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Political Influence of Paradise Lost and Other Works of John Milton

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Political Influence of Paradise Lost and other works of John Milton

By: Danny Cross

“The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & Gods, and of liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it”-William Blake. “Marriage of Heaven and Hell”


Milton wrote the greatest epic in the history of the English language while simultaneously creating a narrative about the current revolt against Kind Charles and did it through a medium that every person of the day could relate to. John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is considered to be the best English epic ever written. It was immediately received as excellent and it instantly immortalized John Milton as a timeless great writer and poet, if there was any doubt to begin with. By using religion as a relatable understandable medium for creating the narrative used to critique the government of the time he ensured that his message was to be received and understood. Religion was a relatable subject for the time and thanks to the success of the revolt he was able to use it to discuss what has happened with the government in a very clever way. “Paradise Lost”, published in 1667 is considered the best epic in the history of the English language and debatable John Milton’s biggest accomplishment. As a staunch oppose of tyranny, forms varying from religious to domestic, John used his writing ability to get involved with events through his writing. Milton took part in a revolutionary government, supporting and defending the abolition of the British Monarchy in 1649 and writing work to explain the execution of their king to the rest of Europe, made John Milton a state enemy when the monarchy was reinstated in 1660. This political background landed Milton in prison and from an English prison cell, the grandest epic of the English language was born. (Achinstein, 2008)

In order to understand John Milton’s full impact on society, politics, and politicians, without first understanding his previous works and previous themes implicated in previous works that impact his future works. That future work being “Paradise Lost”. This is not the first time that John Milton had influenced society or political policy. His ideas are still relevant today in politics and the concepts he speaks of in the 1600s are still practices today 400 years later.

 In 1644 Milton argues for free exchange of ideas in a speech called “Areopagitica.” This political tract first was written in response to government licensing laws which forced every work being published to be funneled through the same set of twenty officials for approval. These officials would edit or remove certain parts of works if they were not in line with the thinking of the government or church. This tract is in four parts, part one outlines the history of censorship and licensure with multiple cases where censorship of information and ideas has been detrimental for society. Part two is on the value of reading and the value of a writer’s ideas being expressed to the reader as intended. The second part also makes an emphasis on the idea that even bad books are a great as well because they force a free marketplace for ideas, where readers can select the best ideas or books. Part three is a focus on the logistical nightmare that this law would cause. On a practical level trying to funnel an entire countries publishing work through twenty licensers, as well all forms of communication would have to be regulated including cloths and music. The final section is where Milton shows his true American spirit, if it is not already, Milton argues that a system of censorship on ideas would prevent new and better ideas. The concepts at work in the tract are relatable to economics, writing, and speech. This tract lays out a lot of the American Bill of Rights concepts in it, freedom of speech, press, religion. The freedom of speech is the real root of all freedoms, that is what this tract really argues for, the free exchange of ideas, in any form, of any content. (Merhouse, 2008)

In 1660 Milton publishes “A Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth” in which Milton discusses what liberty really is and what it means to be a truly free person. Two elements are present in the tract, spiritual and civil liberty. Translated into more familiar terms, freedom. Unlimited freedom, the true freedom to follow our conscience without fear of persecution, Milton Called it “The Whole Freedom of Man. He talks about how we must never be forcible prevented or persuaded into doing acts that we do not wish, that included going to church or other moral norms that were punishable at the time. Civil liberty is really what was summarized in “Areopagitica,” the basic human right to say what you want and communicate whatever ideas you think of.  Spiritual liberty is the freedom to believe what you please. Milton’s main focus was not on freedom of action be freedom from interference with your actions. These elements and concepts will be a heavy influence on some of the elements seen in Milton’s next poem. (Milton Q. S., 2008)

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