If taken at face value, John Milton’s poem seems have the purpose of showing religious enlightenment. Milton states in the opening lines, his poem is inspired by a muse and that it attempts to soar above the Aeonian Mount. The references to aeonian mount, that the poem will spiritually “soars beyond” that of the Greek mythology and thus he will show that Christianity is the true religion; The notion that, Milton is a devout Christian trying to give a religious account is emphasised through references to religious places such as “on the secret top of Oreb and Sinai didst inspire the Shepard”. This is not only because it seems to imitate the bible but also could be interpreted as Milton suggesting he is being inspired like the Shepard. Milton ends the first verse by stating he will “justify the ways of god to men”, again implying the poem will be giving almost a religious insight.
On the other hand, the text could be interpreted as being a gothic text and in fact, whilst Milton states he is justifying the ways of god to men, could be said to be concerned with justifying the ways of men, and to a degree Satan. If this is the case, then the poem becomes could be called gothic as becomes interested in characters who have been outcast, and their emotions and motivations. This meets two definitions of the gothic which are “the gothic is concerned with the breaking down of social moral codes” and that is the supernatural combined with the ordinary. Whilst the characters are in a supernatural setting, the audience can still relate to them.
The idea that the breaking of social and normal moral codes is an important part of the poem is conveyed in the first line of the poem is “of man’s first disobedience and the fruit/ of that forbidden tree”. In addition, it is created through contrasting imagery of heaven. Imagery of hell as being chaotic, compared heaven as being an ordered society. For example, heaven is described as being under the “monarchy” of God and being a “glorious enterprise; God is, “heavens matchless king”. On the other hand, Satan and the other angels are described as being “rebel angels”; Satan states that” to do ought good will never be our task”, as “being being to the contrary to his high will whom we will resist” . Satan’s actions seem and he even describes them as “perverse.”
Hell itself seems to be a place of chaos and disorder; Milton describes it is as “bottomless perdition” a seat of desolation void of light”. The imagery of “combustion” and “flames” reiterates a sense of turbulence, in contrast the idea of God as a matchless king makes him see like a rightful ruler. Thus on one level it can be said that Milton is portraying Satan and hell in a negative way.
However, what makes Satan an interesting character and the text seem gothic is that there is an underlying sense that the text is justifying Satan’s instinct to rebel. This impression is giving because Satan has admirable qualities; He is arguably a gothic hero..For example, Satan speaks to Beelzebub “though in pain”, vaunting aloud, but racked with deep despair”. In addition, his eyes are “described as sparkling”. These show that Satan despite his pain shows his strength of will and indicates courage which portrays him in a positive light. In addition, there is a sense that we can empathise with Satan’s questions. Satan implies that whilst “he was in happy realms of heaven, clothed with transcendent brightness” that he’d “rather reign in hell than serve in hell”; The instinct to rebel and question is one that the reader can empathise with.Especially as in contrast, no insight is giving in to God even though the poem is meant to be justifying his ways meaning a lot more empathy lies with Satan. There is a sense that though heaven is there is something oppressing about heaven, and something unfair about the way God reigns. For example God is described as “he with his thunder”, making him sound like a tyrant. God arguably is even portrayed as cruel; For example Satan states that they( the rebel angels) are condemned to heaven to “suffice [god’s] vengeful ire” ;God is subjecting Satan to unnecessary pain. Overall, it be said that the definition that the gothic the supernatural intertwined with ordinary, is accurate in this poem as, the themes of humans desire to rebel is a common theme people can identify with and goes back to Adam and eve, yet the poem is set in a supernatural setting.
Infact the poem can be seen as a poem as very specific to what Milton was experiencing and thus even more ordinary as it was people could directly relate to. At the time, in which this was written in, parliament was in civil war against Charles the 1st. Arguably, through the language, it can be interpreted Satan and the angels represent parliament, whilst God represents monarchy. Thus, the poem fits even more so the criteria of ordinary intertwined with the supernatural.
This impression is giving through hell as a” bottomless perdition with adamantine chains and penal fire”. Here the idea of adamantine, conjures the image of the dungeons of the time; Imagery of “darkness” and a bottomless pit. References to God as “heavens matchless king” and his “throne” instantly conjure up images of monarchy.
Another characteristic of the gothic genre is that gothic texts convey a sense of terror and fear. As stated part of the interest in Satan’s character is sense of empathy and sympathy for his fall. A gothic hero usually undergoes terror and suffering, usually both physical and psychological. In the poem, Milton uses imagery of hell to convey a sense of terror; Satan is physically punished for defying god; Satan describes himself left to” strongly to suffer to support our pains”. Furthermore he is described as being chained on to a burning lake”. Imagery such as the angels chasing the fallen angels out of heaven as “being a sulphurous hail” shooting after them in “a storm” again reiterates a sense of turmoil and terror.
In another sense, a sense of psychological terror is also conveyed. Hell could also be used to described as hell in the psychological sense, and the imagery of chaos, fire suffering is a metaphor for the turmoil and chaos in Satan’s mind; this is one of the characteristics of a gothic hero which engages the readers curiosity. This sense is reiterated when Satan describes that “the mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven”.