Milton: Crime & Punishment in Paradise Lost

Lesson Rationale

Through exploring characterisation and setting in Paradise Lost, students will reflect on how transgressive actions and their consequences are presented, with particular reference to Books I, II, IX and X. Students will be encouraged to investigate how Milton presents disobedience and rebellion but will also be directed to consider how significant the behaviour of characters is in the aftermath of their transgressions. Looking at Milton’s own life and times, with a range of literary and artistic starting points, they will be encouraged to use their examination of punishment to interrogate William Blake’s assertion that ‘Milton was of the Devil’s party without knowing it’.

Key questions

  • By structuring the epic to begin in Hell, how far does Milton manage to capture our imaginations with the dominant figure of Satan? What might we admire and what might we be wary of as Book II closes?
  • What are the main differences between Satan’s transgressions and subsequent
    punishments – and those of Adam and Eve?
  • Is it reasonable to assume that Milton had some pity for those characters that choose wrongly, if they choose freely? What was his personal experience of punishment and shame?
  • Is Milton really ‘of the Devil’s party without knowing it’?