Milton free will.pdf - FREEDOM IN PARADISE LOST John Milton best known today for his epic poem Paradise Lost was radically committed to the idea of

Milton free will.pdf - FREEDOM IN PARADISE LOST John Milton...

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FREEDOM IN PARADISE LOST John Milton, best known today for his epic poem Paradise Lost , was radically committed to the idea of liberty. This commitment manifested itself throughout his life, and across his widely varied written works, which included poetry, tracts, speeches, and unpublished, private writings. Politically, it was expressed through Milton’s support of republican, rather than monarchical, forms of government. In his religious writings, too, the concept of free will is always at the forefront. His poetry challenges readers to negotiate moral and aesthetic dilemmas, a learning process designed to enable them, ultimately, to choose more wisely between good and evil. His intention behind Paradise Lost was to tell a universal story, that of the Fall, in a form, the epic poem, that had been made great by the ancient Greek and Roman authors he so admired – but, crucially, to write it in the English language. Paradise Lost has an enormous scope – the poem moves freely between Earth, Eden, Heaven and Hell, past, present and future, across a range of topics and registers. The narrator announces very early that he is aiming to ‘justify the ways of God to men’ (1.26): to make cosmic mysteries comprehensible. In that sense, the interpretative challenges posed by Paradise Lost – a difficult, intricate, very long poem – are a kind of training-ground. Milton wants his readers to struggle, even sometimes to feel lost, precisely so that we can sharpen our critical faculties. As Milton sees it, this is also why God gave mankind free will, creating them ‘Authors to themselves in all’ (3. 122). If there were no temptation, and no possibility for Adam or Eve to make the choice to sin, then their obedience would be meaningless. God asks, ‘Not free, what proof could they have given sincere / Of true allegiance, constant faith or love’? (3. 103–104). However, Milton’s view is complex, as at times, he seems to endorse the calvinist view of the original sin. In this context, it seems interesting to question the tension between predestination and freedom in Paradise Lost.

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