise Lost,” The Review of English Studies, Vol. XLVII, No. 188, November, 1986, pp. 479–99.
Provides an insightful study of the early reaction to Paradise Lost at the time of its publication, relating it to the social and political concerns of its day.

Waldock, A. J. A., Paradise Lostand Its Critics, Cambridge University Press, 1947.
Written by one of the first twentieth-century critics to take up the “satanist” argument. While not a particularly good analysis, and less insightful than Peter or Empson, Waldock was the first critic who attempted to “answer” C. S. Lewis and is therefore interesting in terms of the history of criticism.

Webber, Joan Malory, Milton and His Epic Tradition, University of Washington Press, 1979.
Offers a fresh look at the relationship between Paradise Lost and the epic tradition, examining the poem in terms of seventeenth-century thought and concluding that it is a “subversive” epic.

Willey, Basil, The Seventeenth-Century Background: Studies in the Thought of the Age in Relation to Poetry and Religion, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1934, repr. 1979.
An indispensable, now-standard study. Willey provides an extremely useful and insightful study of seventeenth-century religious, philosophical, and scientific thought, relating it to major authors of the time, including Milton.

Aristotle. The Politics, ed. Trevor J. Saunders. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1992.

Gardner, Helen. A Reading of Paradise Lost. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.

Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: Collins’ Clear-type Press, 1956.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York: The New American Library, 1942.

Lewis, C. S. A Preface to Paradise Lost. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Milton, John. Complete Prose Works of John Milton, Vol. 2, ed. Ernest Sirluck. London: Oxford University Press, 1959.

Milton Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. Arthur E. Barker. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965.

Milton Paradise Lost, ed. A. E. Dyson and Julian Lovelock. London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1973.

On Milton’s Poetry, ed. Arnold Stein. New York: Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1970.

Rajan, B. Paradise Lost and the Seventeenth Century Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 1948.

Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974.

Sims, James H. The Bible in Milton’s Epics. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1962.

Spenser, Edmund. Selected Poetry, ed. Leo Kirschbaum. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.

Vergil. The Aeneid, ed. Moses Hadas. London: Bantam Books, Inc., 1965.

West, Robert H. Milton and the Angels. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1955.


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Sources for Further Study


Broadbent, John Barclay. Some Graver Subject: An Essay on “Paradise Lost.” New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1960. Serves as an excellent introduction to Paradise Lost. Acknowledging the difficulties of reading the poem, Broadbent systematically analyzes and explains Milton’s meanings.


Danielson, Dennis, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Milton. 1989. 2d ed. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Essays by scholars and critics, with a useful bibliography.


Gardner, Helen. A Reading of “Paradise Lost.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. Focuses on reading the poem with a twentieth-century sensibility, including discussion of twentieth-century Milton criticism.


Kelley, Maurice. This Great Argument: A Study of Milton’s “De Doctrina Christiana” as a Gloss upon “Paradise Lost.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1941. According to reviewer A. S. P. Woodhouse, “For the student of the history of thought the volume is a clear and useful compendium of Milton’s opinions on a large range of theological topics. . . . Kelley demonstrates in detail . . . that many of [Christian Doctrine’s] doctrines are reflected in Paradise Lost.”


Kranidas, Thomas, ed. New Essays on “Paradise Lost.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Essays by American scholars examine such topics as form, style, genre, and theme. Links the poem with its biblical sources.


Lewalski, Barbara. The Life of John Milton: A Critical Biography. Rev. ed. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 2002. Focuses on Milton’s religious, political, and literary development.


Lewis, C. S. A Preface to “Paradise Lost.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1961. Considers epic form in general and continues with a discussion of Milton’s epic, based on a specifically Christian interpretation. Rather dogmatic, this is nevertheless a lucid, enormously helpful analysis of form and doctrinal issues.

Miller, Timothy C. The Critical Response to John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1997. A documentary history of reviews and articles, with an introductory account.


Lieb, Michael and John T. Shawcross, eds. Paradise Lost: A Poem Written in Ten Books. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2007. Volume one of this two-volume set contains the original 1667 edition of Paradise Lost, which was broken into ten books. The second volume is comprised of ten scholarly essays that explore the differences between the original edition and the better-known 1674 edition, which consists of twelve books. The essayists look at the poem in its literary and historical context, and some make arguments that the ten-book format was a better venue for Milton to convey his thoughts.


Patrides, C. A., ed. Approaches to “Paradise Lost.” London: Edward Arnold, 1968. Contains a series of lectures offering a wide variety of approaches, such as literary, doctrinal, musical, and iconographical. Illustrations. The broad range of this book is an aid to appreciating the complexity of the poem and the vast array of Milton criticism that is available.

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