English, Grade 11
Foreshadowing Amid the Fall of Man in Milton’s Paradise Lost
In Book IV of John Milton’s epic, Paradise Lost, Satan’s words and actions, as well as those of Adam and Eve, foreshadow the fall of man. Satan, through his actions, foreshadows, metaphorically and ironically, his success in turning man away from God. His soliloquies and speeches demonstrate his desire to eventually corrupt man and the means by which he plans to accomplish this feat. Adam and Eve do likewise, in foretelling their disgrace, when their conversations bring up the subject of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge and the creation of Eve. Throughout Book IV, the application of premonition is used to prepare the reader for the actual and fatal act of disobedience that man eventually commits.
In the opening of Book IV, the poet says that Satan can’t escape Hell, “for within him Hell / He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell/ One step, no more than from himself, can fly/ By change of place” (lines 20-23). This indicates that no matter where Satan goes, he brings Hell with him in his mind. This could hint that Satan, since he carries Hell with him wherever he goes, would bring Hell to man, through his treachery and ultimately, his general state of mind, which is Hell. When Satan arrives in Eden he perches on the Tree of Life where he ironically plots the death of man next to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the instrument of man’s death. In this way, Satan’s actions act as an omen towards man’s eventual betrayal.
As he watches Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Satan plots their downfall which is foreshadowed in his warning to the happy couple, “ye little think how nigh/ Your change approaches, when all these delights/ Will vanish, and deliver ye to woe”(lines 366-368). And after Satan learns about the forbidden tree from the conversation between Adam and Eve, Satan plans to tempt them by exciting “their minds/ With more desire to know”(522-523) than they do at present by eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Even the means through which Satan corrupts man is foretold by his words.
The first words that Adam utters out of his mouth in Book IV concern the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. He points out that the only restriction that God placed on them was to not eat the fruit from the forbidden tree. This obviously hints at things to come since it is the first thing man speaks about in the entire epic. Moreover, it shows that Adam is already thinking of this temptation to eat the fruit. And by speaking about the forbidden tree, Adam has allowed Satan to learn about it.
The story of Eve’s creation, told by Eve, teaches and forewarns Adam and Eve that they should not be led by beauty and instead should be led by God and wisdom. As Eve ends the story, she concludes, “beauty is excelled by manly grace/ And wisdom which alone is truly fair”(490-491). The story is a forewarning for mankind to beware of the power of beauty, which in the end Adam doesn’t heed. Tempted by Eve and her beauty to eat the fruit, Adam rejects God and wisdom. The implied warning indicates that man’s disobedience is foreshadowed and will occur.
Paradise Lost is about the fall from grace of man; throughout Book IV of Milton’s epic, the fall of man is foreshadowed by the words and actions of Satan, and Adam and Eve. Finally, the poet foretells the fall himself after his comment on “wedded love” he says, “Sleep on, / Blest pair, and, O! yet happiest, if ye seek/ No happier state, and know to know no more”(773-775).