Summary of Paradise Lost

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Paradise Lost book summary

Literary Classic

  • Epic
  • Early modern period

What It’s About

Justifying the Ways of God to Man

When John Milton (1608–1674) set out to retell the story of the Bible, he sought to do what no epic poet had ever accomplished: to lay out in verse the Christian story of creation and the fall of humankind. It is Milton’s Satan who most captures the reader’s imagination, seducing us just as he seduces Eve; his pride, rebellion and impressive oratory make him a compelling and popular literary figure. Yet for all Satan’s rhetoric, Milton – himself a revolutionary who fought what he perceived to be a tyrannical king – makes clear the distinction between righteous and satanic rebellion. In his own words, Milton seeks to “justify the ways of God to man,” helping his readers understand the felix culpa, or “fortunate fall,” that led to their redemption through Christ. Though often prized for its grand style, equivalency with the great classical epics and its rich poetry, Paradise Lost offers more than exquisite language. The poem is dense with theological and political debate. It offers a fierce interrogation of the nature of tyranny, sin, redemption, free will, fate, reason, individual liberty and love.

Take-Aways

  • With Paradise Lost, John Milton wrote the greatest English epic poem – an artistic and theological masterpiece.
  • Satan, having lost the war for Heaven, seeks revenge by seducing God’s newest creation, Man, into disobedience. Satan enters Paradise by guile and persuades Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, resulting in sin and death’s entry into the world. However, because the Son of God offers to die for their sins, humans can be redeemed. Once expelled from Eden, the angel Michael shows Adam humankind’s future.
  • Milton utilized a new style of poetry for his new English epic – that of heroic verse.
  • Ambitiously, Milton declared his intention to “justify the ways of God to man” with this poem, illuminating the need for the fall of humankind and the relationship between God’s omnipotence, fate and free will.
  • Milton’s involvement in the English Civil War and work for Oliver Cromwell’s interregnum government influenced the author’s depiction of tyranny and revolution, as well as colored his contemporaries’ reception of the politically charged poem.
  • Milton was a devout Presbyterian and a staunch defender of individual liberty – views that surface in his depictions of God and free will.
  • In the poem, Milton stresses the possibility of redemption and the importance of adherence to Christian virtues, such as obedience to God.
  • Milton’s Satan seduced readers as well as the characters; his oratorical power and republican rhetoric made him a popular figure, especially in the Romantic era. Some critics believe Milton subconsciously sided with Satan.
  • The poet was blind when he wrote Paradise Lost, and he dictated the epic poem.
  • “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
 

Summary

Fallen Angels

John Milton invokes his muse to sing of the fall and salvation of humankind, that he might “assert Eternal Providence and justify the ways of God to men.” Satan, cast down from heaven for leading the rebellion against God, lies chained in a lake of fire. Despite this torment, he addresses his lieutenant Beelzebub, assuring him that with vengeance, hatred and courage, they can resist the tyranny of heaven. At Satan’s urging, the fallen angels shake off their chains and follow him to land, forming a mighty army composed of the great demons of biblical history. Satan gives a rousing speech, admitting they were defeated by heaven’s forces but ordering them not to despair. “By fraud or guile,” they will oppose God. Inspired, the devils set to work. They erect a spectacular palace which they christen Pandemonium, the new seat of rule in hell.

Sin, Death and Chaos

Satan sits on the throne as his council debates the way forward. Should they make a second assault on Heaven itself? The vengeful Moloch supports open war, but the subtle Belial fears such a venture would fail, warning that God’s wrath could damn them to worse punishments than Hell. Mammon points out that even if God forgave them, they simply would be readmitted as slaves in his service, forced to obey their enemy; they must abandon the war. Beelzebub offers a new plan. They can build an empire in Hell and attack God indirectly. Rumor has it that God is building a new world, Earth, and a new race to populate it: Man. They could destroy or seduce these new creatures, avenging themselves against their creator. When they put Beelzebub’s proposal to a vote, and all agree. But a new question arises: Who shall venture out of Hell to explore this new world? At first, there is only silence as each fallen angel contemplates the dangers of such a journey. Then Satan himself, full of “transcendent glory,” steps forward. Since he holds the greatest power, so he must embrace the greatest danger. He will undertake the task alone.

