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Rebellion Against Tyranny


by Crystal Eshraghi

Oppression at the hands of a tyrannical minority has for ages served as the motivation behind rebellions of the common man, fueling the essence of the commonwealth with the fervent intent to obtain their long-lost freedom and their merited autonomy. John Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost”, serves as a powerful allegory for the seventeenth century uprising against a despotic English monarchy, essentially rewriting the Bible to portray Satan as a courageous hero — a being of such unyielding strength and tenacity that he manages to continually challenge the totalitarian regime of God in heaven, promulgating the modern ideals of democracy through spirited revolt against a seemingly draconian regime.
In sharp contrast to the modern Christian perception of Satan as a wholly evil creature whose aim has forever been only to compromise the power of the Almighty God, Milton portrays Satan as the honorable protagonist of the Bible story, a being who braces the fury of his maker because he genuinely believe that he has been wronged. Satan, as a representation of the plighted English masses’ hope for salvation in the face of monarchial oppression by King Charles I, therefore sets out to better not only his own lot, but also that of his fellow repressed Angels in the kingdom of God. Satan manages to gather a third of the angels in Heaven to a meeting place in the north of the heavenly realm, attempting to convince them to join his forces and together rebel against God’s tyranny by claiming “too much to one, but double how endur’d, to one and to his image now proclaim’d?” (Book 5, 783–785). Satan views God’s preference for his Son as His successor to be a blatant injustice to all those Angels who had for so long labored by His side and devoted their existences to His cause. Satan questions the equity of God’s monarchy and presents 
a rational argument — how can the Angels be expected to worship a Lord wholly new, one that has risen to his station by no merit of his own? Satan’s rebellion is fundamentally founded in his own faith in success being the reward for loyalty and demonstrated devotion. Believing that he has been slighted by God’s flagrant disregard of him just when remuneration would prove most rewarding, Satan’s rebellion echoes the democratic ideals of equality of opportunity and freedom of political self-determination — thus mirroring the cause of Oliver Cromwell and the Rump Parliament during the English Civil War in the seventeenth century. Satan represents the oppressed common man, a person whose merit has been overlooked for far too long, but who has now mustered the willpower to fight what he believes he deserves and for what he has been unjustly denied — power.

As the primary protagonist of Milton’s poem, Satan symbolizes the forgotten man of a newly privileged society. Satan bases his rebellion on the question of whether or not God “can in reason assume monarchy over such as live by right his equals, if in power and splendor less in freedom equal?” (Book 5, 796–797). In this heavenly realm, it holds that although all Angels are not perfect equals, they are all equally free, and as such, have full dominion over their personal beliefs and will. Satan claims that God’s proclamation of his son as the new lord is an insult to the Angel’s liberty, as they must be their own priorities. Satan, thus represents an honorable individualist, a character unwilling to sink under the subjection of an unjust tyranny, and strong enough to take his own fate into his own hands by rebelling against the chains of unjust privilege and inflexible despotism which so cruelly hold him down. Despite Milton’s primary portrayal of Satan as a honorable and good proponent of republican democracy, he displays signs of his own

shifting political allegiances through his somewhat differing descriptions of Satan throughout the text itself. As argued by literary analyst Peter C. Herman, “Milton’s frequent comparisons of Satan to Turkish tyrants also reveal shifting and irresolvable political resonances. Both Stevie Davies and Michael Wilding have analyzed Milton’s description of Satan as a “great sultan” in the context of the images in Eikonoklastes and other texts associating Charles I and his ministers with Turkish tyranny” (Herman, 423–428). It is clear from Milton’s own writing that Satan serves as a symbolic representation of the most truly humane form — a character whose merits can sometimes be marred by his faults and whose efforts overshadowed by his shortcomings. By comparing Satan to a “Turk”, an insult often used by factions in the seventeenth century to refer to their enemies, Milton expresses his own discontent with certain aspects of Satan’s modus operandi, which is analogous to Milton’s distaste for some aspects of Oliver Cromwell’s political approach despite his overarching support for the rebellion and its cause. Through this essential dichotomy of opinion regarding Satan’s character, it becomes clear that Satan is the paradigm for the modern hero — a being who certainly has serious flaws, but whose merits overwhelm his shortcomings, causing him to ultimately be considered a champion for the commonwealth in its entirely.
A powerful representation of an unyielding force of strength and tenacity, Satan’s eternal struggle against the tyrannical kingdom of God secures his role as a steadfast supporter of personal liberty and freedom from unjust oppression, whatever form it may present itself in. Despite the fact that his rebellion is not ever shown to be successful in the traditional sense of the term, as he never truly manages to overthrow God’s monarchy, Satan’s attempts at instilling

democratic values in his society are incredibly admirable. As literary critic Ethan Smilie argues, “When Satan returns to Hell after successfully tempting Eve, he does not receive the victory cheers that he expects. Instead, he hears a universal “hiss as he and his crew transform into serpents” (Smilie, 1–2). It is true that Satan’s efforts are not wholly recognized, in that his rebellion does not attain universal support. However, his refusal to give up even with defeat seemingly inevitable speaks to the power of free-will and the individual’s innate capacity for creating societal change. Satan, while invoking ambition in his fallen troops, encourages them to press on, professing that “we will reassemble our afflicted powers, consult how we may most offend our enemy” (Book 1, 186). Satan’s refusal to back down in the face of adversity or succumb to tyranny even in the very moment of defeat symbolizes his presence as a powerful force of the integrated public interests against the tyrannical will of a landed minority. Satan is the ultimate protagonist — a character so devoted to his own cause that even in the face of inevitable defeat, he reforms his battle plan to make the most of what he has left. He resolves to challenge God’s tyranny through “deceit and guile” (Book 1, 193) rather than by brute force, thereby cementing his place as a resolute hero who is unwilling to ever forfeit his cause, abandon his fellow man, or succumb to that which he so valiantly struggles against. John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is more than just a revolutionary rewriting of the world’s most famous text — the Bible. It is a powerful stance against despotic rule and tragical power, and a testament to the limitless potential of democratic ideals — portrayed through Satan’s unyielding rebellion against the kingdom of God.

Lost.” Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 65.2 (2013): 91+. Student Resources in Context. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.


Works Cited
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Charlottesville, VA: U of Virginia Library, 1993. Print. ! Smilie, Ethan. “Satan’s unconquerable will and Milton’s use of Dantean Contrapasso in Paradise
Herman, Peter C. “‘Warring chains of signifiers’: metaphoric ambivalence and the politics of Paradise Lost.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 40.3 (1998): 268+. Student Resources in Context. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.

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