Hi, I just wrote an adaptation of John Milton's "Paradise Lost" for a small theatre company in Colorado Springs. It just closed this previous weekend after a three-week run. Despite the fact that it was done on very few resources - many members of the audience found it a moving performance, there weren't many dry eyes in the house during the closing scenes. Many told us that they felt we did Milton justice, and a few said it was the best show they had seen in years and this was coming from people with a wide variety of religious backgrounds (I actually had a pretty interesting conversation with a LeVayan Satanist after the show.)
The script itself doesn't change the context - it's Hell, Heaven, Paradise, Adam, Eve, Satan, God, the Son. It's written in poetic prose, abandoning many of Milton's long monologues in favor of dialogues crafted out of Milton's words. I've untangled a lot of the grammar, and slightly updated the language (mainly eliminating "thees and thous"). It reads very well and is accessible to a modern audience while retaining Milton's tone and flavor. It also runs 1 hour and 45 minutes (2 hours including a 15-minute intermission). Major changes is that I've cut Milton's famous prologue (this was an incredibly difficult cut to make), moved Book III near the end with interspersed scenes against Book XI, moved Book VII to Book IIIs original position, significantly changed certain elements of Book III, and have an original scene between Satan and the Son that is a combination Gabriel's encounter with Satan in Book IV, Paradise Regained, and Milton's De Doctrania Christiana (happens right after the Fall).
Writing Satan was really fun, and putting words into the mouth of the Son is the scariest thing I've ever done as a writer. That said, I'm not sure where I should take the script after this. I know that there's a lucrative religious market, but Paradise Lost is laden with heterodoxy, and I fear a church group would bowdlerize Milton. Unless there's some dramatically radical overarching visual design, Adam and Eve must be naked, putting them in fig leaves or robes is cowardly. I can point to a chapter from Fish's Suprised by Sin, which explains why confronting the audience with Adam and Eve's nudity is so incredibly important, explains why Milton describes their nudity in intricate detail. I also fear that they would turn Milton's Satan into a mustache-twisting heel. A compelling Satanic argument is of paramount importance to making Paradise Lost work both as a work of literature and as a dramatic piece. They might also play the Son too closely to the biblical Jesus, when the whole point of Milton's Son is that we're witnessing a point along his evolution, he's a dynamic character with an arc that has to be respected. I've read other adaptations that either try to sweep the Son under the rug or paint him too closely to Jesus of Nazareth. The Son at his earliest chronological point in PL is an Avatar of Wrath. I agree with a critic named Micheal Bryson, who wrote a book on PL called the Tyranny of Heaven, that he's as much of a rebel Satan as is, but goes about it in different ways and for different reasons. I think there's this impression that you have to push the Romantic Interpretation really hard if you want PL to work for a modern audience (like Pullman did in His Dark Materials), which I don't agree with. Strange as it might be to say, I think the Son can be really interesting if you know how to handle him i.e. don't play him like Jesus of Nazareth. Good advice in general for this script, abandon everything you think you know about these characters.
I guess I'm a bit over-protective of this script, I just recognize that Milton is really easy to screw up, it's easy to turn it into church pageantry or a mystery play instead of presenting it as the complex work that it is.
That said, I'm not sure if it's something that a company in a larger city would be interested in picking it up - I can see it being viewed as stodgy, old-fashioned, no longer culturally relevant (our audiences swung a lot younger than I expected though, which was a pleasant surprise - 20-somethings turning out to see Paradise Lost). Too overtly religious, perhaps. Incredible opportunities for cool visual design, one only need to look at the mountain of illustrations produced by master artists over centuries.
So my question is, how might I market and present this, and to whom?
As far as other adaptations, there's a few I'm aware of, Ben Powers did an adaptation for the Oxford stage company about a decade ago that I have a copy of. Stuck much more closely to the original in terms of both language and structure. I also know there an adaptation by a Canadian artist named Paul Van Dyck making the rounds at fringe festivals. Only an hour long, one-man show using puppets, heavily scored with modern music. It's getting a lot of good press. I'd actually like to very much see that myself. I'd say my adaptation falls within those two extremes.
It'd might also be the case that Paradise Lost adaptations are somewhat common and the script might not have much of a future beyond this initial production. Which sucks, since I already miss it and would very much like to see it again if nothing else.
I know, for sure, that I personally would like to read the script! Is it available for purchase online?
As for your big question, I really think that it should be marketed as what it is, what you say it is so clearly, if I'm not mistaken: it's literary drama.
To whom it ought to be marketed is another matter. I don't know too many theatres personally, other than what's up on their websites, but maybe if you had some more entreanched folks take a gander, they might point you to some theatres that will be willing and able to give voice to your words once again.
I don't think this play should be hidden from the religious, or that one should avoid marketing it to them. I don't know if fundamentalists would appreciate it, but, hey, nothing to stop you from trying.