Satan flies out of the hell fire and across a continent of frozen wasteland to the gates of Hell. There he encounters two creatures. One is a beautiful woman down to her waist, below which she is a massive serpent. Hell-hounds surround her, barking furiously. The other creature wears a crown and seems to be made of shadows. Satan demands to know why they bar his way out of Hell. The thing of darkness scoffs at Satan’s challenge and prepares to fight, but the woman-serpent intercedes. She asks if he has forgotten her and reveals that she is Sin, who sprang full-grown from Satan’s head in Heaven when he committed to overthrowing God. Satan lusted after his new daughter and sired a child on her. When Satan lost his war, God cast the pregnant Sin into Hell, giving her the key to the gates of Hell. There she gave birth to Death, who raped his mother, producing the hell-hounds that continually gnaw their way into her womb, only to rip their way back out again.

Of Man’s first disobedience and the fruit / Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste / Brought death into the world and all our woe / With loss of Eden till one greater Man / Restore us and regain the blissful seat / Sing Heav’nly Muse.

Satan promises that if Sin and Death allow him to explore Earth, he will open it to them as their new hunting ground. Sin, eager to reign by Satan’s side, unlocks the gates. An abyss stands on the other side, into which Satan falls. Flying toward a faint sound, he finds Chaos and Night, who rule over this void. He explains his plan to them, and Chaos allows him to pass. Sin and Death build a bridge between Hell and Earth as Satan flies toward Earth’s golden dawn.

Free Will and the Fate of Man

God, the “almighty Father,” sits with the Son and watches Satan’s approach. God tells the Son that Satan will succeed in seducing Man into disobedience, but without free will, people’s love and obedience would have been meaningless. Therefore, although He knows they will fall, He will not cause (or prevent) the Fall. God explains that because Man will disobey, he and all his progeny must die for justice to be served. However, the Son steps in and offers himself; he will suffer and die so that Man might find redemption and immortal life in Heaven. God joyously agrees. He describes how the Son will not truly die; instead, he will sit in Heaven at Judgment Day, sentencing “bad men and angels” and then shut up Hell forever. All those who have faith will then live in a new Heaven and Earth. The heavenly host rejoices and sings of God and creation.

What in me is dark / Illumin, what is low raise and support, / That to the heighth of this great argument / I may assert Eternal Providence /And justify the ways of God to men.

Meanwhile, Satan passes the gates of Heaven and gazes down. On catching sight of the guardian angel Uriel, Satan disguises himself as a cherub and asks directions to Paradise so that he might see God’s glorious creation, Man. Uriel directs Satan to Earth.

Paradise Breached

Satan views Earth’s beauty with fury. It reminds him of what was lost when God banished him from Heaven. He cannot escape Hell, for Hell is within him, and he is Hell. He briefly considers repentance for his sins but decides that since he has lost all good, his good shall be evil. Instead, he will carve what he can from God’s kingdom to rule for himself. Seeing Satan’s features twisted in rage, Uriel recognizes that this is no cherub.

Satan flies through Paradise and sits upon the Tree of Life. There he catches a glimpse of two creatures made in God’s image: Adam and Eve, the first of Mankind. Free from shame, they wander naked through the garden. As Satan admires their beauty but contemplates their demise, he overhears Adam express his love for Eve and remind her of the single prohibition in their paradise – not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which will result in their deaths.

If then His providence / Out of our evil seek to bring forth good / Our labor must be to pervert that end / And out of good still to find means of evil.

Eve describes her earliest memory. She awoke and gazed into a pool, falling in love with her own reflection. However, a voice rang out and warned her that the image was of herself and that she must love and bear the children of Adam. When she saw Adam, the voice explained that she was made from his rib and was a part of his soul. As Adam and Eve fall to kissing, jealousy consumes Satan.

Meanwhile, Uriel reaches the angel Gabriel and warns him of an interloper in Paradise. Gabriel rallies his angels to search the garden for Satan. Ithuriel and Zephon find him whispering in the ear of the sleeping Eve, shaping her dreams. The angels recognize and challenge Satan. Brought before Gabriel, he claims he was seeking a better place than Hell for himself and his fallen legion. As they prepare to fight, God holds aloft a golden scale. Knowing he cannot battle the Almighty, Satan flees.

The Adversary

Adam and Eve awake, and Eve describes the troubling dream Satan gave her about tasting the forbidden fruit. Adam is troubled but reassures her that she would never act on such a dream. They pray and set about the day’s work tending the garden. God knows that Man will yield to temptation, but in the interests of justice sends Raphael to warn the pair about Satan. Raphael arrives, and as Eve prepares a feast for their guest, the angel reminds Adam of the need for obedience, as well as the free will that could permit the disobedience against which he must guard. Adam asks Raphael to tell him of Satan’s revolt in Heaven.

