A Paradise Lost - Context
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A Paradise Lost - Context
John Milton's father was a prosperous merchant, however, Milton was disowned by his familt when he converted from Catholicism to Protestantism. Milton excelled in school, and went on to study privately in his twenties and thirties. Milton had been travelling in italy but returned to England upon the outbreak of the civil war in 1639. Upon returning from Italy, he began planning an epic poem, the first ever written in English. These plans were delayed by his marriage to Mary Powell and her subsequent desertion of him. In reaction to these events, Milton wrote a series of pamphlets calling for more lenienct in the church's position on divorce. His argument brought him both greater publicity and angry criticism from the religious establishment in England. When the Second Civil War ended in 1648, with King Charles dethroned and executed, Milton welcomed the new parliament and wrote pamphlets in its support. After serving for a few years in a civil position, he retired briefly to his house in Westminster because his eyesight was failing. By 1652, he was completely blind.
Despite his disability, Milton reentered civil service under the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. Two years after Cromwell's death, Milton's worst fears were realised- the Restoration brought Charles II back to the throne, and the poet had to go into hiding to escape execution. However, he had already begun work on the great English epic which he had planned so long before; Paradise Lost. It was published the year after the Great Fire of London. The greatness of Milton's epic was immediately recognised and the admiring comments of the respected poets John Dryden and Andrew Marvell helped restore Milton in favour.
Milton's literary output was guided by his faith in God. Milton believed that all poetry served social, philosophicl and religious purpose. He thought that poetry should glorify God, promote religious values, enlighten readers and help peopel to become better Christians.
With politics, Milton championed the absolute freedom of the individual- perhaps because he had been so often betrayed by the institutions in which he put his trust. He believed that power corrupted people and he distrusted anyone who could claim power over anyone else and believed that rulers should have to prove their right to lead people.
Milton was an activist in his middle years, fighting for human rights and against the rule of England's leaders, whom he believed were inept. Knowing he was not a fighter, he demonstrated his activism by writing lengthy, rhetorical pamphlets that argue his point of view.
Milton believed in a strict social and political hierarchy in which people would obey their leader and leaders serve their people because they are better and more fit to rule than their subjects. But despite these rigid views of authority, Milton believed that the social hierarchy that actually existed in his day was extremely corrupt and he directly challenged the rule of Charles I, the king of England during much of Milton's lifetime. Milton argued that Chalres was not in fact, fit to lead his subjects because he did not possess superior faculties or virtues.
Milton took public stances on a greater number of issues, but most important to the reading of PL are his positions on religion. In Milton's time, the Anglican Church, or Church of England, had split into the high Anglican, moderate Anglican and Puritan or Presbyterian sects. Milton was a Presbyterian. This denomination called for the abolishment of bishops, an office that exists as part of the Catholic and Anglican churches. Milton, however, gradually took his views further, ultimately calling for the removal of all priests, whom he referred to as 'hirelings'. Milton despised the corruption he saw in the Catholic Church, repeatedly attacking it both in his poetry and prose. In 'Lycidas', he likens Catholics to hungry wolves leaping into a sheep pen, an image similar to his depiction of Satan leaping over the wall of Paradise in PL, Book IV. He saw few problems with the division of Protestants into more and smaller denominations. Instead, he thought that the fragmentation of churches was a sign of healthy self-examination, and believed that each individual Christian should be his own church. Milton's highly individual view of Christianity makes PL
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