Not currently for sale online, no. I can, however, send you the first 11 pages which covers Satan and Beelzebub in Hell, Satan addressing his legions, and the infernal council of Demon Princes, right before he sets off to encounter Sin and Death at the gates of Hell. Just send me your thoughts on it in return, that'll be enough.
He's called Lucifer in the script, since he certainly thinks of himself as "Lucifer", and, indeed, doesn't learn of this alternate name until he, disguised as a Cherub, inquires about it to Raphael (standing in for Uriel). Not in the original, but I thought it'd make for an interesting moment.
Interesting thing I just discovered. Apparently, altering stage directions without permission is a violation of copyright. So I can drop in a stage direction that Adam and Eve are nude. Any changes to that would require my permission. It'd protect the script from bowdlerization.
One of the interesting things about Adam's and Eve nudity is the very different ways it works on the page and presented visually. On the page it's described in this way that summons up lascivious thoughts in the reader that calls attention to the reader's own fallen state. Visually, however, it has an altogether different effect. There's initial uncomfortableness but that quickly fades, and as that fades it, in a small way, transports the audience to a prelapsarian state - to make pine for that state of innocence and makes the Fall hit harder.
I teach English Lit in Tennessee and am the only prof I know who teaches all 12 books of PL in World Lit (aka English 3), and have had wonderful results. A part of the success comes from my selling the hell out of it (no pun intended) prior to and during the reading, for which I allow about 5 weeks, or 15 hours of class time. To cut to the chase, I LOVE this epic and think it arguably the greatest accomplishment in the English language. Further to that, it is the very empathy for Satan that Milton cultivates that allows for THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CHRISTIAN READING; the one where Satan, representing Doubt is in opposition to God, representing Reason. Arguably, both are equally essential to evolving the collective consciousness, however Reason is now wanting to subdue Doubt, and so Doubt rebels. This conflict becomes manifested through MAN, and his creation of Language, and from there, The Art of Rhetoric. So then, in human terms, it becomes a battle of Words, and how they are wielded when it comes to Truth.
I suggest a rendering where Satan is clearly the hero. This view from 'the other side of the lens' is far more controversial, and thus provocative. I'm amazed that remains untried.
I've started on something of this sort, but with the more earthly, Paradise Regained, which I THINK could make for some wonderful satire in the spirit of Swift and Voltaire. And could be very marketable, as in, Doubt vs Reason: Satan and Jesus' Battle of the Words--
Hi Stuart, it's always great to run into another lover of Milton.
That said, for the most part, I agree with your post, Satan should be empathized with and his heroic qualities be made clear. That much is reflected in the script. However, what most appeals to me about the poem is how much it pulls the reader between the two sides. My first few times through the poem, my sympathies between the two sides kept swapping, kept evolving. This, personally, is my favorite type of dramatic piece, one that constantly asks you to reinvestigate and reexamine your loyalties and sympathies upon each viewing or reading (my favorite movie is "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" for this reason). So I didn't want to make it clear to the audience who the hero is, since I don't think Milton makes it clear, and it's this sort of ambiguity that keeps people debating the answer to that question 350 years later.
I did make a point of asking members of the audience at what point in the production, if any, that they empathized with Satan or felt swayed by his arguments. Two consistent answers: Satan's Book IV Monologue "Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell.", which you might be aware of, but my Riverside Milton tells me was one of the earliest written sections of PL, originally written when Milton was thinking of writing it as a play called "Adam Unparadised" (I think he abandoned that idea when he realized he wanted to make God and the Son characters). The other section being that original scene I mentioned in the OP between Satan and the Son, which pleased me since I'm of the opinion, though it's not spelled out in the script, that Satan wins that argument. Since as far as the script is concerned, the Son is much more about coercion and force at that point and less about:
"Yet held it more humane, more heavenly, first
By winning words to conquer willing hearts,
And make persuasion do the work of fear;"
A few of the early scenes in Hell weren't realized as well as I had hoped. I tried to recast Beelzebub as less of a fawning sycophant and more of a trusted confidant. Not sure if it was due to the script or a lack of chemistry between actors. A bit frustrating since I felt those early scenes would be like shooting fish in a barrel, Satan has some of his most memorable lines in those first books. I wanted to explore the interesting tension that Satan is the one responsible for the ruin and downfall of the apostates, but also their only source of hope: "their surest signal". I think a lot of Satan's actions early on are about his navigating that tension. He mobilizes the apostates before they can turn on him.
That said, a major influence for how I interpret the poem, which is reflected in the script, is Alan Moore's "Watchmen" which I see to be about the self-defeating nature of power, force, and coercion - ironically the futility of it. I admit I made a few changes to underscore this, probably most notably, this line spoken by Sin in the original:
For him who sits above and laughs the while
At thee ordain'd his drudge, to execute
What e're his wrath, which he calls Justice, bids,
His wrath which one day will destroy ye both.