Raphael describes how when God introduced his Son to the angels, Satan – who believed himself to be God’s second-in-command – became jealous. Satan gathered his followers and asked if they would agree to prostration before God, relinquishing their freedom. Alone among Satan’s men, Abdiel spoke out against the blasphemy.

The Battle for Heaven

Raphael continues his story. God sent Gabriel and Michael to lead his forces against the rebel angels, limiting the number of warriors to match that of Satan’s army, and the battle commenced. On the first day of fighting, Heaven’s forces easily repulsed Satan’s angels, and Michael dealt Satan a great wound. The rebels retreated and spent the night constructing cannons. As a result, the following day’s fight was far more vicious. Just when the rebels were certain of victory, Michael and his legion picked up mountains and dropped them on Satan’s forces, who spent that night digging themselves free. God determined that the fighting should end, and so on the third day sent his Son onto the battlefield. The Son rode forth in a fearsome chariot and drove the rebel angels out of the gates of Heaven. The rebels fell for nine days, landing in Hell and the flaming lake. Raphael concludes his tale by warning Adam that Satan, seeking revenge, will try to seduce Adam and Eve. Adam must resist temptation and warn Eve, who is weaker than he.

Creation

Adam asks for another story: God’s creation of Earth and Man. In the aftermath of the battle, God decided to make a new world and people to populate it. He granted His Son the power to speak and create, and the Son rode into Chaos. Over the course of six days, God created the Earth. First he made day and night. He then designed the sky, the land and the waters. He added celestial bodies like the sun and stars in order to delineate the seasons and then began to populate his new world with animals. On the final day, He made Man in the image of Himself and the Son, first creating Adam out of the dust of the Earth. God then created Eve, ordering the pair to “be fruitful, and multiply,” granting them dominion over all other creatures. God then brought Man to the garden, with one order: that they not taste the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge lest they die. On the first Sabbath, the heavens resounded with a symphony of celebration at the completion of this new world.

Man and Woman

Eager for more knowledge, Adam questions Raphael about the movements of the heavens, stars and planets. Raphael refuses to reveal the universe’s astronomical workings to Adam because God has made some things unknowable and because Adam should be content to think only about what concerns himself. Adam then tells his own story of what he remembers since his creation. Adam first awoke unsure of who or what he was. Then in a dream, God guided him to the Garden of Eden and explained what he was – and made the prohibition against the fruit. God revealed that Adam was lord over all other animals, each of which came before Adam to be named by him. Yet Adam was lonely and begged for a human companion. God put Adam to sleep and removed a rib, transforming it into Eve. Adam gave thanks for this companion, named her Woman and led her to their marriage bed.

Long is the way / And hard that out of Hell leads up to light.

As Adam expounds on Eve’s physical beauty and virtue, Raphael interrupts to admonish Adam, reminding him not to overvalue Eve. She is his inferior, and he must love her rather than simply desire her. Adam asks if the angels experience physical love. A blushing Raphael assures Adam that the angels are happy and that there can be no happiness without love. He leaves Adam with some final warnings: Do not allow passion to sway reason, and Resist the temptation to disobey God.

The Fall of Man

Satan returns once more to Eden, this time as a mist. Convinced that God made Man and Earth only to spite him, Satan determines to have his revenge, even if it brings worse pain on himself. Satan enters a snake, the subtlest of beasts.

I made him just and right, / Sufficient to have stood though free to fall.

Adam and Eve wake with the dawn and discuss their plan to care for the garden, which Eve believes grows “luxurious by restraint.” She says they must work separately in order to accomplish more. However, Adam believes that separately, they will be more vulnerable to Satan’s assault. They argue, Eve offended that Adam believes she would fall to temptation and frustrated that he won’t allow her independence. Adam reminds her of her debt of obedience to him and the dangers of free will. Nonetheless, he begrudgingly agrees to let her work alone.

Satan, disguised as the Serpent, is thrilled to encounter the weaker of the pair alone. For a moment, overcome by Eve’s beauty, he forgets his dreadful purpose. However, he recovers himself and approaches her, praising her beauty and godlike power. Eve is startled to find an animal capable of speech. He claims that he ate an apple and gained the power to reason like Man. He offers to lead Eve to that tree.

