Paradise Lost as an epic

John Milton’s Paradise Lost is an epic according to the Webster’s New Dictionary definition of epic as “a long narrative poem in a dignified style about the deeds of a hero or heroes” (p. 219).  To classify Paradise Lost as an epic forces the reader to take into consideration the subject matters of the fall of Lucifer from Heaven; the fall of mankind from the Garden of Eden; and, if a reader can classify the actions of Adam, Eve or even Lucifer during these events as “heroic”.   Taking into consideration that a hero is defined as “any person, esp. a man, admired for courage, nobility” (Webster’s New Dictionary, p. 303), I can think about what actions I might personally consider noble or courageous.  Some of the things that I consider courageous are accepting responsibility for one’s one actions; speaking out for the greater good when it is unfavorable; or fighting against overwhelming odds to accomplish a goal.

In Milton’s poem, both Adam and Lucifer acted in ways that I consider courageous, albeit a little foolish but courageous nevertheless the fact that they faced death or banishment for their actions.  Surprisingly, the actions of Lucifer are the ones that stand out as the more heroic despite the notion that he is generally perceived as the source of evil and hatred in the world.  Lucifer’s plans to pervert all that is “good” to “evil” becomes heroic when the reasoning for his evil actions becomes what appears to be the desire to be free from life of servitude rather than jealousy.  “…but rather seek / Our own good from ourselves, though in this vast recess, / Free, and to none accountable, preferring/ Hard Liberty before the easy yoke / Of servile Pomp.” (Milton, 252-257)  It becomes harder to consider Lucifer a villain when he is the main focus of many of the twelve books of Paradise Lost.  The reader does follow Adam as well but Adam’s actions when compared to Lucifer’s appear more consequential.  Adam only accepts responsibility for disobeying God after initially denying all blame and then tries to repent for his actions.

Works Cited

“Epic.” Webster’s Fourth New World Dictionary. 2003. Print.

“Hero.” Webster’s Fourth New World Dictionary. 2003. Print.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost.  New York: Signet Classics, 2010. Print

Lucifer the antihero

My favorite character in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” happens to be Lucifer.  I preferred Milton’s depiction of Lucifer as an antihero against the typical notion of a hero because I find it easier to relate to a character that has their flaws but makes up for their shortcomings with commitment to action despite overwhelming odds.  I found many of Lucifer’s speeches in Book I inspiring as he tells his followers to not give up hope but to make the best of their situation.

“…Here at least

We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built

Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:

Here we may reign secure, and in my choice

To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:

Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heav’n.” (Milton, Book I, line 259-263)

Lucifer’s portrayal as a leader of the fallen angels seeking their freedom of the oppressive forces of heaven in the poem is an intriguing juxtaposition to the archetypical portrayal of him as an angry defiler who seeks to destroy things for the sake of destruction.  One such villainous depiction of Lucifer in the King James Version of the Bible is in the First Book of Peter, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (5:8)

It is hard to hate a person for desiring to live free, though I found Lucifer’s resolve in the later Cantos of “Paradise Lost” to seek vengeance instead of victory on his battle for freedom disheartening.  “Which if not Victory is yet revenge.” (Milton, Book II, line 105). I think it was the transition from the desire to live free to cause harm that transforms Lucifer from the realm of antihero to tragic hero because despite all of his inspiring words and noble ambitions he becomes corrupted by hate and despair and abandons his dreams.  I truly enjoyed reading about Lucifer and his schemes throughout Milton’s work even though I knew how the story would end because I wanted to see how this interpretation of Lucifer would handle things differently than the devil I learned about in Sunday school.

Works Cited

Milton, John. Paradise Lost, Book 1. The Northon Anthology. Ed. Steven Greenblatt. Norton & Company, 2006. 1831-1850. Print.

The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: American Bible Society: 1999;, 2000.

Loyalty Honored but Betrayal Repaid: Betrayal and Loyalty in “King Lear”

Shakespeare’s tragedy “King Lear” has the main theme of betrayal but also about loyalty.  “King Lear” is a play about King Lear who is so blinded by vanity and madness that he casts out the people who are most genuine and loyal to him to elevate flatterers who ultimately betray him.  The play opens with King Lear asking his daughters to tell him how much they love him and it is from that point it is presented to the audience that the truth is sometimes an ugly, plain thing and that a man would rather succumb to the beautiful allure of a falsehood than to allow himself to hear what might be a bitter ugly truth.  It also seems that the most unexpected betrayals come from those who are closest to us and if we are patient, those who would betray us will receive justice in one way or another.