In the original, "ye both" refers to Satan and Death. In my adaptation I moved the line to Death, spoken to Satan, so that "ye both" refers to Satan and God. This idea that God's wrath proving to be self-destructive which is a theme that runs throughout the script and in other sections of the original poem. I see Satan and the Father very much playing a game of divine brinkmanship with Man caught in the middle: "with repenting hand abolish His own works." A game of divine brinkmanship that can only be resolved by the Son.
One of the reasons I chose to intersperse Book XI against Book III was so I could position this line by the Son:
Or wilt thou thyself
Abolish thy creation, and unmake,
For him, what for thy glory thou hast made?—
So should thy goodness and thy greatness both
Be questioned and blasphemed without defense
Directly against the portent that Micheal shows Adam of the great flood.
"How comes it thus? unfold, celestial Guide,
And whether here the race of Man will end."
I glad I did so, because it was a really powerful sequence. I was very proud of the actors. The audience was riveted. And surprising too, since Book III has a bit of a reputation for putting readers to sleep, even as Milton's unpacking some of his trickiest theological arguments there.
Self-destruction is a major theme, we have Satan obviously, but also Adam and Eve talk about suicide, "execute Death's office on ourselves"; "begging to be laid down, glad to be so dismissed in peace". I also wanted God's wrath to be more about that. That in knowing the punishment, clearly outlined,that Adam and Eve are choosing death. And it's that choice that most incenses the Father. (From the script not the poem) "Freely and willingly, Man chooses death - to blot out that spark of existence which I so wantonly bestowed." For His anger to come more from that and less from "Sins against the High supremacy of Heaven". That it's less about transgression and punishment and the Father perceives it as Man refusing the gift of life. Also, because of interspersing it against of Adam's portents the audience is being asked to consider that line not just in the context of the Fall, but also in the context of Cain's murder of Abel.
It's the perfect line for that moment I think, for what I'm attempting to convey. It makes me nervous though since the line alludes to a line from Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein"
"Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed?"
I'm not sure if that straddles the line between plagiarism and allusion. I''m not sure if I need to rewrite it.
Also, the actors that played Satan and the Son are bugging me to adapt the sequel, that is, Paradise Regained, since they'd like to reprise their roles. I guess to answer your question you posed, Stuart. I'm not sure how'd I'd turn Paradise Regained into an effective piece of theatre. There's very little plot to speak of, the whole poem is about a single conversation, and it all revolves around a single, unchanging, static conflict. Satan attempts to tempt the Son, the Son resists. It strikes me as somewhat abstract philosophizing, there's not a lot of great dramatic moments like Satan summoning his Infernal Legions, or "to lose you is to lose myself", or the Adam and Eve exiting the Garden. I don't see a lot of visual potential in it. Though I imagine that you probably see something in PR that I don't. I'd like you to elaborate on writing it as a satire in the spirit of Swift. I'm having trouble wrapping my head around how it could be written or presented as satire.
That said, I never got a chance to get the script read by a dedicated Milton scholar. I contacted Micheal Bryson and sent to the script to him but he never got back to me after that. Maybe he found pulling apart Milton's poetry distasteful, maybe it got lost in the mail, maybe he got busy - who knows? He did make a big deal out of "fit audience, though few" in his book. Maybe he doesn't like the idea of making the poem more accessible.
That said, if you're interested, Stuart, I could send you a few sections that I had questions about, basically changes to the original that I made that I'm nervous about, and I could take a look at what you have for your Paradise Regained adaptation so far.
I was thinking about your post a little bit more today, about the Romantic Interpretation. There's a question I had that perhaps you can answer. One artifice being employed in Paradise Lost is that Milton is not the sole author, but that the story is being imparted to him or that his hand is being guided by the Heavenly Muse. Why would the Heavenly Muse relate to Milton a version of events in which Satan is the clear hero?
How does the fact that Milton presents himself as an intermediary between the reader and a divine spirit effect the reading of poem? The Heavenly Muse is often read as being the Holy Spirit. Paradise Lost is a poem attempting to ascribe motives to the divine. Does the Heavenly Muse also have motivations?
That's interesting me to ponder since I wrote a version of the prologue which was setup as a conversation between a widower (a Milton stand-in) and the muse (however this scene was cut for the production). At one point the Muse (using Rapheal's words to Adam) starts the story at the chronological beginning, in Heaven. However the widower stops the Muse and asks her to begin in Hell, in medias res. I believe there's a very early version of this scene lurking around here somewhere on this site.
Hi again, and please accept my apology for the delayed reply but 1) I DID reply over a thoughtful 1 1/2 hour about 10 days ago, and yet it seems I did something wrong, hence it is now regrettably lost.
