English 201: English Literature to 1700
Prof. Boyer
Reading Questions for John Milton's Paradise Lost
The best beginning procedure is always to read the assignment all the way through, keeping track of characters, so that you know what's happening. If possible, read the whole work first. Try to get the big picture of the book before getting bogged down in details. Read through, then go back and clear up details. Then you're ready to read the work closely with these questions in mind. (In the discussion below, page and line numbers in parentheses refer to The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th ed., vol. 1 or 1B [2000] unless otherwise indicated.

Additional Paradise Lost material is on the Norton Topics Online website. Enter the site at www.wwnorton.com/nael and select the Early Seventeenth Century from the text on that page. Then select the Paradise Lost section.

Preliminary matter

Book 5 (lines 1-223 only)

Book 9

Book 1

Book 6 (argument only)

Book 10

Book 2

Book 7 (lines 1-39 only)

Book 11 (argument only)

Book 3 (lines 1-371 only)

Book 8 (not assigned 2001)

Book 12 (lines 466-649 only)

Book 4

Preliminary Matter

In the 1674 second edition, four items appear before the beginning of the poem. These are a Latin poem praising Milton, a poem on Milton by Andrew Marvell, and two prose statements. Here are the ending of Marvell's poem and the brief printer's statement:

Where couldst thou words of such a compass find?
Whence furnish such a vast expense of mind?
Just Heav'n thee like Tiresias to requite
Rewards with Prophecy thy loss of sight.
Well mightst thou scorn thy Readers to allure
With tinkling Rime, of thy own sense secure;
While the Town-Bayes writes all the while and spells,And like a Pack-horse tires without his Bells:
Their Fancies like our Bushy-points appear,
The Poets tag them, we for fashion wear.
I too transported by the Mode offend,
And while I meant to Praise thee must Commend.
Thy Verse created like thy Theme sublime,
In Number, Weight, and Measure, needs not Rime.
A. M
THE PRINTER TO THE READER

Courteous Reader, There was no Argument at first intended to the Books, but for the satisfaction of many that have desired it, I have procured it, and withal a reason of that which stumbled many others, why the Poem Rimes not.

The last item, "The Verse," is on page 1817.

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Book 1 (pages 1817-1836)

The Argument [from the 1674 edition]: See pages 1817-1818.

1.

As announced in the first five lines, what is Milton's subject? What is his purpose (1.24-26)?

2.

How long does it take to get an answer to the question "Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?" (1.33)? What is the answer?

3.

Where are Satan and his followers at the beginning of the poem? How did they get there?

4.

What is the attitude of Satan and Beelzebub to what has happened? (1.84-191) How does Milton want us to respond? (See 1.209-220.)

5.

What happens when Satan calls his followers to him? How does Satan react to their parade? What does he tell them (1.622ff)? Whose fault does Satan say it is that they fell? Why?

6.

How is the city built? What is its name? How do the devils solve their space problem? Does this solution affect the leaders?

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Book 2 (pages 1836-1858)

The Argument [from the 1674 edition]: The consultation begun, Satan debates whether another battle be to be hazarded for the recovery of heaven: some advise it, others dissuade: a third proposal is preferred, mentioned before by Satan, to search the truth of that prophecy or tradition in heaven concerning another world, and another kind of creature equal or not much inferior to themselves, about this time to be created: their doubt who shall be sent on this difficult search: Satan their chief undertakes alone the voyage, is honored and applauded. The council thus ended, the rest betake them several ways and to several employments, as their inclinations lead them, to entertain the time till Satan return. He passes on his journey to hell gates, finds them shut, and who sat there to guard them, by whom at length they are opened,and discover to him the great gulf between hell and heaven; with what difficulty he passes through, directed by Chaos, the power of that place, to the sight of this new world, which he sought.

1.

Why does Satan justify his taking the throne?

2.

What position is advocated by the first three speakers: Moloch (2.43-105), Belial (2.106-225), and Mammon (2.226-283)?

3.

What is the response of the assembly to Mammon's speech? What does Beelzebub propose (2.299-378)? What do we learn from his speech? Who is he a spokesman for? What does he propose in the remainder of his speech (2.390-416)? Who volunteers? What is Satan's response and suggestion (2.430-66)?

4.

What sorts of things do the devils come up with to pass their time? What comments is Milton making?

5.

How does Satan get through the gates of Hell? Whom does he meet there? What surprising things does he learn from them?

