When reading the timeless verse of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, perhaps the most illustrious poem in the English language, questions arise as to whether it is truly an epic poem. Many aspects of a traditional tragic drama are prevalent within Paradise Lost, while many common aspects of an epic are absent – most notably the lack of a defined hero. This raises questions as to which genre the tale truly belongs to, and if it is necessary for it to belong to any certain genre at all. By examining Paradise Lost structurally, the evidence shows that the strong presence of the classic dramatic features such as the soliloquy and its origins as a theatrical play aid in investigating the piece as a drama, while its narrative style and overall characteristics fit the description of a traditional epic. However, the most important and intriguing aspect of the genre debate for Paradise Lost occurs within the characterization of Satan. In looking at several definitions of what a true epic hero is, and in contrast to what a traditional tragic hero is, the result is that Satan’s characterization (featuring a fall due to pride, an encouraged vice in definition) makes him the perfect embodiment of the tragic epic hero. Since Satan embodies the qualities of a tragic hero, we can argue that Paradise Lost is a tragic drama presented as an epic poem.
Jessica Jones, ’08 Kansas City, MO
Sponsor: Shannon Reed