And, as I'm back in gear, now teaching four sections of World Lit this Fall, with another 110 students to 'corrupt' with Milton (along with Mitchell's Book of Job and a few others).
Now to try to recoup what I wrote you, albeit abridged:
Firstly, thanks very much for your thoughtful, considered, and rather eloquent reply. Also, the passages you referenced are clearly vital ones that indicate you've fallen into the abyss (as have I) with no desire to come out anytime soon, if ever. And to your remark that Milton has readers' sympathies conflicted from the two opposing sides--indeed this is the case. However, when taking Satan and God as symbols for Doubt and Reason, and when assuming the premise that Satan gets a raw deal and is completely justified in his heroic rebellion, it not only works wonderfully with NO inconsistencies throughout the epic, it also becomes funny as hell, pun intended. Another part of this re-assumption of premise is to see Milton AS A MAIN CHARACTER--in fact TWO Miltons: One is Milton the Poet as external narrator who makes all the asides and essentially speaks to us directly; the other lies a layer further inside the (concentric) narrative frame with Milton The Narrator of the story. And to jump ahead to your later query, I see his Muse as his 'angel' providing inspiration, although I'm inclined to say WITHOUT agenda. Rather, Milton is giving us the ol wink-wink by saying "See here, folks: Many have asserted Eternal Providence based on some Divine message. Why not me? And, I'm a brilliant poet, and poets wrote 'The Word,' so why not me? And why can my Muse not be just as valid as any of your angels?" In short, from the traditional Christian view, Milton seeks Divine Inspiration; however, from the Blakean/Romantic view, he is virtually mocking the very concept of Divine Inspiration by equating his 'muse' with any alleged angel some other 'inspired' person, whose 'vision' he saw fit to tell the world about.
As to scenes, I'd go Blakean all the way. Hell, for starters, is not a bad place at all. Maybe not the Ritz, but certainly not much worse than heaven. Kind of like a cool basement adolescent male teens might hang out in, smoke their bong, listen to tunes. Admittedly not upstairs in the more pristine part of the house, but a cool place nonetheless, where boys can be boys without parental interference. Paradise might be nothing better than, say, a spot in Costa Rica at best, though, having said that, Paradise is also NOT a state of 'innocence,' which does not exist but, rather, a state of ignorance--which was LOST once CURIOSITY got the best of us, which our human HERO, Eve, THANKFULLY enabled.
I know I'm rambling a bit, and even in classes I get so excited sometimes that I almost laugh out loud at the students expressions of amusement (and hopefully intrigue)over at my antics. And as you clearly know, the discussion is timeless and endless, which makes for a lot of intellectual joy. I also know I've not responded to all of your compelling remarks, though time, and my wish to get something off to you, now takes precedence. I would, however, enjoy hearing back from you, and perhaps speaking to you some day. Sadly, I've never been too speedy on the keyboard!
Just to add/clarify on the Muse: She doesn't exist in the sense of a personified power. She DOES exist in the sense that she is the projected spirit FROM WITHIN, the same all the GREAT Poets rhetorically sort of yielded to at times. She belongs to the poet. This means that the divine spirit exists in us all, and is thus not separate from us--or Nature. It's really cool to ponder that my Romantic language CAME from Milton in so many ways. The Romantics echoed him--I really believe this. They would not existed , or at least as they did, without Milton. They loved Shakespeare. They revered Milton. Which is why I'd love to hear your comments on Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," and assuming the premise I suggest. It is in essence a pretty shor explication of Paradise Lost. I imagine you've read it, but maybe not. Either way, it gives great insight into Milton, AND into how Blake took the baton from him, so to speak.
Oh, and another thing, about Raphael...
He is indeed the temptor. The unwitting Bad Guy. Without his coaxing Adam (with Eve at times listening), and without his continually feeding Adam's curiosity (note how the more Raphael tells him, the more questions he asks), they may have chosen blissful ignorance over Knowledge. I find Raphael delightfully amusing, especially since most readers don't bother to even consider his credibility, let alone doubt it!
One thing that strikes me about “The Marriage of heaven and Hell” is just how markedly different Milton’s and Blake’s perception of God is. Milton’s God is a Heavenly Father, a “sky-beard”. Though Blake illustrated Milton’s sky-beard, I don’t see that same perception reflected in his poetry. I see Milton as attempting to iron out God’s paradoxes; Blake, like Kierkegaard after him, embraces them. Blake’s God isn’t a Heavenly Father, Blake’s God is impenetrable personification of the infinite. At least that’s how I read “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, though my reading of it may be imperfect since I’ve not spent nearly as much time with it as I have with PL.
