An Analysis of Satan's Soliloquy in John Milton's "Paradise Lost"
In the eighty-two lines that consist of Satan’s famous soliloquy in Book IV (lines 32 to 113) of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, one is given a great deal to think about. Obviously, first and foremost, one gets a deeper look at the character of the “tragic hero” of Milton’s epic, who is consumed by his jealousy of God’s new creation, Mankind. Also, by seeing more of Satan’s character, one also sees Satan’s reasons for sinning, how sin originally began, and in a sense, he establishes a defence for his own, ill-thought-out actions. And finally, Satan’s soliloquy was a vehicle for Milton to further establish the main theme of his epic, which is, as one reads in Book I, to “justify the ways of God to men.” (I.26)
Above all, this deeper glimpse of Satan shows the reader that he (Satan) is quite intelligent. We see cunning skills of logic while he debates with himself the pros and cons of every point that he raises. The reader also sees in Satan that one thing that Adam and Eve crave so dearly — self-awareness. But this self-awareness that Satan possesses does not seem to enlighten him, as Adam and Even hope it will; in fact, he seems tortured by it, as he banters back and forth with himself. This same self-awareness also enable him to see that although he has a throne in Hell, where the Spirits beneath adore him, he pays a dear penalty for boasting that he could conquer God. In this, his self-awareness is his own Hell: “Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell.” (line 75)
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An overall sense of guilt prevails through most of Satan’s speech — here Milton allows the reader to see that the “Arch-Fiend” was, at one time, not pure evil, but that he did understand the stupidity of his actions. He hates the Sun because it makes him remember how wonderful it was to be so close to God as he tells the Sun in lines 37 to 39; and he feels very guilty about warring against God — in lines 42 and 43, he exclaims that God did not deserve such actions from Satan, especially in light of all that God had provided.
The reader also sees another side of Satan: confusion. On the one hand, Satan feels that if God had made him a more inferior Angel, he would not have been so tempted by his “pride and worse ambition.” However, on the other hand, he also feels that “Why not?” Perhaps another Angel would have taken up the aspirations for Godhead, and Satan’s own will would have drawn him to that other Angel.
Satan also severely exposes his jealousy. The reader already has a fairly clear understanding that Satan was jealous of God’s power, and that led to his fall. But, although he is also jealous of Mankind, God’s “new delight,” (line 106) who is replacing Satan and the other fallen Angels, Satan is also jealous of someone else. He is also jealous of the other Angels, his former peers, who “Fell not, but stand unshaken, from within / Or from without, to all temptations armed.” (lines 64 to 65) “How were they able to arm themselves against the temptations of pride, ambition and jealousy, but I was not?” he seems to say.
“Yet all his good proved ill in me, / And wrought but malice.” (lines 48 to 49) Here, Satan tells the reader that despite God’s generosity, it could not quell Satan’s powerful desire to sin; despite the easy service that God requested, Satan still forgot about how easy it was to pay his debt to God, and focussed only on the debt that he owed to Him. In a sense, Satan is saying that God’s generosity caused his sin — he felt that he couldn’t bear the wight of the immense debt of gratitude he owed to God for all that He had done, for Satan and all of the Angels. And we see this even more so in line 65, when Satan asks himself: “Hadst thou the same free will and power to stand?” He then replies to his own question in lines 66 and 67: “Thou hadst: whom hast thou then or what to accuse, / But Heav’n’s free love dealt equally to all?” Satan is trying to deceive himself and convince himself that he was not wrong in declaring war on God. In this he does not succeed, because how can one blame something as beautiful as equality in love for one’s evil wrong-doings?
In this speech, Milton is demonstrating to the reader that sin is a matter of choice; the Fall was a matter of choice; and to one day sit next to God in glory will be Man’s choice. But, Milton also shows the reader that the choice to sin is always there when Man feels that all hope is lost, and fear and remorse no longer exist — “all good to me is lost; / Evil, be thou my good.” (lines 109 to 110) And finally, Milton also brings to light the aspect of the pressure from others to sin.
Satan’s “dread of shame” from those Angels he convinced to follow him to was prevents him from repenting and leaves him with the single option of continuing to sin. This allows a parallel to be drawn with Man’s world, in that, often, Man will do something that, in his heart, he knows is not right, but that pressures from his fellow man make him feel as though he has no other option. What the reader must keep in mind is Satan’s earlier comment in line 65 about “the same free will and power” — the other option is there, and the choice is Man’s, but the road to follow that is the other option might not be as easy going, nor as clear-cut.
By showing the reader the “thoughts” and “emotions” of Satan, Milton is justifying God’s actions (or reactions) to all that Satan has done. Everythin that happens is part of God’s big plan, and in order to ensure that Mankind will one day sit with Him in Heaven, God knows that the decision to sit with Him must be wholly made on their (Mankind’s) own, or their love will be always forced and insincere. The reader sees that he has a decision to make: to choose either the “dread of shame” (line 82) and the “eternal woe” (line 70) that Satan suffers from as a result of his own sin, or to choose to sit with God, praising Him for all He has done, in all His generosity, and bask in the glory that comes with being God’s favoured creation.
The reader also sees that even Satan is disgusted by his own actions. “Ah wherefore! He deserved no such return / From me.” (lines 42 to 43) Here, Satan is justifying to himself why he fell from God’s grace, and in his description of his sins, the reader is made aware of items that are significant parts of our everyday lives. “Pride and worse ambition” (line 40) are the two sins that Satan specifically names, but one can understand that there are many others on that list.
By establishing a parallel between Satan’s and Mankind’s actions, Milton is also establishing a parallel between the necessary punishments. In other words, if Man is to feel that God was just in casting Satan out of Heaven, by the same token, Man must maintain the same standard for himself, so as to not be hypocritical. Satan himself understands that he deserved what he got; he recognizes it as a just consequence for his decisions. Therefore, any punishments God feels to wreak on Man, he (Man) should also accept that God is justified in what He does.
Satan’s soliloquy stands on its own: on its own it provides and interesting perspective on the character of Satan and how sin came about. On its own, the speech almost solely accomplishes Milton’s theme of his whole epic, to “justify the ways of God to men.” As part of Paradise Lost, it completes the picture and plays an integral part of fulfilling one of Milton’s goals that he set for himself when beginning this poem: namely, to do something that no one had done before him.