They arrive, and she identifies the Tree of Knowledge, explaining that God has forbidden them to eat the fruit of that tree, lest they die. The Serpent calls God the “Threat’ner” and insists that they will not die. The Serpent asserts that God unjustly denies them knowledge of good and evil, and an unjust God need not be obeyed. He explains that if she eats the apple, she will become a god. Eve debates the matter, but desiring to become a god, she eats an apple.

Though both / Not equal, as their sex not equal seemed: / For contemplation he and valor formed, / For softness she and sweet attractive grace: / He for God only, she for God in him.

Eve then debates whether to share the fruit with Adam. Her new knowledge could render her equal to Adam – or even superior. However, she fears that if she does die, Adam will remarry. Dreading such an instance, she decides that “Adam shall share with me in bliss or woe.” She returns to their home and meets with Adam, inviting him to taste the apple. Adam is horrified that she has disobeyed God’s command but decides he will share the fate of his beloved. He, too, eats the apple, and they fall to lust and engage in sex – no longer a virtuous act, but a seal of their guilt. They sleep restlessly, and when they awake, Adam turns on Eve, condemning her for their Fall. They gather leaves and stitch together clothes to cover the nakedness that they now see as shameful. The couple argue bitterly, each blaming the other for their new state.

Expulsion from Eden

God sends his Son down to judge the offending couple. The Serpent will crawl on its belly and be locked in enmity with Mankind. Eve and all women will face pain in childbirth and be subservient to their husbands. Adam henceforth will have to toil cursed ground in order to grow or hunt food. The Son then clothes Adam and Eve in the skins of animals and returns to Heaven.

Back in Hell, Sin senses Satan’s success and flies to Earth with Death. Satan returns to Pandemonium and mounts his throne – to the adulation of his fellow fallen angels. However, at the height of the celebration, they undergo a terrible transformation; their shapes all twist from beautiful angels into grotesque serpents. Trees with luscious fruit sprout, but the apples turn to ash in the monsters’ mouths. Sin and Death reach Earth, where they will reside until Judgment Day. God sets about to transform the Earth, moving the sun to create harsh seasons and making storms and winds. The daughter of Sin, Discord, sets animals at war with one another.

Since our eyes / Opened we find indeed, and find we know / Both good and evil: good lost, and evil got!

Adam despairs on seeing what he has wrought and wishes for death. When Eve arrives, he turns on her, bitterly attacking her for tempting him. She prostrates herself before him and begs forgiveness. They reconcile. Eve suggests they forgo having children to avoid visiting Death upon them, but Adam says they must trust in God and take comfort in the fact that Satan will be defeated one day. They fall to their knees and pray for God’s forgiveness.

A Vision of the Future

At God’s command, Michael goes to exile Adam and Eve from Eden. When Michael breaks the news, Eve is distraught but Adam accepts their fate. To soften the blow, Michael invites Adam to leave Eve sleeping and join him on a hillside, the highest point in Paradise. There, Michael shows Adam a vision of what is to come. He shows Adam his sons – Cain and Abel – and the first murder. Michael reveals the many causes of death, and Adam weeps. Michael shows Man discovering metalwork and instruments, then feasts and celebration. When Adam rejoices, Michael explains that these are Cain’s descendants and atheists, cautioning Adam against hedonism. Next Michael offers a vision of brutal warfare; he explains that Enoch alone will oppose war, but Man will turn on him. Michael then illustrates the story of Noah, showing a world of sin wiped out by the flood. Adam berates himself for allowing such evil to enter the world.

Mankind Redeemed

Michael continues to relate to Adam what is to come. He describes the Tower of Babel, explains how tyrants will rise to power and tells of God’s choice of Abraham as the patriarch of His chosen people. Michael moves through the stories of the Israelites‘ enslavement, the plagues God will send to punish the Pharaoh and the exodus from Egypt – after which Moses will receive the Ten Commandments. Adam questions the need for these laws, and Michael explains that because Man now is sinful, he can’t be trusted not to surrender to base behavior. Michael says that Joshua will lead the Israelites to Canaan, where judges and kings will rule. These kings will grow lax, and the Israelites will be conquered. However, of King David’s line, the Messiah will be born to a virgin. Michael explains that the Son will face hatred, death and crucifixion, but the death will redeem Man. The disciples of Jesus will spread his teachings – that those who obey and believe can be saved. Come the end of the world, the Son will judge all the living and the dead and allow the faithful into paradise.