That said, there was a tangent the script went through, for about a month or so, where I endeavored to make God less Miltonic and more Blakean, since I feel that the modern conception of God hews much more closely to Blake than Milton. It would have represented a radical departure from the original, to present God more as an impenetrable, unknowable creator being, and less as a sky-beard. To figure out a way to demonstrate omnipotence, through the ways God speaks and conducts himself, instead of merely saying He’s omnipotent. The core idea was this: God is all things, and he is responsible for every action, ergo he can’t technically speak to an independent agent outside of himself. All God’s words, are God speaking to himself, one element of God speaking to another. So he is incapable of referring to anything in the third person, everything is “I” or “me”. Adam, Eve, Satan, the Son; to God they are not “they, or he, or she” but “I”. So for example, “They themselves ordained their fall”, becomes “I myself ordained my fall.” Some of these “I”s referring to what we conceptualize as the Father, some of those referring to Adam and Eve, but all of them referring to this impenetrable personification of the Universe. When I say, radical departure, to give you an idea, in this draft, Satan encountered not Chaos, but God during his journey to Earth (following the thread of “His Dark Materials”). However, Satan is incapable of recognizing God’s voice; God picks up on this, that Satan is incapable of recognizing him, “I know me not then, I know not me.” God referring to Satan as "I" (echoing Satan’s later lines to Gabriel) This idea that Satan is a little piece of the universe cut off, amputated, chosen to exile itself from the rest. That to war against God, also means that Satan must war against himself. And that’s what damnation is. The idea was still embryonic when I abandoned it, however, I was doing some research into Gertrude Stein, seeing if perhaps God could be made into a strange admixture of Milton and Stein – borrowing her style and grammatical conventions. Ultimately the director and I decided that it would be too confusing for the audience to follow. It might come across as repetitive and gimmicky (which is why I was researching Stein, to flesh out the idea), and simply wouldn’t read. We decided to go with an earlier draft that stuck more closely to Milton.
It was an idea that very much excited me, and excites me now writing about it. I have, however, learned to distrust ideas I get too excited about since it often means I’m off in la-la land and the audience won’t be able to follow me. It does make a lot of sense to me however, that an infinite and omnipotent creator-being would refer to everything as “I”. To reflect a perfect sort of empathy, being both the empathizer and the object of that empathy. A supra-trinity. “I am that I am,” and all that.
A few more notes on this Scene in Chaos, between God and Satan, in this abandoned draft. The audience, at this point, would not recognize that Satan is speaking to God, since God would be speaking in a way that we might expect of Chaos. Additionally, this would mean that God would be the one to point Satan towards the new Earth – since, well, that’s precisely what omnipotence means:
“so doth the Prince of Hell
And his Adherents, that with so much ease
I suffer them to enter and possess
A place so heav'nly, and conniving seem
To gratifie my scornful Enemies,
That laugh, as if transported with some fit
Of Passion, I to them had quitted all,
At random yeilded up to their misrule; And know not that I call'd and drew them thither”
It would have been an incredible amount of work to execute. Since I don’t buy such an entity having an adversarial relationship with Satan. That is, the adversarial relationship would be strictly one-way. The Son would also need extensive rewrites unless I wanted to imply that he was ignorant of God’s true nature (which I didn’t). Original Sin would have to be completely rethought. A real tangled mess, to sort of arrive at this idea that God is much more about unity, if one is looking for Good and Evil, look to Satan and the Son.
Additionally, concerning adaptations in general, on if they should be radical or conservative; I must admit, it was quite frightening meddling with such a revered work. I know a particular section from Andrew Marvell’s “On Mr. Milton’s Paradise Lost” haunted me:
“Or if a work so infinite he spanned,
Jealous I was that some less skilful hand
(Such as disquiet always what is well,
And by ill imitating would excel)
Might hence presume the whole creation's day
To change in scenes, and show it in a play.”
Was I disquieting what was well? I know Marvell was specifically jabbing at Dryden, which I think was justified. I hate “State of Innocence” with a white-hot rage. How can you possibly, possibly, give “Better to reign in hell…” to Moloch and then play it for comedy? And that sing-song Heroic Verse – Gah! It’s dreadful! Sorry, I digress. That said. My very early drafts were very conservative, transcribing the original poetry, eliminating lines for length. I had several mentors, however, that strongly encouraged me to push the adaptation in a more radical direction. So it’s evolved to not doing things just because that’s exactly the way Milton did it, but what will work for this script, what will work for the production, what will work for the audience. And also to explore things in the context I’ve been given, things that Milton might not have explored. For example, and this is small example, but it’s easy to relate. Why in PL, does Michael, in their big showdown in the war in Heaven, never say to Satan, “Who is like God?” It’s such a huge part of Michael’s lore, the name “Michael” literally means “Who is like God,”, yet he never asks it in PL. So, I wanted to see Michael ask Satan that question, and perhaps more interestingly, see what Satan’s response might be.
