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Love And Lust In Paradise Lost Essay

, Research Paper Love and Lust Paradise Lost In Milton’s Paradise Lost, sexuality is an innate part of human nature. Milton celebrates Adam and Eve’s prelapsarian “connubial love” (PL, IV, 743), singing “Hail wedded Love” (PL, IV, 750). In its proper place in the hierarchy (below God), sex in Milton’s view is sacred and spiritual, sanctioned by God.

, Research Paper

Love and Lust

In

Paradise Lost

In Milton’s Paradise Lost, sexuality is an innate part of human nature. Milton celebrates Adam and Eve’s prelapsarian “connubial love” (PL, IV, 743), singing “Hail wedded Love” (PL, IV, 750). In its proper place in the hierarchy (below God), sex in Milton’s view is sacred and spiritual, sanctioned by God. Sacred sex is portrayed almost as an intellectual act rather than a physical act, as a union of souls rather than a union of bodies. In contrast, however, lascivious sex is associated with bestial imagery and tortured sleep. It is the abdication of God for physical pleasure that Milton condemns. By contrasting Adam and Eve’s “pure” love before the Fall to their enflamed “carnal desire” (PL, IX, 1013) after the Fall, Milton celebrates the idea of sex, but deplores lasciviousness and warns against the evils of such behavior.

These attitudes are revealed in two key scenes in Paradise Lost which depict Adam and Eve making love and then falling asleep. The first passage, characterized by a holy and solemn tone, shows the prelapsarian bliss of Adam and Eve and their “Nuptial Bed” (PL, IV, 710). Adam and Eve pray to God before retiring to “thir blissful Bower” (PL, IV, 689) demonstrating their “adoration pure/ Which God likes best” (PL, IV, 737-8). As Eve decorates the “Nuptial Bed,” “heav’nly Quires” sing the Hymenaean (PL, IV, 711), lauding the sanctity of marriage. By saying “God declares/ [it] Pure” (PL, IV, 746-7) and calling it “mysterious Law” (PL, IV, 750), the poet proclaims the sacredness of marriage. Furthermore, his use of the words “innocence” (PL, IV, 745), “true” (PL, IV, 750), “holiest” (PL, IV, 759), “undefil’d and chast” (PL, IV, 761), “and “blest pair” (PL, IV, 774) support the claim. It is important to note that in less than twenty lines, Milton uses the word “pure” four times ((PL, IV, 737, 745, 747,755). This love is “Founded in Reason, Loyal, Just and Pure” (PL, IV, 755). Milton contrasts this love against “adulterous lust” (PL, IV, 753) and “loveless, joyless, unindear’d/Casual Fruition” (PL, IV, 766-7).

In the second lovemaking scene, taking place after the Fall, Adam and Eve’s “pure” love turns into “carnal desire.” “Their first act of love after eating the fruit is undoubtedly guilt-ridden, hectic, and finally unfulfilling” (Aers, 28). While before the Fall Adam and Eve displayed humility, they now display egotism and arrogance. With their new found knowledge, they perceive themselves to be superior even to God. Therefore, they do not find it necessary to pray to God before retiring. Instead, they misdirect their devotion towards each other rather than to God. Adam completely disregards Raphael’s warning against idolatry. “[H]ee on Eve/ Began to cast lascivious Eyes” (PL, IX, 1013-14). He sees her as a sexual object and she sees him as the same: “she him/As wantonly repaid” (PL, IX, 1014-15). They are no longer sharing in a “mutual love” (PL, IV, 728), but in “mutual guilt the Seal” (PL, IX, 1042). Their “mutual guilt” is the eating of the Fruit. Lust, one of the seven deadly sins, is their second sin which “seals” or reaffirms the first.

While their lovemaking in the first example is endorsed by God (”God declares/ [it] Pure” (PL, IV, 746-7) ) and Love is personified as an angel with purple wings (PL, IV, 763-4), there is no such heavenly sanctioning in the second passage. In fact, there is no divinity present at all. Adam and Eve, however, feeling superior to God, “feel/Divinity within them breeding wings/Wherewith to scorn the Earth” (PL, 1009-11). The poet contrasts the “breeding wings” with Love’s purple wings. The word “breeding” alludes to the “adulterous lust” that was “driv’n from men/Among the bestial herds to raunge” (PL, IV, 753-4). With their lustful transgressions, they have brought back “adulterous lust” to “scorn the Earth.”