Adam is relieved that goodness will come of his evil and reasserts his obedience to God. Michael urges him also to recall faith, virtue, patience, temperance, love and charity. They descend the hill and meet Eve, whose dreams have assured her that her place is with Adam and that from her will come the seed of the Messiah. A newly hopeful Adam and Eve depart Eden and, glancing back, see the flaming sword that now guards the entrance to Eden. Hand in hand, they walk out into the world.

About the Text

Structure and Style

Milton revised Paradise Lost, originally comprising 10 books, for the second edition to make it 12 books, mirroring the structure of classical epics. Each book begins with an “Argument” that briefly summarizes the book’s story. Milton writes the poem itself in what he calls – in a preface to the second edition – “heroic verse.” This format involves lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter (lines of ten syllables with every second syllable receiving the accent or stress). Milton echoes the style of classical epics like the Odyssey and Iliad throughout, including explicit invocations to the muse at the start of the poem and at other key moments in the text. He asks a higher power to provide him with the needed words. Unlike muses of the Greek and Roman epics, Milton identifies his muse as not a classical goddess but the Holy Ghost itself. During these invocations, Milton actively inserts himself into the text as narrator. He makes his purpose in writing the poem explicit: to “assert Eternal Providence / And justify the ways of God to Men.”

Milton’s verse is elegant and lyrical. He makes Satan in particular both eloquent and persuasive, a fact noted by critics such as William Blake, who believed that Milton was “of the devil’s party without knowing it” (as Satan, like Milton, perceived himself to be a rebel trying to overthrow a tyrant). However, coming from a theological background that considered the devil irredeemable, it is more likely that Milton demonstrates how easily the devil can deceive; he weaves subtle logical flaws into Satan’s great persuasive speeches to Eve. Despite this point of critical contention, the story is rich with symbolism, poetry and human emotion.

Interpretation

  • As Milton explains at the start of Book Nine, he considered writing other forms of epic such as a chivalric epic; however, what makes his subject both unique and superior is that to Milton and his Christian readers, Paradise Lost is a true story.
  • Milton makes a distinction between tyranny and just rule. Though he himself was a rebel against King Charles II and even though Milton employs republican rhetoric, he insists that since God is a just ruler, Satan’s rebellion is wrong.
  • Much of Paradise Lost is a treatise against the dangers of pride. It is Satan’s pride in attempting to overthrow God that dooms him to Hell, and it is Eve and Adam’s pride in aspiring to godhood that results in the Fall.
  • However, Milton stresses the possibility of redemption no matter how far one falls. Adam and Eve ask for and receive forgiveness, and ultimately the Fall becomes a felix culpa, or “fortunate fall,” as it allows for Man’s redemption via the Son’s sacrifice.
  • Milton’s treatment of Eve is complex and problematic and has attracted the attention of feminist critics. Though Eve is responsible for Man’s fall, her frustration with her subservience to Adam before the Fall suggests some sympathy for her plight. At other times, Milton’s rhetoric is overtly misogynistic.
  • Milton makes clear in Book Four that although God is omnipotent and omniscient, Man has free will and is thus responsible for his own fall.
  • Much of the poem consists of conversations and debate, showing Milton’s belief in the primacy of reason and the importance of intellectual dialogue. However, he also cautions against the ways in which reason can be misled and in turn misdirect the will.
  • The poem is rich with symbolism, including images of light and darkness and the systematic linking of Eve and Satan that foreshadows the Fall.

Historical Background

Revolution and Restoration

Milton wrote Paradise Lost as a man intimately involved in revolution and with a keen personal investment in Christian theology. He not only lived through the English Civil War (1642–1651) but was also an integral part of Oliver Cromwell’s interregnum government. 

In the mid-17th century, perceptions of King Charles I as being corrupt and tensions over the taxes he imposed led to conflict between the king and Parliament. In 1629, the king disbanded Parliament, beginning what became known as the Eleven Years’ Tyranny. Inextricable from the political strife was England’s religious tension. Puritans (including Presbyterians like Milton) viewed the king as a Catholic sympathizer. His wife, Henrietta Maria, was Catholic, and when William Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury, he introduced Arminian reforms, exacerbating fears that too many remnants of Roman Catholicism held sway in the Anglican church. Although Charles recalled Parliament in 1640 in order to gain money for war with Scotland, after he tried to arrest parliamentary leaders who issued complaints against him, England erupted into Civil War. Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army and his Roundheads led the forces against the king, and after extensive fighting, the rebels captured the king in 1649, tried him for treason and beheaded him.