6.

What happens to Satan in Chaos (beginning at 2.890)? Meanwhile, what are Sin and Death up to (2.1024-1033)?

7.

As Satan leaves Chaos, what does he see in the distance (2.1051-1053)? (Note that this is the entire universe he's seeing, not merely the earth-see pages A-60-A61 of vol. 1B or 2960-2961 of vol. 1 for Milton's view of the universe.)

8.

What's going to happen next?

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From Book 3 (lines 1-371, pages 1858-1866)

The Argument [from the 1674 edition]: God sitting on his throne sees Satan flying towards this world, then newly created; shows him to the Son who sat at his right hand; foretells the success of Satan in perverting mankind; clears his own justice and wisdom from all imputation, having created man free and able enough to have withstood his tempter; yet declares his purpose of grace towards him, in regard he fell not of his own malice, as did Satan, but by him seduced. The Son of God renders praises to his Father for the manifestation of his gracious purpose towards man; but God again declares that grace cannot be extended towards man without the satisfaction of divine justice; man hath offended the majesty of God by aspiring to Godhead, and therefore with all his progeny devoted to death must die, unless some one can be found sufficient to answer for his offense, and undergo his punishment. The Son of God freely offers himself a ransom for man: the Father accepts him, ordains his incarnation, pronounces his exaltation above all names in heaven and earth; commands all the angels to adore him; they obey, and hymning to thir harps in full choir, celebrate the Father and the Son. Meanwhile Satan alights upon the bare convex of this world's [i.e., universe's] outermost orb; where wandering he first finds a place since called the Limbo of Vanity; what persons and things fly up thither; thence comes to the gate of heaven, described ascending by stairs, and the waters above the firmament that flow about it: His passage thence to the orb of the sun; he finds there Uriel the regent of that orb, but first changes himself into the shape of a meaner angel; and pretending a zealous desire to behold the new creation and man whom God had placed there, inquires of him the place of his habitation, and is directed; alights first on Mount Niphates.

1.

What does Milton's Invocation to Light (3.1-55) tell us about Milton and his writing of Paradise Lost? Why is this invocation located here, at the beginning of Book 3?

2.

What does the Father see as he looks around (3.56-79)? Who is sitting next to him? (Notice that "the Father" and "the Son" are the terms Milton uses. The Son has not yet come to earth as Jesus and has not yet become Christ, so "the Son" is the proper term in discussions of Paradise Lost.)

3.

Read the Father's speech carefully (3.80-134). How much does the Father know of what will happen? How responsible does he claim to be for what will happen? What is his explanation for knowing what will happen but not being responsible for it?

4.

How do the Spirits in heaven respond to the Father's speech (3.135-142)?

5.

What concern for the humans does the Son express (3.143-166)? Is the Son concerned about anything else in this speech?

6.

How does the Father respond (3.167-215)? Is there any way that man can be saved from death? What is it?

7.

What is the heavenly response to the Father's question (3.217-224)? Who volunteers, and why (3.224-265)? What does he think will happen to him?

8.

How does the Father respond (3.274-343)? What will be the ultimate fate of the world and of man?

9.

How do the angels respond (3.344-371)?

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Book 4 (pages 1874-1895)

The Argument [from the 1674 edition]: Satan now in prospect of Eden, and nigh the place where he must now attempt the bold enterprise which he undertook alone against God and man, falls into many doubts with himself, and many passions, fear, envy, and despair; but at length confirms himself in evil, journeys on to Paradise, whose outward prospect and situation is described, overleaps the bounds, sits in the shape of a cormorant on the Tree of Life, as highest in the garden to look about him. The garden described; Satan's first sight of Adam and Eve; his wonder at their excellent form and happy state, but with resolution to work their fall; overhears their discourse, thence gathers that the Tree of Knowledge was forbidden them to eat of, under penalty of death; and thereon intends to found his temptation, by seducing them to transgress: then leaves them a while, to know further of their state by some other means. Meanwhile Uriel descending on a sunbeam warns Gabriel, who had in charge the gate of Paradise, that some evil spirit had escaped the deep, and past at noon by his sphere in the shape of a good angel down to Paradise, discovered after by his furious gestures in the mount. Gabriel promises to find him ere morning. Night coming on, Adam and Eve discourse of going to their rest: their bower described; their Evening worship. Gabriel drawing forth his bands of nightwatch to walk the round of Paradise, appoints two strong Angels to Adam's bower, lest the evil spirit should be there doing some harm to Adam or Eve sleeping; there they find him at the ear of Eve, tempting her in a dream, and bring him, though unwilling, to Gabriel; by whom questioned, he scornfully answers, prepares resistance, but hindered by a sign from heaven, flies out of Paradise.