Additionally concerning Milton’s perception of God, Michael Bryson presents an interesting theory. The traditional view in attempting to reconcile Milton’s God and Milton’s anti-monarchial stances is that Milton was against earthly Monarchies, but for the divine “true” monarchy. Some claim there’s some evidence for this in “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates” (which I’ve not read). Bryson instead argues that the God that Milton presents us in PL is not Milton’s true perception of God, but is instead a deliberate parody or perversion, perverted specifically through his monarchial trappings. The God of Paradise Lost isn’t evil because God is evil, but because thinking of God as a “Heavenly King” is. Milton was attempting to disentangle Christianity from Monarchy, by showing us the evil image of a Monarchial God. It’s telling that Milton never uses the word Christ, since Christ has specific monarchial associations – it means “anointed”.
I’m also very interested that you talk about the comedy in Paradise Lost. I can think of a few specific moments. The one in particular that makes me laugh is when Adam asks Raphael whether angels love one another like he loves Eve, and if so, how do they consummate it. Then Raphael blushes and tries to deflect the question! And then we get a brief description of ,um, angel sex. Then there’s a few groups he mocks like the ermites and friars in Chaos, and that iconoclast screed when he describes Pandemonium, mocking those of a hubristic bent (Milton, mocking others for hubris! That’s rich!). And there’s that brief pun battle Belial and Satan have in the War in Heaven. Then I suppose there’s narrator commentary irony, in certain places, mainly surrounding Satan. For the most part though, I find the humor in Paradise Lost is incredibly sparse. I believe there’s an introduction, I think to “Samson Agonisties”, where Milton writes that he believes that mixing tragedy and comedy is poor form (I can’t help but think he’s specifically talking about Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus”). The only critic I’ve read that talks about humor in Paradise Lost is C.S. Lewis. And he’s writing as a Christian Apologist, presenting Satan as a heel, writing about how the reader is supposed to laugh at Satan’s foolish gaps in logic. I think we can both agree, however, that Milton’s Satan is no fool.
I was looking for opportunities to bring some levity into the script. I didn’t have much success. I know Power’s production played the Infernal Council for laughs, so I attempted to do something there. My ideas for it though were pretty silly, and I’m glad I abandoned them. Mainly through Belial, he reminds me of “Q” from Star Trek in a way, dismissive and arrogant. The production as a whole though was very serious and heavy, if you can point me to any places in particular where you see levity, I’d be very interested.
Concerning your thoughts on Hell, one thing my director and I were looking for were opportunities to subvert expectations. I think that’s part of the reason why Satan is so interesting is that he subverts expectations. This is actually one of the reasons I moved Book III, since readers tend to tune out the Son pretty quickly and I think it’s because the first scene we see of the Son in PL, he plays exactly into our expectations of him (at least on a cursory read). I can’t also help but think it’s a numerology thing, that Milton wanted to give the third book to the Son. But yeah, concerning Hell – any idea that presents Hell as a place that is not “adamantine chains and penal fire” is worth exploring since that’s what will subvert expectations. However, I think the danger is in presenting Hell as Vegas or Pleasure Island, with Blackjack and Hookers (not to say you’ve gone this far). Since Satan is many things, but he is most certainly not a Hedonist, and I think he’d be the first one to start flipping tables, reminding the apostates that they have a greater purpose. Hedonism is a trait Satan associates with the Loyalists, with their servile pomp, Satan’s all about hard liberty (I know “servile pomp” and “Hard Liberty” are Mammon’s lines but they reflect Satan’s views as well). I also think Hell needs to be a place of punishment, since Satan takes pride in the fact that he is capable of withstanding the Almighty’s punishments, and he uses these qualities of Hell as ammunition against God, “Accept your maker’s work; I give you as he gave it me”.
Concerning Raphael, that point where Raphael admonishes Adam for seeking knowledge into the celestial bodies. I took that as a Galileo reference, since Milton references him several times in the poem and Milton met Galileo in prison (or perhaps that meeting is apocryphal). And because he’s referencing Galileo, he’s using that passage to criticize Raphael. It’s interesting because that whole conversation arouses Adam’s paranoia about Satan and it’s this paranoia that drives Eve to conclude that “Sometimes solitude is the best society” and that they should go work separately for a bit.
Concerning Eve as a hero. Yeah, Eve is a mine-field since we certainly don’t want to inherit Milton’s 17th century cultural mores concerning the “proper” relationship between a man and a woman, that is, dominant and submissive. I played up her inquisitive nature, that she asks questions that don’t occur to Adam, or that he’s afraid to ask. She played a more active role in the conversation with Raphael in this script, instead of serving them food and drinks. She also delivers the last lines of the poem, to Adam “… hand in hand with slow and wandering steps, we will take our solitary way.” (I love the last four lines of Paradise Lost so much.)It was also important to make Satan’s temptation persuasive, so that she didn’t come across as easily deceived or tricked. And of course, to show, hey, maybe Satan has a point.
