Social & Cultural History of the Time: Pinpointing Paradise

The tensions and political turmoil that surrounded John Milton undoubtedly influenced his great work, Paradise Lost. The social conditions during the time Milton lived provided him with a multitude of concepts in which he could incorporate into his epic. Paradise Lost is the result of Milton funneling all of his social and political ideologies into a vehicle in which he would be able to indirectly express his personal views without the risk of public conviction. The tense atmosphere along with significant events that happened contributed and shaped the work as Milton weaved his ideas into the epic. Paradise Lost can be interpreted in many ways, depending on how the work is broken down and analyzed. From a standard point of view, Paradise Lost is just an expanded account of a few pages in Genesis about Adam and Eve and the Temptation. However, Milton’s work can be interpreted in a much deeper way by viewing the epic as a political allegory that represents and embodies the political Pandemonium during the time.

The players, situations, and concepts that were depicted in Paradise Lost reflect actual true to life people and events that had occurred during Milton’s life. These happenings helped to shape Paradise Lost, and also provide Milton with a structure and a chain of events to weave into his epic. John Milton lived during turbulent times in England mainly due to the conflicts of interest and religious ideals that were taking place between King Charles I and Parliament. King Charles I was a firm believer in the divine right of kings to rule, and that God had given him the full authority to rule as he saw fit regardless what anyone and Parliament said (Roberts). With this kind of mindset, King Charles I ultimately took advantage of his position and soon became a tyrant. Parliament on the other hand, believed that a king had a contractual agreement to the people he ruled (Roberts). With these events occurring, Milton conveyed the idea that there was a profound difference between a divine king and an earthy one throughout Paradise Lost (Moss & Wilson). With Paradise Lost, it can be observed that Milton also expressed that an earthly king should not try to act as if he was a God himself. This is reflective of Lucifer beginning to defect from God’s grace, and attempting to make himself have more authority and power to be more like God and his Son.

The different views between King Charles I and Parliament reflects the impending separation of Heaven and Lucifer that was in the making. King Charles I’s exploitation of kingly authority against Parliament is embodied as Lucifer’s war against Heaven, which he suffers in defeat and is spared. Parliament is represented as Heaven in this particular context. King Charles I is spared as well but is charged with treason for attempting to take up arms against Parliament again, much like how Lucifer and his new weapons attempts to battle with Heaven for the second time. After all of this, the separation of Heaven and the rebellious Lucifer occurs, akin to how King Charles I is executed for treason. A defeated Lucifer and his rebel angels are cast into the depths of Hell, and here Lucifer plans to make his own Heaven out of Hell and Hell out of Heaven (Milton). Lucifer also represents Oliver Cromwell because Cromwell had been persuading Parliament to get rid of King Charles I, much like how Lucifer suggested and persuaded to the rebel angels that it may be possible to overthrow God and his kingdom. Milton creates these parallels and develops a back story and gives his character of Lucifer in the epic, motives and reason to overthrow God as well as a personality (Ward).  Cromwell also wanted to challenge the divine right of kings ideology of King Charles I and wanted more freedom, much like how Lucifer began to stray away from the light of God. It can be implied that Milton makes this connection to directly raise awareness of how straying away from God can create an imbalance in power and authority. In Hell, Lucifer incites and boosts the morale of his fallen angels, much like how Milton rouses support for Oliver Cromwell to become head of the Commonwealth that was soon established after the execution of King Charles I (Roberts). In this context, Lucifer creates his own Parliament and Lucifer represents Oliver Cromwell who eventually turns into a tyrant much like how King Charles I did. This new Parliament is embodied by the rebel angels who begin to debate amongst each other wildly, which represents the eventual opposing views between the Parliament and Cromwell. Lucifer, despite what his rebel angels have agreed upon in regarding what to do about God and Heaven, takes it upon himself and acts on his own decisions much like how King Charles I did with Parliament. This is also reminiscent of Oliver Cromwell who eventually acted entirely independent from what Parliament suggested; King Charles I, Lucifer, and Cromwell represent the concept of a false leader.

Paradise Lost can be interpreted as a political allegory, mainly due to the interactions between characters having disputes that have political undertones. The connections between the social and political disorder happenings during Milton’s life, and the situations in Paradise Lost are clear. The personalities of the influential figures and factions around Milton became the personalities of the characters in Paradise Lost. Politics were not the only thing that helped Milton to expand a few pages of Genesis into a twelve book epic, gender roles of his era were deeply embedded into the characters of Adam and Eve (Roberts). Milton was successful in creating the internal and external dialogues for all of his main characters in the epic by implanting social values and morals of his time. Milton was also successful in expressing his views about the flaws of the divine right of kings and why King Charles I was unfit to be King, and the potential corruption that could happen due to the exploitation of power.


Moss, Joyce and George Wilson. Literature and Its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events that Influenced Them. <> 2007 The Gale Group, Inc., 31 November 2010

Roberts, Gabriel. Milton’s Political Context. <> 2008 Christ’s College., 29 November 2010

Ward, Kyla. Paradise Last. <> 1994 “Tabula Rasa #3: The C-word”., 01 December 2010

1 comment:

  1. That was an insightful essay on the underlying political context of Milton's epic. Thanks for sharing.