Satan’s Speech in Book 2 Paradise Lost Reflect his Character

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      Milton has endowed Satan with all the traits of double thinking and double speak. In fact this comes so naturally to Satan that one could look upon him as a faithful representative of the politicians of our own day.

      He is cast in this mold and his very first utterance as he opens the debate is typical of him. He addresses the fallen angels as ‘powers and dominions’, ‘deities of Heaven’. The address is typical of his egoism. He panders to the vanity of the fallen angels by addressing them with the same attributes that they once possessed. He is clever enough to adopt this posture to stress the fact that there has been no change in their status even though they have been expelled from Heaven.

      He takes the fallen angels on an ego trip when he tells them that Hell will not be able to contain them because of their angelic nature. At the same time pandering to their vanity he tells them that after rising to Heaven again, they will never have to fear a second fall. And he establishes his supremacy over them by asserting that he has risen to his high position not only through his own merit but also because he deserved this position according to “the fixed laws of Heaven”.

Free Choice

      In order not to rub the fallen angels on the wrong side he at the same time tells them that they have elected him as their leader of their own, “free choice”.

      Satan has already chalked the mode of revenge he will adopt in his war against God but he wants to make the fallen angels believe that he is being guided by them in charting out their future course of action. Very adroitly he says, “who can advise may speak” as he invites their opinions to wage open war or covert guile to bring about the objective. He does not utter an unnecessary word but he ensures that what he says goes home. Like one born to leadership he is quick to point out that no one will envy him his leadership in Hell because he would be exposed to much greater suffering from God than any one of them. On the other hand, they had their just inheritance to achieve if they adopted the right means.

      Milton makes use of Beelzebub to bring out some of the more repulsive facets of Satan’s character. Beelzebub rejects Moloch’s idea of an open war and goes all out in support of a plan aimed at confounding the race of mankind in one root and at mingling and involving Earth with Hell to spite the great creator. To highlight Satan’s craftiness Milton tells us that such a wicked plan could only emanate from “the author of all ill”. By making Beelzebub come forward with the proposal, Satan wants some devilishness of the scheme to rub on Beelzebub’s shoulders so that Satan can comparatively shine in a better light.

Loaded with Meaning

      Every word that Satan utters is loaded with meaning. “O Progeny of Heaven” he calls the fallen angels in his second address to them hoping against hope that their expulsion from Heaven will not make a dent on them. He can almost congratulate himself on the success he has achieved for the fallen angel's bow to him ‘‘with awful reverence” and extol him “equal to the highest in Heaven”.

      Another aspect of his character is brought out in his dealings with Sin and Death. At first Satan tried his bluff and bluster on Death but when he realized that Death was not unbearable, he pragmatically came to terms with them. He tactfully solicits the help of Chaos to carry him to the new world where he hopes to plan his revenge on God.

      In depicting Satan’s character, Milton has deliberately not indicated whether the logical flaws in Satan’s opening speech are the result of a conscious effort to soothe his followers or due to a genuine self-delusion. According to one critic, the utterances of Moloch, Belial, Mammon and Beelzebub represent not merely individual contributions to a debate but also a train of thoughts which passes through the mind of Satan.


      MacCallum shows up the inconsistencies in Satan’s speech and the change it reveals in his character. There is a contrast and a touch of duplicity between what Satan says when he is alone with his second in command, Beelzebub, and what he says when he is speaking in public. Milton brings this out in a very subtle manner showing clearly Satan’s power of double think. At one moment the leader of the fallen angels is convinced that his fallen angels are invincible while at the same time he accepts that constant vigilance is necessary to prevent its overthrow. Another example of his double think is seen in the ability of the fallen angels to strike back at God. His confident words to his fallen angels have a veneer of deception. Quite often one gets the feeling that Satan becomes a victim of his own propaganda and it is difficult to tell whether he is speaking out of conviction or he becomes a victim of his deceit.

      Milton’s portrayal of Satan is in conformity with the progress of the action in the epic.

      In the early scenes of Book II Satan is portrayed as a defiant leader shedding his charisma on the fallen angels. As the epic advances, a gradual change overtakes Satan as he begins his downward slide from the moments of high grandeur of the early scenes. As Satan is caught in the work of his own self-destruction, the effects of his fall becomes evident as the epic moves to its inevitable conclusion.

University Questions

How does Satan’s speech in Book II reflect his character?
Why has Milton painted Satan’s character in grey rather than in black and white?
Satan in Book II has been shown up as a consummate example of double thinking and double-speak i,e., a politician. Do you agree?

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