1.

In what terms does Satan argue with himself in his soliloquy (4.32-113)?

2.

To what things is Satan compared as he enters Paradise (4.172-204)?

3.

How is the Garden described? How is the description similar to the descriptions of other gardens we have encountered? How much of this description comes from the Biblical account of Paradise in Genesis 2? The description of such a garden actually has a long literary tradition. Such a garden is called a locus amoenus ("pleasant place"). One of the earliest examples is the Garden of Alkinoos in Book 7 of The Odyssey (in Robert Fitzgerald's translation):

To left and right, outside, he saw an orchard
closed by a pale--four spacious acres planted
with trees, pomegranates, brilliant apples;
luscious figs, and olives ripe and dark.
Fruit never failed upon these trees: winter
and summer time they bore, for through the year
the breathing Westwind ripened all in turn--
so one pear came to prime, and then another,
and so with apples, figs, and the vine's fruit
empurpled in the royal vineyard there.
Currants were dried at one end, on a platform
bare to the sun, beyond the vintage arbors
and vats the vintners trod; while near at hand
were new grapes barely formed as the green bloom fell,
or half-ripe clusters, faintly coloring.
After the vines came rows of vegetables
of all the kinds that flourish in every season,
and through the garden plots and orchard ran
channels from one clear fountain, while another
gushed through a pipe under the courtyard entrance
to serve the house and all who came for water.
These were the gifts of heaven to Alkinoos.

Another example is the Garden of Adonis in Book 3 of The Faerie Queene (canto 6, stanzas 30-49, pages 833-838.

4.

How are Adam and Eve described? What effect, if any, does the point of view from which we view them have on the description? How do they behave? Is this how you expected Adam and Eve to behave before the Fall?

5.

How does Satan respond to what he has seen (4.358-392)?

6.

How does Eve describe her creation and meeting of Adam (4.440-491)?

7.

How does Satan respond (4.505-535)?

8.

How do Adam and Eve spend the evening? What happens when they go to bed? Is this what you expected before the Fall? How does Milton respond? (See especially his "hymn" to wedded love, 4.750-775.)

9.

What do the angels find when they search the garden? What is Satan doing (4.799-803)? What keeps Satan and the angels from getting into a fight (4.977-1015)?

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From Book 5 (lines 1-543, pages 1895-1907)

The Argument [from the 1674 edition]: Morning approached, Eve relates to Adam her troublesome dream; he likes it not, yet comforts her: they come forth to their day labors: their morning hymn at the door of their bower. God to render man inexcusable sends Raphael to admonish him of his obedience, of his free estate, of his enemy near at hand; who he is, and why his enemy and whatever else may avail Adam to know. Raphael comes down to Paradise, his appearance described, his coming discerned by Adam afar off sitting at the door of his bower; he goes out to meet him, brings him to his lodge, entertains him with the choicest fruits of Paradise got together by Eve; their discourse at table: Raphael performs his message, minds Adam of his state and of his enemy; relates at Adam's request who that enemy is, and how he came to be so, beginning from his first revolt in heaven, and the occasion thereof; how he drew his legions after him to the parts of the north, and there incited them to rebel with him, persuading all but only Abdiel a Seraph, who in argument dissuades and opposes him, then forsakes him.

1.

How does Eve describe her dream (5.35-93)? Does Eve eat the fruit in her dream?

2.

How does Adam respond to Eve's description of her dream?

3.

What is the nature of Adam and Eve's morning prayer (5.135-210)?

4.

Why does the Father send Raphael to visit Adam and Eve?

5.

What happens when Raphael comes to Adam and Eve (5.275ff)? Who fixes the lunch?

6.

How does Raphael greet Eve (5.385-391)? What echo are we expected to hear?

7.

What does Adam ask Raphael, and what does Raphael tell him (5.451-543)?

