Renaissance Elements in John Milton’s Poetry


Renaissance Elements in John Milton’s Poetry

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Renaissance Elements in John Milton’s Poetry

Renaissance Elements in John Milton’s Poetry


Classical/ Hellenic, Greek Elements in John Milton’s Poetry


Paradise Lost as a Renaissance Epic

‘Renaissance’ is a French word that means rebirth, revival, or reawakening. Literally ‘Renaissance’ refers to the revival or reawakening of the classical (Hellenic/ Greek) art, literature, and culture in the late fifteenth century after the long silence in the middle ages. The main tenets or characteristics of ancient Greek art, literature, and culture were- love of liberty and power, love of man (humanism), love of beauty, sensuous love of human body, love of individualism, love of music, craving gold and riches etc. Their expression was rigid, highly poetic and stereotyped.

Elizabethan thinkers and writers were much influenced by the tenets of the Renaissance. John Milton, one of the greatest literary figures of seventeenth-century England was no less influenced by the Renaissance. The elements of Renaissance (Hellenic/ Greek) are present in almost every page of his writings. We can summarize the Renaissance elements in his literary works as follows:

Ambition for Liberty and Power

The primary characteristics of ancient Greek literature were love and ambition for liberty and power. John Milton was influenced by this primary tenet of the renaissance as he was a staunch supporter of the Protestants and did not like the slavery of the Roman Catholic Church. In ‘The Paradise Lost‘, Satan the hero becomes the symbol of liberty and power. When God threw Satan down the Hell, he exclaimed boldly:

‘To reign is worth ambition though in Hell
Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.’

Again Satan says:

‘The mind is in its own place and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.’

Love of Man (Humanism)

During the long middle Ages, till the advent of the Renaissance, man on earth was guided by the consideration of Heaven and Hell, vice and virtue. A man was no more regarded as a dignified creature. It was supposed that God’s favour or disfavor was the cause of his making or falling. But Renaissance upturned this age-long outlook and brought humanism. John Milton regarded man as the crown and root of all creations. He, through his writings, justifies the ways of God to man and says:

‘I may assert eternal Providence
And justify the ways of God to men.’

But Milton’s humanism was secular. He regarded virtue as inevitable as vice and God and Satan-both are immortal. Milton’s representation of the battle between God and Satan in Heaven shows the spiritual crisis between good and evil.

Love of Beauty

Love of beauty is another element of the Renaissance that Milton grasped tightly and reflected it throughout his monumental work ‘The Paradise Lost’. Satan laments for the loss of beauty and longs for it in Hell-

‘That we must change for Heaven, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light.’

Milton glorifies the beauty of Heaven in his Paradise Lost, as:

‘Thus was this place
A happy rural seat of various view
Groves whose rich trees wept odorous gums and balm.’

Sensuous Love for the Human Body

The human body which was so long despised and ill-treated came to be glorified in the Renaissance. The glorification of the human body gave rise to what is known as sensuousness in poetry. Milton was no miser to glorify the human body in his Paradise Lost. We see, in the following quoted lines, how sensuous Milton’s description of Eve is-

‘She as a veil down to the slender waist
Her unadorned, golden tresses wore
Disheveled, but in wanton ringlets waved.’

The first nuptial meeting of Adam and Eve is narrated sensuously, as-

‘Here in close recess
With flowers, garland, and sweet-smelling herbs
Espoused Eve decked first her nuptial bed.
Brought her in naked beauty more adorned
More lovely, than Pandora, whom the gods …’

Love of Individualism

Love of individualism is another factor of the Renaissance Movement. The phrase ‘love of individualism’ means that a man is conscious of his own merits. It is akin to self-freedom. Milton is also conscious of his great poetic career for which he thinks himself to be equal to ancient poets Homer, Thamyris, Maconides etc. He says:

‘Those other two equaled with me in Fate
So were I equaled with them in renown.’

In his Paradise Lost, Satan symbolizes individualism, as-

‘What though the field be lost?
All is not lost: the unconquerable will.’

Love of Music and Gold

Under the impact of the Renaissance, people developed a keen interest in music. Milton also went under this impact. The Devil in Paradise Lost moves with the soft music of flutes. The effect of music removes their rage and boredom.

‘All the while
Sonorous metal blowing martial sound.’

Love of Gold is also found in Milton’s Poetry. In ‘The Paradise Lost’ the Devil is seen digging a hole in a hill to dig out gold.

‘Soon had his crew
Opened into the hill a spacious wound
And digged out ribs of gold.’

The above discussion shows that Milton was deeply influenced by the spirits of the Renaissance which he depicted in his writings, especially in his epics with much perfection.

Besides this, Milton was also influenced by the style of classical literature. His Paradise Lost is fashioned after the Greek poet Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Moreover, in the use of imagery, especially in the use of similes and metaphors, he imitated the Greek model. His only tragic play ‘Samson Agonistes’ is utterly modeled after Greek tragedy, especially after Sophocles’.

Thus John Milton is perfectly a Renaissance poet whose every literary work bears the salient stamp of the Renaissance with new vigour. 0 0 0.

Renaissance Elements in John Milton’s Poetry

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Renaissance Elements in John Milton’s Poetry

N. B. The article ‘Renaissance Elements in John Milton’s Poetry’ originally belongs to the book entitled ‘Critical Essays on English Poetryby Menonim Menonimus.

Renaissance Elements in John Milton’s Poetry

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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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