The irony here is that the true product of this “adulterous lust” is the human race. In this scene Milton reveals the tension he feels about the origin of man. Adam and Eve were not the products of physical union. They were created by God. Breeding, however, is a physical act of reproduction. Milton associates it with animals, but it is the essential fact of human life and Milton’s condemnation of breeding indicates his disgust at the human condition. And yet, implicit there is the sense that life born from breeding is bestial, but life born from the “mysterious Law” (PL, IV, 750) should be our true origin. Reproduction should not be crude or carnal. It should be “mysterious,” certainly not physical. It should be sensed not experienced. Sex before the Fall hardly seems a physically pleasurable or passionate act. It is the sacrament, rather than the act that is joyful.

Further condemning lustfulness, the poet exchanges terms emphasizing purity for ones evoking the notion of sin and sin’s consequence, Hell. For example, he uses words such as “lascivious” (PL, IX, 1014), “wantonly” (PL, IX, 1015) and “intoxicated” (PL, IX, 1008). He even says, “in Lust they burn” (PL, IX, 1015), referring to Hell. In addition to images of lust and burning, Milton also uses terms of hunger to describe “carnal desire.” Pervading images of eating and consuming are fitting because this passage comes soon after the eating of the fruit. Milton shows Adam and Eve’s hunger for pleasure by using terms such as “taste” (PL, IX, 1017), “savor” (PL, IX, 1019), “Palate” (PL, IX, 1020) and “relish, tasting” (PL, IX, 1024). Kerrigan writes, “Lust, too [referring also to the Fruit], is an intemperate meal” (Kerrigan, 250). They gorge on each other until they have “thir fill of Love” (PL, IX, 1042), and “dewie sleep/ Oppress’d them, wearied with thir amorous play” (PL, IX, 1044-5). Milton compares their exhaustion from “amorous play” to the sleepiness that overcomes one after gluttonous behavior, another one of the seven deadly sins.

Milton casts lovemaking in the first passage in a holy light, referring twice to “Rites” (PL, 736, 742). “Rites” brings to mind holy rites and services. Preceding the lovemaking is Eve’s decorating of the “Nuptial Bed,” the singing of the Hymenaean marriage song and Adam and Eve’s prayer to God. These events lend an atmosphere of solemnity and sanctity to the sexual act. Following these events are the Rites/Mysterious of connubial Love” (PL, IV, 742-3). The word “mysterious” appears again in line 750, adding to the notion of lovemaking as a divine mystery or a sacrament.

In contrast, the second passage has no such sanctities. Instead, it is laden with words evoking images of playfulness and frivolousness such as “fancie” (PL, IX, 1009), “dalliance” (PL, IX, 1016), “let us play” (PL, IX, 1027), “toy” (PL, IX, 1035), “disport” (PL, IX, 1042) and “amorous play” (PL, IX, 1045). This sex is the “Casual fruition” (PL, IV, 767) which the poet warns us about in the earlier passage. Here, however, it is seen as ordinary and “common.” It is not the spiritual love of the first passage which only occurs in Paradise:

Hail wedded Love, mysterious Law, true sourse

Of human ofspring, sole proprietie

In Paradise of all things common else (PL, IV, 750-2).

The flowers on their beds further emphasizes the “commonness” of this lustful love. In the first passage, Adam and Eve are “Showrd [with] Roses” (PL, IV, 773), precious flowers symbolic of love. In the second passage, however, they lie on a “Couch” of common flowers: “Pansies, and Violets, and Asphodel,/ And Hyacinth” (PL, IX, 1039-42). Also, the second bed is no longer the “Nuptial Bed” of Paradise, but is now “Earths freshest softest lap” (PL, IX, 1041). The Fall has degraded the divine to the mortal and Earthly.

In both passages, Adam and Eve fall asleep following the consummation of the physical act. Milton makes clear his opinion of each instance by the different tones he uses in describing their post-coital slumbers. In the first passage,

Theses lulld by Nightingales imbracing slept,

And on thir naked limbs the flowerie roof

Showrd Roses, which the Morn repair’d. Sleep on

Blest pair; and O yet happiest if ye seek

No happier state, and know to know no more (PL, IV, 771-5).

The “[b]lest pair” fall easily to sleep in each other’s arms, “lulld by Nightingales” and “[s]howrd” with roses.” Adam and Eve share in God’s “gift of sleep” (PL, IV, 735), which is restful, restorative and blissful. Milton adds a foreshadowing warning at the end: “Sleep on/ Blest pair; and O yet happiest if ye seek/ No happier state, and know to know no more.”

In the second passage, however, the sleep is neither restful nor blissful.

The solace of thir sin, till dewie sleep

Oppress’d them, wearied with thir amorous play.

