John Milton was born in London, he went to St Paul’s School and then to Cambridge where he took his Master of Arts degree in 1632. He was in Italy in 1639 just before the Civil War broke out, he went back to England and in a few years’ time became actively involved in the Puritan cause. In 1649 he was appointed Latin Secretary of Cromwell’s Council of State. Milton’s activity in those years was frenetic and his prose output in amazing.
Between 1637 and 1657 he wrote his Sonnets, there are in all 24, 5 in Italian, on both political and personal subjects. Such very hard work cost Milton the total loss of his eyesight.
Paradise Lost deals with the biblical story of the temptation of Adam and Eve. Paradise Lost is the last and the greatest of the Renaissance epics: it is Protestant but is also full of the spirit of Greek and Roman literature. Milton gives these classical elements a Christian interpretation, in accordance with the tradition of Northern Humanism.
Milton praises man’s reason and his free will, but at the same time he warns against man’s weakness and especially the chief of sins, pride. It is pride that causes Satan’s fall.
Despite Milton’s religious concerns the characters in Paradise Lost are not religious stereotypes.
Satan: Milton gives Satan the rhetorical voice of a great leader who has lost everything except his self-confidence, and on that builds a new greatness, though in hell. He is the highest example of the dark solitary hero, broken but not annihilated by the power of a society.
Satan takes possession of Hell: Satan speaks bravely and beautifully, like a king to his own people. He begins with a rhetorical question, the answer: the devils must change the light of heaven for the darkness of hell. Satan has not lost his pride, which was the original cause of his fall: he wanted to be equal to God. This shows in the majestic way in which he affirms the superiority of the mind over external circumstances. The two, heaven and hell, are interchangeable for Satan, simply because what really matters to him is to be free and have power. Satan’s final phrase beautifully sums up his immense pride: “Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven”.
On his Blindness: The sonnet is composed in 14 lines, divided in 1 octet and 1 sextet, the rhyme scheme is abba abba cde cde and its meter is iambic pentameter.
Milton applies a technique called run-on-line (enjambment): the continuation of the sentence from line to line. The use of this technique divides the sonnet into two parts (fondly ask). The poem contains some figure of speech: - personification (Patient) – alliteration: repetition of some consonant or vocals, for example in the line 2 - metaphors (light which sight, talent stand gift-genius-coin, day-labour for work), but there is another metaphor which even more powerful than the previous ones: Yoke (denotation: the device worn by some animals by which their master can direct; connotation: subjection, dependence, bondage, servitude.)
The octet introduce the theme of the sonnet, that is Blindness. And then complaint and despire. “Spent” means “used up”. “Ere hald my days” brings in a Dantesque lines of the Divine Comedy. For the “talent” Milton is alluding to the Biblical Parable of the talents in St Matthew’s Gospel (three servants were given some coins by their master but while the first two traded with them and doubled them, the third buried his talent in the earth and was punished for not using it… the third servant is the implicitly identification of Milton: everyone must exploit the gift he has received. Milton’s gift for poetry seems to be buried in darkness against his will. “Inclined” is a synonym of “bent”. “Maker” is God. God return on the day of Judgement. Reproach – chide, require – exact, foolishly – fondly.
In the sextet, the themes are the acceptance and the resignation. “Complaint” means “murmur” and “immediately” means “soon”. “His state” refers to God’s state. “Thousands” of people-creatures. “serve” of God. “kingly” underlines God’s greatness.