E211: British Literature to 1760

Milton's Paradise Lost Study Questions

Alfred J. Drake | 423 UH | TW 12:45-1:45 | ajdrake@ajdrake.com

Book One

1. Examine the narrator's invocation (lines 1-25) and his epic question and answer (lines 26-49).

a) What is the source of the narrator's authority?

b) What kind of persona would you say is established when one puts all three elements--the invocations, question, and answer--together? Characterize this poet-narrator--comparing him to the narrators of Spenser and Chaucer would be helpful.

2. What purposes do the lines (50-83) serve that immediately follow the invocation and question and answer?

3. Examine the first speech that Satan makes, the one he makes only to his arch-lieutenant, Beëlzebub. Also examine the latter's response to this speech as well as Satan's counter-response to Beëlzebub's words. (84-124, 128-55, 157-91)

a) Work out what the arguments of these two speakers are.

b) Is Satan a skilled rhetorician? How so?

c) Try to explain some of Satan's errors in logic.

d) Does Beelzebub know something Satan doesn't; or does he admit something that Satan will not admit?

4. From lines 195-210, we are treated to Milton's first major extended simile. Actually, it is a series of similes, and a complex one at that. Examine these lines--in what way are they relevant, even vital, to the task of Milton and his narrator in describing heavenly things that really are not describable from a fallen human perspective?

5. Examine Satan's primal poetic elegy--lines 242-55. What purpose/s does it serve? What resolution or statement does this elegy lead Satan to make?

6. Yet another extended series of similes occurs from lines 283-313. Again, how do these similes dramatize the situation in which Milton and his narrator find themselves?

7. In general, what purpose do lines 337-522 serve?

8. Read Satan's speech to his whole army from lines 622-62.

a) This speech is in part a "revisionist" history of the bad angels' fall--explain how this is so. Why is Satan's version in error?

b) What is Satan's basic plan for the "future?"

9. What human impulse do lines 670-738 describe?

10. Observe the end of Book One, the assembling of the council (752-98). Concentrate especially upon lines 777-98. In what way is Milton having some fun at the angels' expense here? What is he saying about the degree of "reality" that one can attribute to them?

Book Two

11. The great consult begins. Observe the opinions and rhetorical shifts of the following "debaters":

a) Satan (11-42)

b) Moloch (43-108)

c) Belial (108-225) and the narrator's lines, (226-28)

d) Mammon (229-83) and similes about angels' applause, (284-91).

e) Beëlzebub (310-416)

f) Satan again (416-67)

12. From lines 522-628, a very interesting dispersion of devils occurs. What do the devils do? (Characterize the behavior of the different "bands.") What drives them to do these things?

13. Now to Satan's encounter with Death and to the allegory of the birth of Sin and Death. (629-726, 727-814) This is a long episode. Why is the subject so important to Paradise Lost? What does it tell you about Satan's understanding of the consequences of his behavior?

14. At line 917, Satan beholds the abyss into which he must plunge. Observe his plunge and progress from lines 927-961. What would you say is the narrator's attitude toward Satan's enterprise?

15. Examine lines 1034-55, the end of Book Two. What dramatic purpose does this birdseye view serve?

Book Three

16. Read the invocation (1-55) carefully--observe the narrator's tone and the basic rhetorical structure of the passage: "Hail. . .but thou. . .but not. . .So much the rather. . . ." What would you say Milton is trying to achieve by making the narrator speak these lines?

17. Examine lines 80-143. Characterize God's "personality," his manner of speaking. Also, describe the theological argument that God makes in this speech. Moreover, what prediction does he make about the future?

18. Follow the dialogue between Christ and God from lines 144-216 as well as the narrator's characterization of the pause for a reply to God's question, lines 217-26. Find some clue or clues in these lines as to why we are hearing this dialogue. (Lines 167-72 and 217-26 are especially helpful.)

19. "Meanwhile upon the firm opacous globe. . ./ Satan alighted walks" (418,422). Here, we pan back to Satan, almost cinema-style. Observe lines 418-501--why do you think that Milton's narrator is made to describe this "location" so carefully? What effect does it have on our perspective of Satan's enterprise?