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Book 6 Argument

The Argument [from the 1674 edition]: Raphael continues to relate how Michael and Gabriel were sent forth to battle against Satan and his angels. The first fight described: Satan and his powers retire under night: he calls a council, invents devilish engines, which in the second day's fight put Michael and his angels to some disorder; but they at length pulling up mountains overwhelmed both the force and machines of Satan: yet the tumult not so ending, God on the third day sends Messiah his Son, for whom he had reserved the glory of that victory: he in the power of his Father coming to the place, and causing all his legions to stand still on either side, with his chariot and thunder driving into the midst of his enemies, pursues them unable to resist towards the wall of heaven; which opening, they leap down with horror and confusion into the place of punishment prepared for them in the deep: Messiah returns with triumph to his Father.

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From Book 7 (lines 1-39, pages 1934-1935)

The Argument [from the 1674 edition]: Raphael at the request of Adam relates how and wherefore this world was first created; that God, after the expelling of Satan and his angels out of heaven, declared his pleasure to create another world and other creatures to dwell therein; sends his Son with glory and attendance of angels to perform the work of creation in six days: the angels celebrate with hymns the performance thereof, and his reascension into heaven.

1.

How does Milton approach describing the creation of the world? What sort of audience does Milton want/expect for his poem?

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Book 8 (pages 1948-1961)

The Argument [from the 1674 edition]: Adam inquires concerning celestial motions, is doubtfully answered, and exhorted to search rather things more worthy of knowledge: Adam assents, and still desirous to detain Raphael, relates to him what he remembered since his own creation, his placing in Paradise, his talk with God concerning solitude and fit society, his first meeting and nuptials with Eve, his discourse with the angel thereupon; who after admonitions repeated departs.

1.

What kinds of questions does Adam ask Raphael? How is the universe gendered (8.140-152)? How does Raphael respond (8.159-178)?

2.

Why is Raphael interested in hearing Adam's story?

3.

Who fixes lunch? Are we surprised?

4.

How does Adam describe his creation? What instructions does he receive? What happens when Adam asks for a companion?

5.

How does Adam describe the creation of Eve? You might want to compare this description with her own description of her creation at 4.440-491, pages 1883-1884.

6.

What potential problem does Adam raise in 8.528-533 and 8.546-556? How does Raphael respond (8.560-594)?

7.

What happens when Adam asks Raphael how angels love, and what answer does he get?

8.

What warning does Raphael leave Adam with?

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Book 9 (pages 1961-1986)

The Argument [from the 1674 edition]: Satan having compassed the earth, with meditated guile returns as a mist by night into Paradise, enters into the serpent sleeping. Adam and Eve in the morning go forth to their labors, which Eve proposes to divide in several places, each laboring apart: Adam consents not, alleging the danger, lest that enemy, of whom they were forewarned, should attempt her found alone: Eve loath to be thought not circumspect or firm enough, urges her going apart, the rather desirous to make trial of her strength; Adam at last yields: the Serpent finds her alone; his subtle approach, first gazing, then speaking, with much flattery extolling Eve above all other creatures. Eve wondering to hear the Serpent speak, asks how he attained to human speech and such understanding not till now; the Serpent answers, that by tasting of a certain tree in the garden he attained both to speech and reason, till then void of both: Eve requires him to bring her to that tree, and finds it to be the Tree of Knowledge forbidden: the Serpent now grown bolder, with many wiles and arguments induces her at length to eat; she pleased with the taste deliberates a while whether to impart thereof to Adam or not, at last brings him of the fruit, relates what persuaded her to eat thereof: Adam at first amazed, but perceiving her lost, resolves through vehemence of love to perish with her; and extenuating the trespass, eats also of the fruit: the effects thereof in them both; they seek to cover their nakedness; then fall to variance and accusation of one another.

1.

What claims does Milton make for his epic at the beginning of Book 9? What do we learn about his writing process?

2.

What is the serpent's role in all this mess? What does Satan say in his soliloquy (9.99-178)?

3.

What new idea does Eve have today? What is Adam's response?

4.

How does Satan approach Eve? What does he reveal to us in his soliloquy (9.473-493)? What arguments does Satan use in convincing Eve to eat the fruit? How truthful is he?

5.

Why does Eve eat the fruit (9.781)? What happens? Why does she decide to tell Adam?

6.

What does Eve tell Adam when he finds her? What's unusual (but effective) in the syntax of 9.867?

7.

Why does Adam eat the fruit (9.997)? What happens?

8.

What is the first thing Adam and Eve do after the Fall (9.1011ff)? What has changed about it?

9.

