Speech and Deception in John Milton's Paradise Lost Essay

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Speech and Deception in Milton's Paradise Lost

"Rhetoric and sophistry testify to the fact that the world in which we live is a world of speech, that the clever man can compose at will in order to trick others." 1

Speech was perhaps the most important medium for Milton. As a blind poet, his lack of visual faculties was augmented by a renewed importance on auditory paths to enlightenment, especially the communicative. Therefore, contemplation of dialogue in Paradise Lost becomes an essential tool for developing a correct understanding of the characters, as Milton would have intended. Nowhere is this truer than with the character of Satan. Throughout the text, his rhetoric exists as a window to the nature of his
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In addition, here, as throughout much the poem, Satan continues to hedge the other side of the argument, insisting that he isn't forced to do evil by opposing God, but that "to do ill our sole delight" (160). This belief that he has a choice in the matter is tied up in the misconception that he was, and continues to be, equal to God, as "reason hath equall'd" (248) them. Quite to the contrary, Milton makes it clear that "the will And high permission of all-ruling Heaven Left him at large to his own dark designs" (211-3). And it is only Satan's perverted sense of reason that convinces him that "The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n" (254-5). He believes that his reason and contemplation will help him discover "How overcome this dire Calamity" (189), or failing that, change his will such that it fits his current circumstance. This is the classic method of the delusional and disenfranchised, holding out hope for change, but at the same time putting forth the belief that the current situation can actually be beneficial. The sophistry has shown through Satan's speech, as he declares that there is no way for God to beat him, in his mind, when we know he is already defeated.

Perhaps even more telling are the conversations Satan has with himself. Modern thinkers rightfully consider of great importance the times when man speaks to parts of his own
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