Betrayal comes in many forms in within “King Lear” from simple lies; to usurpation of power; to infidelity; to murder.  The first betrayal of the play was the most blatant and surprising because it was the condemnation of King Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, for refusing to lie about how much she loved her father. “Why have my sisters husbands if they say/ They love you all? Haply, when I wed,/ That lord whose hand must take my plight, shall carry half my love with him, half my care and duty./ Suce I shall never marry like my sisters,/ To love my father all,” (Shakespeare, Act 1 Scene 1, 101-106). King Lear was upset by the fact that his favorite daughter told him the truth of her feelings, that she could never love a husband if she loved only her father and he betrays her by disowning her.  But it is from this first betrayal that the seeds of rebellion are planted in the minds of King Lear’s other daughters, Regan and Goneril, and he soon finds himself stripped of his power and authority.  If King Lear cannot be trusted nor can he trust his family, it brings to mind the question of who is actually loyal.

There are a few acts of loyalty within “King Lear”.  One of the most notable and visible was Kent with his unwavering desire to serve his king despite being banished by that same king for telling him he was wrong to disown Cordelia.  Then there was Edgar of Gloucester who also remained loyal to his father despite being hunted for unwarranted accusations of treachery and guided his blinded father out of Gloucester to safety. And lastly there was Cordelia who remained loyal to her father despite being betrayed and took an army to war against her sisters over the mistreatment of King Lear.  But how was this loyalty repaid?

“Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides,/ Who covered faults, at last shame them derides (…)” (Shakespeare, Act 1 Scene 1, 282-283).  Sadly, loyalty does not get to reap its fullest rewards within the play but there is some measure of justice for those who suffered from betrayal.  Each betrayer is punished in some way, the daughters die after betraying their father; the Duke of Gloucester and each other; Edmund dies after instigating the mutilation of his father and the banishment of his brother; and King Lear dies of heartbreak after realizing that he betrayed Cordelia and that his actions led to her death.  The true moral of “King Lear” is that if you betray those around you and surround yourself with flatterers that you yourself will end up betrayed.


Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. New York: Signet Classic, 1998. Print.

King Arthur and Christianity

King Arthur has been honored through the ages as being a noble, fair and chivalrous king as well as being a brilliant soldier.  He is the epitome of British nobility and chivalry and for centuries, kings of England have claimed to have ties to his noble linage.  Arthur’s story begins in magic and miracles but ends in the gritty reality of blood and tragedy. The death of King Arthur is symbolic as it ushers in the end of two eras, of Camelot and of magic, where the old Pagan religion has been swept away and replaced by Christianity.

King Arthur’s true beginning is in a magical deception of the Duke of Cornwall’s wife, Igraine by King Uther Pendragon.  Merlin cast a spell called a “glamour” upon Pendragon that gave him the physical appearance of the absent Duke that enabled Pendragon and Igraine to conceive Arthur without the duchess knowing the truth of Pendragon’s identity. (Malory, 3)  Magical transformations are a reoccurring theme in Pagan mythology as a method for the gods to woo and bed beautiful mortal women that are resistant to their regular charms.  The children born from these god/mortal unions grew up to be great heroes and in this way, Arthur was predestined by the magical nature of his birth to become a hero as well. The overwriting destiny that Arthur came into was the kingship of England by means of the Christian ordained miracle of the sword in the stone on Christmas.

“(…) that Jesus, that was born on that night, that he would of his great mercy show some miracle, as he was come to be king of mankind, for to show some miracle who should be rightwise king of this realm,” (Malory, 7).  The act of pulling the sword from the stone was considered a miracle by the people but the nobles were resistant to the idea of a squire becoming their king until Merlin informed them of Arthur’s royal linage.  The notion of God ordaining a man to be king over another man was not a new concept introduced by the Arthurian legend but a concept used by monarchial lines for ages; for example, in Egypt kings were almost considered on the same level as Gods themselves for their right to rule was granted by the Gods.  Once Arthur had been established as king he went about the earthly duties of being king and waged wars to win many territories in the surrounding are to include Ireland and some of Wales.  It was on the battlefield he confirmed his strength and through these victories he was able to prove his prowess as a warrior and as all kings do, he finally took a wife.