Also, I’m not sure that Milton means to drag down prophetic vision by equating it with poetry or even if Blake believes that. I think he means to elevate poetry. I was rereading “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” earlier today and came across this passage that I think it relevant:
Isaiah answered: "I saw no God,
nor heard any, in a finite organical
perception: but my senses discovered
the infinite in everything; and as I
was then persuaded, and remained
confirmed, that the voice of honest
indignation is the voice of God, I cared
not for consequences, but wrote.'*
Then I asked: "Does a firm per-
suasion that a thing is so, make it
He replied: "All poets believe that”
Do you think Blake is mocking Isiah in that passage? I’m not sure that he is.
Oh, yeah, that’s right. I did include a line from “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” in the script. That part when Beelzebub says:
Or do him mightier service as his thralls
By right of war, whate'er his business be
Here in the heart of Hell to work in fire
Or do his errands in the gloomy Deep?
He finishes that section with: “Are we still of Heaven’s party without knowing it?” I’m curious, what does Blake mean, you think, by “true poet”?
And after that mammoth of a post, I think it is time for me to get some sleep.
I was thinking a bit more about Blake and asking myself why I don’t embrace his take on Satan. It’s because for me, the most moving version of Satan is a Satan who fails. Yes, he seduces Eve; yes, Man falls. But God already knows that this will happen, not only does God know, it’s a crucial part of His Divine Plan. For Satan, the game’s rigged from the start, God’s pulling all the strings. To say that he would fail against an omnipotent force is practically a tautology. And somewhere in Satan, he must know, has to know, that this task is impossible –
“To wage by force or guile eternal war”
Where is the victory in eternal war? And despite all this, he perseveres, because he believes in the justness of his cause. Because, at heart, Satan is an idealist, perhaps the ultimate idealist. He's not too concerned about what is possible and what is impossible; but about what is right and what is wrong.
This is the primary reason I resisted suggestions to recontextualize it. Because Satan has to struggle against omnipotence.
Satan isn't really about bringing enlightenment, or greater knowledge to mankind; he wants to seduce Eve without it being part of a larger divine plan. And at this he fails, because it is. I see this as being Satan's highest goal:
"[to] disturb His inmost counsels from their destined aim,"
To subvert the divine plan, because that's what would represent true liberty. And at that, he fails.
No, actually that's not entirely true. At least not in my version. You see, I was never entirely happy with the denouement that Milton gives Satan. He returns to Hell, gloats to the apostates, God plays a practical joke with an image of the projected tree of knowledge, they eat hungrily, it turns to ash, they transform into snakes.
I mentioned in the first post, an original scene, an argument between Satan and the Son constructed from sections of Book IV, De Doctrina Christiana, and Paradise Regained. At this point, Book III is yet to come.
For the Son to say to the Father, "So should thy goodness and thy greatnessboth/ Be questioned and blasphemed without defense", for there to be a revolution in Heaven, for the New Testament to supplant the Old - there needs to be a seed of doubt. Though Satan does it unwittingly, and the Son seems to present a united front with the Father - that seed of doubt, it comes from that argument. It comes from Satan. And that's the marriage of Heaven and Hell.
Stuart, here's the introduction that I was speaking of, concerning Tragedy and Comedy. And yep, it's for Samson Agonistes:
Of That Sort of Dramatic Poem Called Tragedy
TRAGEDY, as it was anciently composed, hath been ever held the gravest, moralest, and most profitable of all other Poems; therefore said by Aristotle to be of power, by raising pity and fear, or terror, to purge the mind of those and such-like passions—that is, to temper and reduce them to just measure with a kind of delight, stirred up by reading or seeing those passions well imitated. Nor is Nature wanting in her own effects to make good his assertion; for so, in Physic, things of melancholic hue and quality are used against melancholy, sour against sour, salt to remove salt humours. Hence philosophers and other gravest writers, as Cicero, Plutarch, and others, frequently cite out of tragic poets, both to adorn and illustrate their discourse. The Apostle Paul himself thought it not unworthy to insert a verse of Euripides into the text of Holy Scripture, 1 Cor. xv. 33; and Paræus, commenting on the Revelation, divides the whole Book, as a Tragedy, into acts, distinguished each by a Chorus of Heavenly Harpings and Song between. Heretofore men in highest dignity have laboured not a little to be thought able to compose a tragedy. Of that honour Dionysius the elder was no less ambitious than before of his attaining to the tyranny. Augustus Cæsar also had begun his Ajax, but, unable to please his own judgment with what he had begun, left it unfinished. Seneca, the philosopher, is by some thought the author of those tragedies (at least the best of them) that go under that name. Gregory Nazianzen, a Father of the Church, thought it not unbeseemingly the sanctity of his person to write a tragedy, which he entitled Christ Suffering. This is mentioned to vindicate Tragedy from the small esteem, or rather infamy, which in the account of many