What happens when Adam and Eve awake? Whom do they blame for the Fall? Whom does neither blame?

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Book 10 (pages 1986-2010)

The Argument [from the 1674 edition]: Man's transgression known, the guardian angels forsake Paradise, and return up to heaven to approve their vigilance, and are approved, God declaring that the entrance of Satan could not be by them prevented. He sends his Son to judge the transgressors, who descends and gives sentence accordingly; then in pity clothes them both, and reascends. Sin and Death sitting till then at the gates of hell, by wondrous sympathy feeling the success of Satan in this new world, and the sin by man there committed, resolve to sit no longer confined in hell, but to follow Satan their sire up to the place of man: to make the way easier from hell to this world to and fro, they pave a broad highway or bridge over Chaos, according to the track that Satan first made; then preparing for earth, they meet him proud of his success returning to hell; their mutual gratulation. Satan arrives at Pandemonium, in full assembly relates with boasting his success against man; instead of applause is entertained with a general hiss by all his audience, transformed with himself also suddenly into serpents, according to his doom given in Paradise; then deluded with a show of the Forbidden Tree springing up before them, they greedily reaching to take of the fruit, chew dust and bitter ashes. The proceedings of Sin and Death; God foretells the final victory of his Son over them, and the renewing of all things; but for the present commands his angels to make several alterations in the heavens and elements. Adam more and more perceiving his fallen condition heavily bewails, rejects the condolement of Eve; she persists and at length appeases him: then to evade the curse likely to fall on their offspring, proposes to Adam violent ways, which he approves not, but conceiving better hope, puts her in mind of the late promise made them, that her seed should be revenged on the Serpent, and exhorts her with him to seek peace of the offended Deity, by repentance and supplication.

1.

What happens when the Fall is known in heaven? Who comes to earth to judge Adam and Eve? How good is their confession? What punishments are given? What do Adam and Eve receive?

2.

What do Sin and Death do (10.229ff? What happens when they meet Satan?

3.

How does Satan enter the Council (10.441ff)? What happens at the end of his speech (10.504ff)?

4.

What happens to the devils? Is this the only time it happens?

5.

What happens when Sin and Death enter Paradise (10.585ff)? What is the Father's response? What changes are made (10.648-715)?

6.

How does Adam react to the fallen world (10.715ff)? How much does he know about death?

7.

What initially happens when Eve approaches (10.863ff)? What finally replaces blame (10.958-961)? Is it an improvement?

8.

What do Adam and Eve consider doing? What finally is their response (10.1086ff)?

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Book 11 Argument

The Argument [from the 1674 edition]: The Son of God presents to his Father the prayers of our first parents now repenting, and intercedes for them: God accepts them, but declares that they must no longer abide in Paradise; sends Michael with a band of Cherubim to dispossess them; but first to reveal to Adam future things: Michael's coming down. Adam shows to Eve certain ominous signs; he discerns Michael's approach, goes out to meet him: the angel denounces their departure. Eve's lamentation. Adam pleads, but submits: The angel leads him up to a high hill, sets before him in vision what shall happen till the Flood.

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From Book 12 (lines 466-649, pages 2040-2044)

The Argument [from the 1674 edition]: The angel Michael continues from the Flood to relate what shall succeed; then, in the mention of Abraham, comes by degrees to explain, who that Seed of the Woman shall be, which was promised Adam and Eve in the Fall; his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension; the state of the church till his second coming. Adam greatly satisfied and recomforted by these relations and promises descends the hill with Michael; wakens Eve, who all this while had slept, but with gentle dreams composed to quietness of mind and submission. Michael in either hand leads them out of Paradise, the fiery sword waving behind them, and the Cherubim taking their stations to guard the place.

1.

Look at 12.24-47 (pages 2030-2031), a passage interesting for signs of Milton's republican, anti-monarchical views. Michael has been describing the peaceful lives of people after the flood until the appearance of Nimrod.

2.

How does Adam respond to the historical vision he has just received (12.469ff)?

3.

How effective is the Church in transforming the evil of the world?

4.

What lesson about knowledge has Adam learned (12.557-573)?

5.

What lesson does Michael have for Adam (12.581-587)? How easy is it to do this?

6.

What is Eve's response (12.614-623)?

7.

Why is the simile of the evening mist (12.629ff) especially appropriate here?

8.

What is the effect of the last lines? Why is it important that they go "hand in hand"? (See 4.321, 689, 739.)

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