For 11 years, Oliver Cromwell ran England as Lord Protector. During this time, Milton worked as Secretary for Foreign Tongues, in which role he wrote impassioned defenses of the Commonwealth, producing replies to criticism and general propaganda. After Cromwell’s death, his son Richard Cromwell succeeded him, but in 1660, the protectorate collapsed and Charles II claimed the throne. He issued a general pardon that spared the lives of those involved in the rebellion – with specific exceptions, among which Milton nearly was listed). Though not executed, Milton and many of his fellow rebels faced imprisonment and poverty.

Development

A blind John Milton began dictating his epic poem in 1658. However, his plan for a new kind of epic poetry was interrupted by the collapse of the Rump Parliament in 1659, and Milton turned his hand to political writings with which he hoped to save his collapsing commonwealth. When Charles II regained the throne in 1660, Milton went into hiding. It was an impoverished and now completely blind Milton who completed Paradise Lost in 1663, but – given his politically tentative position – it wasn’t until 1667 that he found a publisher. In 1671, Milton published a sequel, Paradise Regained. In 1674, he restructured Paradise Lost so it would consist of 12 rather than 10 books, echoing the classical epics. Milton died later that year.

Reviews and Legacy

Despite Milton’s precarious reputation, Paradise Lost achieved success in his lifetime. John Dryden adapted the poem for the stage as The State of Innocence, though in Dryden’s royalist interpretation, Satan represented Oliver Cromwell. In the early 19th century, scholar Samuel Johnson criticized the poem, acknowledging its artistry but claiming “the want of human interest is always felt,” which made reading the poem “a duty rather than a pleasure.” In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Milton enjoyed a resurgence in popularity as the Romantics seized Paradise Lost and Satan in particular as objects for admiration. William Blake illustrated the poem, and Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote of Milton’s Satan as a supreme Romantic hero. Critics in the 19th century challenged the view that Milton was ”of the devil’s party.” In the mid-20th century, debate raged over the degree of Milton’s orthodoxy, with C.S. Lewis as one of Milton’s staunchest defenders. In the 1970s, Sandra Gilbert led a new wave of feminist criticism, challenging Milton’s depiction of Eve in particular and women in general.

In popular culture, plans to adapt the poem for film didn’t come to fruition, but the story has been performed as radio and stage plays. Paradise Lost is referenced frequently in literature; notable examples include Mary Shelley drawing heavily on the poem in her novel FrankensteinSalman Rushdie adapting portions of it for The Satanic Verses; and Philip Pullman writing his epic trilogy His Dark Materials as a kind of sequel to the poem that depicted a second revolt against heaven. Milton’s poem remains one of the most highly regarded works of English literature ever written.

About the Author

John Milton was born on December 9, 1608, in London. The son of a composer, he studied at St. Paul’s School and in 1625 attended Christ’s College, Cambridge. In 1630, Milton contributed a celebratory verse for the second folio of Shakespeare’s plays. When Cambridge fellow Edward King died in 1637, Milton wrote “Lycidias,” one of the most famous memorial poems ever written. In 1638, he traveled the continent, and when he returned to London in 1639, he took up a position as a schoolmaster and began writing anti-prelatical tracts. In 1642, Milton married Mary Powell, but they separated a few weeks later. Beginning the following year and for decades to come, Milton wrote pamphlets lobbying for the expansion of the grounds for divorce. In August 1642, The English Civil War erupted. Milton continued publishing political and philosophical pamphlets, including “Areopagitica,” which attacked the censorship of books prior to publication. In 1645, Milton reconciled with Mary; their daughter Anne was born the following year. During Charles I’s trial in January 1649, Milton wrote Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, which argued for the right of the people to try and execute a tyrant king. After the king’s beheading, Cromwell gave Milton an official government role as Secretary for Foreign Tongues. His son John was born in 1651, and in 1652, Mary died giving birth to their daughter Deborah. In the late 1640s, Milton’s eyesight had begun to fail, and by 1652 he was entirely blind. By now estranged from his daughters, he married Katherine Woodcock in 1656, but she died shortly after. Cromwell resigned in 1659, and in 1660, Charles II claimed the throne and issued a warrant for Milton’s arrest. The writer went into hiding. The threat of execution was lifted when Milton wasn’t named as an exception to the Act of Free and General Pardon. But royalists imprisoned him in the Tower of London, from which he emerged a few months later – bankrupt. In 1663, Milton married Elizabeth Minshull, and the couple moved to Buckinghamshire. He completed Paradise Lost by 1663, publishing it in 1667. John Milton died at age 65, likely due to complications from gout, on November 8, 1674.


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