Book Four

20. Examine Satan's soliloquy from lines 32-113.

a) What is the basic dramatic purpose of such a speech--why should we hear all this? What impression does it give us of Satan?

b) Follow Satan's logic through this passage. How well does Satan understand the nature of God's rule, and why does he say that he would never be able to reconcile himself to that rule?

21. Examine the narrator's "portraits" of Adam and Eve (lines 288-324).

a) How is each figure described? How is the language that describes Eve different from the language that describes Adam? To answer this question, you really must read the descriptions out loud to yourself.

b) What is the proper relationship of Adam and Eve to each other? to God?

22. Read the fine account that Eve gives of her first day of life, lines 449-91. What is the significance of her first act, that of seeing her reflection in a pool? What warning, however mild, does this scene give us about Eve?

23. Read lines 634-58 and 659-88. Who has the higher "IQ"--Adam or Eve? Seriously, what is the difference between them with respect to their way of treating language?

24. Examine lines 720-36. What does this brief passage tell us about Adam and Eve's basic purpose on earth? Also, why is it important that Adam and Eve speak this evening prayer in unison and without rehearsal?

25. Examine lines 1006-15, the end of Book Four. What effect does the ending have on your reaction to the long quarrel that has just taken place between Gabriel and the unmasked Satan?

Book Five

26. Examine Eve's bad dream (lines 31-93).

a) Why is this dream so dangerous to Eve? What is the key temptation in it?

b) How does Adam instruct Eve as to the meaning of her dream? (95-128) Describe his "explanation."

c) If you had to explain the function of dialogue in PL solely on the basis of this conversation between Adam and Eve, how would you describe this function?

27. Concentrate upon the mutual "orison" (morning prayer) that Adam and Eve sing jointly. (153-208)

a) What is the purpose of unfallen (i.e. "prelapsarian") poetry? That is, what basic purpose does the morning prayer of Adam and Eve serve?

b) Nonetheless, does this prayer or poem serve some further purpose? Does it somehow satisfy Adam's and Eve's desire to know more about the universe, more about the design of an "unspeakable" (156) God's design?

28. From lines 211-19, Adam and Eve set out to do their daily gardening. Clearly, tending the flowers and trees is an important activity in paradise. What does the need to perform this activity tell us about the "place" that Adam and Eve hold in the universe and about their responsibilities to God? (Think of the plants they tend as figures for the tenders themselves.)

29. From line 350 onwards, Raphael holds a genial conversation with Adam and Eve. (The conversation, of course, is replete with a warning.)

a) At line 451, Adam becomes curious about "things above his world" (456). How does Raphael answer him? Explain the promise he makes to Adam concerning his and Eve's spiritual progress?

b) In addition, explain the warning Raphael delivers to Adam from lines 500-05.

30. By line 544, Adam has become very curious, and Raphael, gentle angel that he is, assents at line 562 to continue the story.

a) Why does Raphael pause, even if only for a moment? Explain the reasons for his hesitation.

b) Yet, Raphael does assent to speak of Chaos, of the War in Heaven, and--eventually--of the very act of creation. Contrast the narration that Adam hears with the kind of narratives that Satan has spun about some of the same events. In what way is Raphael's knowledge of things different from that of Satan?

Book Six

31. What purpose does the War in Heaven serve? (667-79, 699-709)

32. From lines 749-74, the Chariot of Christ is described. What is the nature of this chariot?

33. Find as many scenes, contrasts, etc. in Book Six as you can that relate to the War in Heaven. How many of them seem to have been intended humorously?

Book Seven

34. The narrator makes his third invocation from lines 1-39. In what respect does this invocation to "Urania" mark a significant turning point in the poem? Also, how does the figure of Bellerophon reflect upon what Milton's narrator has been describing in the first half of PL?

35. By lines 87-89, Adam has become so curious that he asks Raphael, "How first began this heav'n which we behold/ Distant so high." Observe Raphael's response from lines 110-130. Explain the warning that these lines convey to Adam and Eve.

