Man in Devil's guise : Satan's exceptional humanity in Milton's Paradise Lost (1998)
AuthorsColeman, Henry Petershow all
The subject of this thesis is Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost. I begin by observing how major critics and poets from Dryden on have understood this wonderful yet controversial character in Milton's greatest poem. After identifying the Satanist and anti-Satanist schools in this tradition and some of the general features of each school, I proceed to argue my central claim: by virtue of his consciousness, will, reason, and passion, Satan is a character whose nature is not in fact supernatural but fundamentally and essentially the same as that of an exceptional human being. I justify this claim by treating each of these attributes in separate chapters (the first chapter documents both consciousness and will). In making this argument, I take issue with early anti-Satanists, such as Dryden, Addison, Blair, and Johnson, and later anti-Satanists, such as Williams, Lewis, Musgrove, and Fish who fail to recognise Satan's exceptional human qualities, especially his reason. Though I align myself with some of the Satanists I discuss in the opening chapter, I also distinguish myself from them by first providing a distinct description of the specific nature of Satan's consciousness, will, reason, and passion. In so doing, I advance the Satanist critics' understanding of Satan by demonstrating that when all these particular features of Satan's character are taken together he can be seen as an exceptional human being. Thus, I explicitly argue for a claim that Satanists either gloss over or simply assume: Satan is essentially human. And it is because he is essentially human that Johnson is mistaken in claiming that the poem lacks human interest: we are interested in Satan because Satan is like us.