It was on the matter of love that Arthur was weakest, he so loved his wife, Guinevere and his knight, Lancelot that he refused to believe the stories of their affair from his son, Mordred.  But the infidelity was foreseen by Merlin and he tried to subtly warn Arthur that Guinevere would be loved by and fall in love with Lancelot if she became queen.  (Malory, 79-80)  Since Arthur’s weakness was his love of Guinevere, it was this that Mordred exploited to divide the loyalty of the knights of the table but it wasn’t by any sort of magical means- it was done by regular gossip and entrapment.  Like Judas, Mordred was trusted by his fellows so the treachery was unexpected and this led to Arthur’s and Mordred’s mutual deaths at each other’s hands.

In Arthur’s dying moments, he had one of his surviving knights return his magical sword, Excalibur to the mystic Lady of the Lake by casting the blade into the waters of the Lake.  It was only after the sword was returned that Arthur himself died.  As a consequence for all the bloodshed caused by the affair, both Guinevere and Lancelot turned to God for penance and respectively became a nun and a priest. (Malory, 922-931) These actions are very telling of the additions of Christian values into the Arthurian mythos but still keeping with the original story.  The inclusion of both magic and repentance are elements that were important to help ease the populace into the notion of Christianity.  It is with Arthur’s death that the reality that the age of magic and Camelot are gone- almost all of the Knights of the Round Table are dead and Excalibur has been returned to the Lady of the Lake. In the end, the pagan beliefs were lost to Christianity.

Works Cited
Hamiliton, Edith. Mythology. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2011. Print.

Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte D’Arthur. New York: The Modern Library, 1994. Print.

Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale

Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” contains a series of short stories collected from a group of pilgrims holding a storytelling contest as they stop at an inn on their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. I consider many of the stories from the pilgrims to be parables and “The Miller’s Tale” is no different, telling the dangers of getting too clever in mischief, coveting another man’s wife and believing in false prophecy. There is a great lightheartedness in the tale of the Miller, Robin, and despite the baseness of Robin’s humor, I feel that this humor is effective in relaying the moral of the story without being too heavy handed in its delivery.

Overall, Chaucer uses satire within “The Miller’s Tale” in the traditional Middle Age’s manner of vulgarity. Some of the irony seems to best absorbed by the nature of how the story is related- it is collected from people on a Holy Pilgrimage and Robin, the storyteller in this particular tale is anything but what we would perceive as a pious man on his way to find religious enlightenment. He is described as “…very drunk and rather pale, / was straddled on his horse half-on half-off/ And in no mood for manners or to doff.” (14-16)

Robin shares his bawdy tale following the Knight’s tale which was described as “…a noble story/ Worthy to be remembered for its glory,” (3-4) and is such a definitive contrast in the manner of speech that Chaucer felt the need to apologize before fully retelling the story and implores the reader to “Just turn the page and choose another sort” (69) promising “…Many historical, that will profess/ Morality, good breeding, saintliness,” (71-72). But as we all know, human beings are curious creatures that like to hear about the things they are told that they should avoid.

There are many great examples of Robin’s humor but I felt the morale of this tawdry tale of adultery and comeuppance best sums up the nature of the whole tale, “And so the carpenter’s wife was truly poked,/ As if his jealousy to justify,/ And Absalon has kissed her nether eye/ And Nicholas is branded on the bum.” (742-745) The wife though originally faithful lives up to her husband’s jealous nature by having an affair with the student, Nicholas; the foolish suitor and parish clerk, Absalon is humiliated by the lovers; and Nicholas the instigator of the whole affair, will forever bear the scars of his indecency with Alison. The carpenter in the whole scheme of things is punished for his jealously and believing Nicholas’s “prophecy” about a flood by losing his credibility and his wife’s affections.

Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Trans. Neville Coghill. New York: Penguin Classis, 2003. Print.