it undergoes at this day, with other common Interludes; happening through the poet’s error of intermixing comic stuff with tragic sadness and gravity, or introducing trivial and vulgar persons: which by all judicious hath been counted absurd, and brought in without discretion, corruptly to gratify the people. And, though ancient Tragedy use no Prologue, yet using sometimes, in case of self-defence or explanation, that which Martial calls an Epistle, in behalf of this tragedy, coming forth after the ancient manner, much different from what among us passes for best, thus much beforehand may be epistled—that Chorus is here introduced after the Greek manner, not ancient only, but modern, and still in use among the Italians, In the modelling therefore of this poem, with good reason, the Ancients and Italians are rather followed, as of much more authority and fame. The measure of verse used in the Chorus is of all sorts, called by the Greeks Monostrophic, or rather Apolelymenon, without regard had to Strophe, Antistrophe, or Epode,—which were a kind of stanzas framed only for the music, then used with the Chorus that sung; not essential to the poem, and therefore not material; or, being divided into stanzas or pauses, they may be called Allæostropha. Division into act and scene, referring chiefly to the stage (to which this work never was intended), is here omitted. 1
It suffices if the whole drama be found not produced beyond the fifth act. Of the style and uniformity, and that commonly called the plot, whether intricate or explicit—which is nothing indeed but such œconomy, or disposition of the fable, as may stand best with verisimilitude and decorum—they only will best judge who are not unacquainted with Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the three tragic poets unequalled yet by any, and the best rule to all who endeavour to write Tragedy. The circumscription of time, wherein the whole drama begins and ends, is, according to ancient rule and best example, within the space of twenty-four hours.
Was Milton also of Aristophanes's party without knowing it?
Stuart, if you're still reading this - I was wondering if you could recommend anything by Harold Bloom. I stumbled upon a quote of his, entirely by accident, which I decided to include in the cover letter for the script. I looked it up and found it came from his "How to Read and Why": a book he wrote surveying various works of Western Canon.
I love the very little I've read of his so far, and it seems like he and I are of one mind on many aspects of the poem. He's a critic that speaks simply and directly, and isn't afraid to make bold claims. I didn't realize this, but it seems like Bryson is heavily influenced by Bloom (Bloom also writes about Milton presenting a deliberate distortion of God). I think what most excited me about the short section of his I read is that he comes out and says point blank a notion that I was entranced by exploring, but afraid to fully execute on.
From Bloom's How to read and Why:
"[The Reader] will then better admire Satan's authentic heroism when he returns to consciousness and admires the blasted features of his lover Beelzebub (the Miltonic angels are androgynous, fallen and unfallen)."
Supported, of course, by Adam's final question to Raphael concerning love between angels.
I wrote that I recast Beelzebub as less as a fawning sycophant, and more of a trusted confidant. Truth be told, I wanted to push it farther. I shied away from it, however, thinking that it would be too lurid, too sensationalist, that I'd be running roughshod over Milton. I decided to write a script that could support such an interpretation, on part of the actors and director, but would not necessarily force such an interpretation. However, this interpretation was not reflected in this particular production.
Various bits and pieces from the script that support it - Satan kisses Beelzebub on the forehead before setting off for the gates of Hell. In the poem, before the war in heaven, Satan instructs an unnamed angel to gather those most loyal to him. In the script, this unnamed angel is Beelzebub. He refers to Satan as "Dear Companion" in this scene, which contrasts nicely I think against the way he addresses Satan in hell, "Chief, Captain, Lord". Beelzebub also has a way of speaking to Satan that I don't think a mere lieutenant could get away with. I also had a moment where Beelzebub hesitates before deciding to join the rebel party. Precursoring the same sense of divided loyalty that we'll see between Adam and Eve "to lose you is to lose myself". I think Beelzebub's loyalty to the rebellion is primarily a personal loyalty, not an ideological one.
I believed that hinting at such a relationship, would poignantly contrast with the solitude and apartness that is such characteristic of Satan throughout the poem.
I'm happy that Bloom saw the same relationship I did. It's strange, often there's sections where I believe I'm being unfaithful to Milton, and then I'll stumble upon a critic who makes the argument that that precise thing is supported in the original text. I also just got a chance to read Genesis B, which I have no idea why the medieval literature professor I talked to didn't recommend to me, and found justifications for a few original lines I included.
Ugh, just realized, this conflicts with "That these two should lie imparadised in each others arms while I am thrust to Hell." Yeah, it alters the way Satan would perceive Adam and Eve. It was a bit of a crazy idea anyways, I wonder if Bloom writes about it somewhere else, if he further justifies that notion. He doesn't in that short section I read.