Paul Stevens: "Milton's Satan"
I rarely watch videos because I find them so time-consuming, but I took Christmas Day off and watched a video of a 45-minute lecture by Paul Stevens on "Milton's Satan," recommended to the Milton List by one of the experts on Paradise Lost, Feisal Mohamed.
When I clicked on the link, I discovered that the video is one in a series of Competition Lectures for Best Lecture sponsored by TVO, which is Ontario's public educational media organization. I take it that "TVO" stands for "Television Ontario."
But to cut to the chase . . .
The lecture is outstanding if you like Milton, and maybe even if you don't, because Stevens demonstrates Milton's contemporary relevance in showing how the poet has bequeathed to the modern age its psychological understanding of a deeply ambivalent, conflicted, quasi-heroic Satan who is somehow an enormously appealing, compelling figure.
Why did Milton portray Satan as such an appealing figure? Stevens notes three main answers proffered over the centuries since the publication of Paradise Lost:
1. The Romantics' Satan -- that Milton was in fact of the Devil's party without realizing this fact (Percy Bysshe Shelley [Correction: William Blake]).That third Satan is the one favored by Stevens, obviously, and though there's something a bit too cocky about calling it Milton's Satan -- wouldn't those who support the first or second Satan also consider their Satan Milton's Satan -- Stevens makes an intriguing, almost entirely persuasive case that I cannot easily reproduce here, so I urge you to click on the link and see for yourself.
2. The Academics' Satan -- that Milton created a Satan to seduce readers into identifying with the evil one, only to be disillusioned by evil, thereby bringing readers to experience within themselves the fall first experienced by Eve and Adam (Stanley Fish).
3. Milton's Satan -- that Milton modeled Satan after himself and his own failings (Paul Stevens).
I say 'almost' because I'm still partial to Fish's argument in Surprised by Sin . . .
UPDATE: As my friend Carter Kaplan graciously points out, the first Satan interpretation is not Percy Bysshe Shelley's but William Blake's, so I stand corrected of my 'senior moment'.