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Lifting up the serpent in the wilderness: The reader's journey through John Milton's “Paradise Lost”, an intertextual study

Matthew Scott Stenson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


My study analyzing Milton’s classical/biblical intertexuality offers a promising new way of approaching an enduring question among those in Milton studies: how to read the character, speeches, and actions, of Milton’s Fallen Angel, Satan. My analysis, informed by philosophical, allegorical, and exegetical tradition as well as more recent reader-response theory and scholarship on Isaiah, effectively brings together the Satanists and the anti-Satanists by proposing a dangerous yet orthodox reading of Paradise Lost that not only squares with Milton’s early plans to compose a tragedy on the Fall (1640-1642) and with his political prose tract Areopagitica (1644) but that also anticipates Romantic mythological appropriations of Satan, especially those of Blake and Shelley. In the course of my focused study, I deal directly with such difficult issues as how Milton makes redemptive sense out of competing scientific, theological, and aesthetic theories within the larger framework of surprising structural complexity and continuity, as well as poetic indeterminacy. Significantly, my study goes beyond previous critical attempts to describe Satan in parodic or parallel terms while assigning positive interpretive potential to sections of the poem often treated negatively.

Subject Area

Modern literature|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Stenson, Matthew Scott, "Lifting up the serpent in the wilderness: The reader's journey through John Milton's “Paradise Lost”, an intertextual study" (2009). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3350457.