Death: Character Analysis in Paradise Lost Book 2

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      Milton's Death is one of his admirable poetical achievements. It is a shapeless shape, a strange compromise between the shadow and the substance. It is a disembodied essence of all horrors, a shadowy substance, or a substantial shadow. Though Milton borrowed ideas from Spenser and other earlier poets his Death is far from being a mere imitation. By a few masterly thouches of horrible magnificence, he has succeeded in creating a deathless picture of Death which will never be forgotten by any lover of English poetry. With a shadowy crown on his shadowy head and a shadowy dart in his shadowy hand stands the grim King of terrors to oppose Satan:

"Black it stood as Night,
Fierce as ten Furies, terrible as Hell"

      What a horrible picture is this! Hell trembles at his mighty strides. The description of his birth is also horrible. Conceived unnaturally he was born in an equally unnatural manner. He violently came out by ripping the womb of his mother who was so moved with fear and pain at this prodigious birth that her lower part was strangely transformed into the tail of a snake. Soon after his violent birth, the hideous phantom chased his mother by brandishing his fatal dart. Sin herself says:

"I fled, and cried out Death!
Hell trembled at the hideous name and sighed.
From all her caves, and back resounded Death!
I fled".

      This fierce goblin is fearless and relentless and is rendered immeasurably repulsive by this unnatural lust and eternal hunger. When Satan calls him 'hell-bore' and 'disdainfully asks him to clear out of his way, he with a grim retort calls him "hell-doomed" and thunders out:

"Back to thy punishment,
False fugitive and to thy speed add wings"

      He opposes Satan not because he is very faithful in his duty, but because it is his pleasure to fight and destroy. He has not the intelligence of his mother and does not know that in fighting Satan he is going to serve God, his enemy. When Satan holds before, the evil mother and her evil son a good prospect of ease and feast on earth, the hungry Death laughs with a horrible grin and gets reconciled to his father.

      He is the very essence of horror, vagueness and repulsion. This terrible goblin as depicted by Milton makes our blood freeze in our veins. He is a blunt, blustering, shadowy monster bent on destruction and owing allegiance to none. Devoid of the light of intelligence the blind brute only below uproariously. His shouts and movements, grisly appearance, bloodshot eyes, grinning teeth and brandishing dart make even Hell shake with fear. He is the undisputed monarch of the infernal pit. When Satan challenges him he fearlessly retorts by saying:

"And reckon'st thou thyself with Spirits of Heaven,
Hell doomed, and breath'st defiance here and scorn,
Where I reign king, and to enrage thee more,
Thy king and lord?"

      The repulsive goblin-son of the Devil and Sin is true to his progenitors. As his father held his own daughter in lustful embrace so he committed rape on his own mother. He is all passion, and is constantly swayed by anger, hunger and lust. Sometimes he pursues his mother with a lustful desire, and sometimes wants to devour her up. In brief he is the very essence of all conceivable monstrosities and a splendid triumph of Milton's powerful poetic imagination.

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