Soon as the force of that fallacious Fruit,

That with exhilerating vapour bland

About thir spirits had plaid, and inmost powers

Made err, was now exhal’d, and grosser sleep

Bred of unkindly fumes, with conscious dreams

Encumberd, now had left them, up they rose,

As from unrest?(PL, IX, 1044-52).

Just as the sex was unsatisfying (as they seem only to stop because they are “wearied with amorous play”), so is the sleep. Here, sleep is not a gift from God, but something rather torturous: a “grosser sleep/ Bred of unkindly fumes, with conscious dreams/Encumberd.” Adam and Eve are”[e]ncumberd” and arise “from unrest.” There are no peaceful, restorative effects of this sleep. They wake up as exhausted as before. The use the word “[b]red” again further emphasizes the “bestial” nature of the fallen couple. The “force of that fallacious Fruit” has opened their eyes and darkened their minds (PL, IX, 1053-4). In the harsh light of knowledge, the mystery is unveiled and Adam and Eve now stand “naked left/ To guiltie shame” (PL, IX, 1057-8).

Another notable difference between prelapsarian and postlapsarian sex is the unity of Adam and Eve. In the first passage, Adam and Eve are united in body and mind. There are many references to their unity such as, “both” (PL, IV, 720, 721, 722), “we?our” (PL, IV, 726) “mutual” (PL, IV, 727, 728), “unanimous” (PL, IV, 736). They retire to “thir blissful Bower” “hand in hand” (PL, IV, 689-90) and sleep embraced in each other’s arms (PL, IV, 771). Significantly, they let go of each other’s hand right before the Fall when Eve decides to work alone. Their prelapsarian love is “Founded in Reason, Loyal, Just, and Pure.” Thus, “hand in hand,” they are reason and will united.

With the “force of that fallacious Fruit,” however, Adam and Eve’s unity is severed. Will has overcome reason. Fallen, they are in a state of discord and unbalance. The only thing they share is “thir mutual guilt.” The knowledge they have gained overwhelms them so that they do not know how to bridge the gap. They look on one another with shame, guilt and blame and take actions to separate. They seek to “hide” their shameful part from each other (PL, IX, 1092-3) and Adam wishes that he might “[in] solitude live” (PL, IX, 1085). Before Adam deemed it better to betray God, Himself, than live without Eve. In this passage, Adam and Eve’s hands do not naturally come together. The fact that Adam must seize Eve’s hand (PL, IX, 1037) and lead her to bed is noteworthy. With this image, Milton paints a grim picture of two lovers desperately trying to cling together although they are separated by a wide chasm. The very fact, however, that they do grasp hands elicits a sense of hope. Milton continues that hopefulness in the closing image of Paradise Lost as Adam and Eve leave Eden “hand in hand”:

They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,

Through Eden took thir solitarie way (PL, XII, 648-9).

In his juxtaposition of the two lovemaking scenes with their remarkable similarities and vast differences, Milton reveals the consequences of the Fall and offers a moral lesson. He describes sexual union as an innocent, pure and holy joy known in Paradise. Yet, through sin (first through the eating of the Fruit and then “sealing” of the first with the sin of lust), that pure joy is no longer found, having been forsaken for some other knowledge. Milton is not saying that sex is bad. Quite the contrary. In Paradise, sex is almost a religious experience. For Milton, sex is glorious as long as it is in its proper place in the hierarchy, that is, below God. It is lustful sex in which heated, physical desire is placed foremost and God is forsaken that Milton denounces.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aers, David and Bob Hodge. “‘Rational Burning’: Milton on Sex and Marriage.” Milton Studies XIII. Ed. James D. Simmonds. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979.

Empson, William. Milton’s God. London: Chatto and Windus, 1965.

Kerrigan, William. The Sacred Complex: On the Psychogenesis of Paradise Lost. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Le Comte, Edward. Milton and Sex. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.

Lewis, C. S. A Preface to Paradise Lost. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Newlyn, Nancy. Paradise Lost and the Romantic Reader. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. John T. Shawcross.

New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1971.

Aers, David and Bob Hodge. “‘Rational Burning’: Milton on Sex and Marriage.” Milton Studies XIII. Ed. James D. Simmonds. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979.

Empson, William. Milton’s God. London: Chatto and Windus, 1965.

Kerrigan, William. The Sacred Complex: On the Psychogenesis of Paradise Lost. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Le Comte, Edward. Milton and Sex. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.

Lewis, C. S. A Preface to Paradise Lost. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Newlyn, Nancy. Paradise Lost and the Romantic Reader. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. John T. Shawcross.

New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1971.

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