36. Christ the Word goes to work from line 216 onwards.

a) Contrast the figure of Christ in Books Six and Seven.

b) Note that several passages describing the creation are taken almost verbatim from Genesis. What do you make of such extensive borrowing?

c) What effect do the length and specificity of the narrator's description of the creation have upon Adam and Eve?

Book Eight

37. Examine lines 15-75, 167-78.

a) What does Adam want to know? What is Raphael's response, and why does he so respond?

b) Why does Eve go off at this point to do some gardening? Think of her action in terms of Renaissance psychology and contrast her way of receiving knowledge with that of Adam.

38. From lines 250-559, Adam recounts his own story, telling Raphael of his "birth" and of his dialogue with God and subsequent reception of Eve.

a) Examine lines 250-318. Contrast Adam's reaction to his own creation with the attitude that Satan bears towards his "Father."

b) Examine lines 338-55. Why is it important that unfallen Adam has such capacity for aptly naming God's creatures?

c) On to Adam's dialogue with God, lines 370-451. What is God up to here? What is he "teasing" Adam into realizing about himself and his limitations, about his place in the created order?

d) Read lines 452-90. Register the intensity of Adam's yearning for Eve. In what way is this both good, and yet worrisome?

e) Eve's flattery of Adam (see 4.635-56) seemed appropriate, but why is Adam's high praise of Eve from lines 546-59 in Book Eight inappropriate?

Book Nine

39. From lines 205-384, Eve and Adam debate whether or not to separate.

a) What arguments does Eve make for parting?

b) What arguments does Adam make for remaining together?

c) What is the attitude of each to the other at parting?

40. From lines 532-732, Satan, in the form of a serpent, tempts Eve. Follow Satan's rhetoric to its conclusion. What arguments does Satan use? What is his best argument or appeal? (You might want to refer to your handouts on classical rhetoric.)

41. Compare the rhetoric that Eve uses after her fall to Satan's well-worn themes. Find the parallels, that is, between the motives and speech patterns of Eve and Satan.

Book Ten

42. Lines 354-409 mark a dysfunctional-family reunion of sorts for Satan and his daughter and son/grandchild. (Sin and Death have been busy building a great bridge from hell to earth, and Satan pauses to admire their work.) What is different this time about Satan's behavior towards these two?

43. From lines 410-577, Satan returns to Pandemonium. He is in for a big surprise. Try to work out the multiple ironies within this passage.

44. From lines 720-862, Adam laments his fallen condition; then, he catches sight of Eve and hurls misogynistic abuse at her. How does Eve respond to these angry words? (see lines 914-36) In what sense does Eve's plea to Adam mark a turning point, an upward swing from the lowest point of the fall?

45. Follow out the rest of the conversation between Adam and Eve. Mark Adam's correction from lines 1012-96 of Eve's suicidal advice. Again, how does this conversation mark a positive turning point with respect to Adam and Eve's relationship with God?

Book Eleven

46. The main event in this book is the prophetic vision that the archangel Michael gives to Adam. What does Adam see? Why should he need to see all this?

Book Twelve

47. Again, follow Michael's instructive prophecy.

a) What shift takes place with regard to the story Michael is telling?

b) What is Michael's ultimate command to Adam and Eve?

c) How does Michael's advice speak to politically disillusioned John Milton, supporter of true commonwealth?

Professor Harold Toliver's Structural Explanation of Paradise Lost

Books 1-2 correspond to Books 11-12: Permanent fall of Satan vs. fortunate fall of Adam and Eve.

Books 3-4 correspond to Books 9-10: God's prophecies; Satan's enterprising trips and temptations; focus on dialogue between Adam and Eve; explanation of relations between heaven and earth.

Books 5-6 correspond to Books 7-8: Books 5-8 make up a separable, yet combined, block. Adam and Eve are instructed about events in heaven and about their place in the created order. The whole block 5-8 concerns the War in Heaven and its consequences. Christ appears as a warrior in 5-6; he appears as the Word in 7-8.

Edition: Abrams, M.H. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vols. 1A, 1B, 1C. 7th. edition.