Character Analysis in Paradise Lost Book 2

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      As has been already observed Milton was largely handicapped by the choice of his subject which seldom allowed him sufficient latitude in introducing much variety and novelty in his characters. The newly created world has only two human inhabitants in it. But as that pure and primitive world ringing with angels’ hymns and blessed with God’s plenty is unlike this fallen and miserable world of ours where "we sit and hear each other groan," so the first parents of mankind in their naked majesty and divine simplicity are unlike any of the creatures with whom we come across in our daily intercourse. By characters, we mean human characters which evolve out of the interaction of human passions and conflict of human interests in the complex human societies of the world we live in. But the scene of Milton’s epic is Universal space, the time is Eternity and, though the central figures are a frail man and frail woman, the characters are God, Messiah and the angels.

      But in the second book of Paradise Lost even these two human creatures are unknown. The scene, as in the first book, is laid in Hell, and the world represented is the world of devils and demons. It is just the dim dawn of creation, and Cosmos is just evolving out of the immense waste of chaos. The huge starry Universe is seen only like a tiny star in the vast depths of space by Satan from the verge of Chaos. How can we expect in an atmosphere like this anything like the characters of Homer and Virgil, Milton’s predecessors in the domain of epic poetry? But still the inventive genius of Milton has introduced as much variety and novelty of characters in this supernatural world of Hell as are possible under the circumstances. Partly by the anthropomorphic conception of the angels, and monsters, and partly by the introduction of the beautiful allegory of Sin and Death, he has introduced quite a good number of characters who are immensely interesting. As has been stated above, there are in this book seven characters that can be placed under two groups. The major group includes Satan, Sin and Death, and the minor group Moloch, Belial, Mammon and Beelzebub.

Milton’s Treatment of Minor Characters

      Properly speaking, all characters in Paradise Lost Book II, with the solitary exception of Satan, fall within the category of minor characters. Though Paradise Lost is not a dramatic poem and Milton had none of the psychological depth and subtlety of Shakespeare, still Book II affords us enough opportunity to form our own estimate of him as a character painter. He has the unique power of drawing general but impressive outlines of characters by a few vivid touches. His broad brush cannot add fine touches, but by laying significant big blotches here and there on the canvas can make a character sufficiently vital. Referring to this power of Milton Addison remarks: "The person whom Milton introduces into his poem always discover such sentiments and behavior as are in a peculiar manner conformable to their respective characters. Every circumstance in their speeches and action is with great justice and delicacy adapted to the persons who speak and act". The main business of an epic poet is description and not character-painting, but still Milton, in spite of the limitation that he voluntarily puts upon himelf by the choice of his subject, has shown considerable skill in the latter. Not to speak of his Satan, Adam, Eve, Raphael, Michael God, Messiah, who can forget his minor characters such as Sin, Death, Moloch, Mammon, Belial, Beelzebub etc? They occupy very small spaces in the scheme of the poem but still it is very difficult for us to overlook them. Milton's manner of representation is so effective and he has such an admirable knack of seizing upon the prominent characteristics of each of the characters he introduces that they capture our imagination in the very beginning. His Sin ceases to be an abstraction and holds us horrified and spell-bound by the ugly and monstrous physical combination of woman and serpent. Her lustful looks, repulsive story, and the hideous hell-hounds howling and constantly feeding upon her entrails are more than enough to leave a life-long impression upon our minds. Next come Death. What a signal triumph this shadowy and shapeless goblin marks for Milton! Black as Night, "fierce as ten furies" and "terrible as Hell" this "grisly Terror" and formless form stands amidst the gloom of the infernal regions brandishing a dreadful dart in his hand and displaying a ghastly grin on his face. He thunders as he speaks and trembling with rage shakes all Hell with his mighty strides! Who can forget a character like this? How with a few brief touches Milton has succeeded in giving us a clear idea of his repulsiveness, dreadfulness, destructiveness and indefiniteness! The characters of the speakers of the infernal individualities assembly are vividly imprinted on our minds through the few sentences that they utter. They live in our minds as clear-cut distinct individualities. The very essentials of their character are most effectively and dramatically brought out, with an unerring eye. The mad fury and demoniac ferocity of Moloch, the ease-loving nature and subtle hypocrisy of Belial the inordinate greed and vile depravity of Mammon, and the sober wisdom and far-sighted statesmanship of Beelzebub are wonderfully expressed through their speeches. This is the very secret of successful character painting and Milton knew it admirably well.

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