John Milton was born in early 17th century London to a middle class family. He obtained education from St. Paul's School where he became proficient in many languages and began to write poetry. Milton would later become admitted to Christ's College of Cambridge University where he would obtain a bachelor's and a master's degree. Milton worked as a pamphleteer and publicist during his life. During the Restoration period in England, Milton wrote A Treatise of Civil Power which attacked the idea of a state dominated by the church. For his epic poem, Paradise Lost, he is most well known. Milton completed this work along with Paradise Regained while he was blind and impoverished. Paradise Lost is a blank verse poem consisting of 12 books. Milton is also considerably the most significant English writer since Shakespeare. Milton's influence on Mary Godwin Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus is evident through the text through various allusions to themes such as the creation and fall of man, as well as forbidden knowledge. Milton was married to four different wives at different points in his life and fathered four children. Milton died in November of 1674 and was buried in the church of St. Giles Cripplegate in London.
Paradise Lost is a story of the creation and fall of mankind. In the beginning of the epic poem, Satan desires fairness and values equality when God declares that all must bow to his only son. Satan and his followers endure expulsion from heaven on the basis of rebellion when they protest God's command. After getting thrown out of heaven, Satan consorts with the other fallen angels and they band together to construct Pandemonium.
(the capital of hell as coined by Milton). Satan and his unholy council devise a plan to get back at God. After considering God's incredible might, the possibility of destroying God in battle appears as an unreasonable approach. Satan determines after considering many options, that it is their duty to destroy good with evil, to corrupt god's holy creations. Satan departs Pandemonium in search of Paradise. When God sees Satan approaching Eden, he understands that Satan will succeed in his goal. God's son chooses to suffer the sin of death for mankind to combat Satan's evil sabotage. Satan later reflects on his unfair treatment from God in heaven while admiring Eden. While in disguise, Satan appears as a cherub and he is caught whispering in Eve's ear while she is sleeping and consequentially becomes banished from Eden by God. God then decides to send Raphael to warn Adam and Eve of Satan and his deceptive nature. Raphael also tells Adam and Eve the story of Satan's rebellion. Later Satan sneaks back into Eden and takes the form of a serpent. Satan convinces Eve to disobey God's one command for the promise of forbidden knowledge. After Satan's deception, he returns to hell. Adam and Eve reflect on their situation and decide that it is best to serve God. God then sends Michael to share the future of biblical history in the world with Adam.
Creation plays a vital role as an integral theme in Paradise Lost. After Satan is thrown out of heaven he builds Pandemonium with the help of his followers. In a way, Satan overcame a great obstacle in building his palace, he was able to make the best of his poor situation. The creation of Eden along with Adam and Eve appears as another example in the text. Adam is created in the image of God, as is the Earth and Eden. Eve is created from Adam for Adam as a partner. It seems with creation the creator must be capable of accessing forbidden knowledge. God plays the role of an omnipotent being in this way.
The theme of rebellion and expulsion seems relevant throughout the work. Within this a hierarchy resonates throughout the epic poem. Satan struggles for personal freedom from god. The settings of the play include heaven, chaos, hell and earth; Satan moves through all three of these areas throughout the work. At the beginning of Paradise Lost, Satan and his fiends rebel once God declares that they must bow a knee to his son. Satan maintains that God's son holds an equal rank to him and convinces other angels to not surrender their freedom. Because of this, God casts Satan and his horrid crew out of heaven. After pulling themselves together, Satan determines that "the mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven" and desires to pervert God's good works with evil. This situation seems similar to Adam and Eve's rebellion and expulsion from Eden. When in Eden, Adam and Eve split up their work and begin working alone so that they could complete work better. Satan, finding Eve vulnerable, tempts Eve with knowledge from the forbidden fruit, claiming that she could obtain god-like knowledge if she consumed the fruit. Eve gives into the temptation for knowledge and disobeys God's command to not eat the forbidden fruit. As a consequence, Adam and Eve are thrown out of heaven for disobeying their only rule. This theme altogether points to the rebellion of authority for the gain of freedom.
Forbidden knowledge is another relevant theme in Paradise Lost. In Eden, God commands Adam and Eve to obey his one commandment; do not eat from the forbidden tree of knowledge. God forewarns Adam and Eve that the price of sin is death. Adam consistently considers God's commandment, whereas Eve becomes tempted by Satan. When Satan returns to the garden of Eden as a serpent, he tricks Eve with cunning. Satan claims that he is able to speak because, he has eaten from the forbidden tree of knowledge. Eve decides to eat from the tree for the potential of infinite knowledge. She at first feels overwhelmed with power, but when she realizes her mistake she tries to deceive Adam into also eating the fruit. Adam understands that he is now doomed because of Eve's decision and decides to follow her. Because of this, God sends the archangel Michael to escort Adam and Eve out of Eden. God sees them as now impure because of their sin and this is why they can no longer remain in a place of purity.
Impact on Frankenstein
In Volume II, Chapter VII of Frankenstein, the creature finds on the ground a portmanteau containing various articles of clothing and books. Among the books is John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost. The creature declares that this work excites him with the deepest emotions. The creature relates with Adam in the work, but only as a similar creation. He considers Adam as a perfect creation, whereas he himself consists of dead body parts that have been sewn together from a variety dead corpses.
"Cursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God in pity made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of your's, more horrid from its very resemblance(Shelley 91).
In the creature's response, he alludes to Paradise Lost. He understands and sympathizes with Adam from the text. The idea that Adam was created after God's own image.
The Creature also finds resemblance with Satan. He feels similar because he too has been rejected by his creator for an unfair reason. The creature later determines after reading Paradise Lost that there must also be a god for him since he was created by simply a man.
Victor Frankenstein maintains a thirst of knowledge much like Eve from Paradise Lost. Frankenstein studied outdated science practices before creating his creature and Eve disobeyed god for divine knowledge.
"It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I may infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet." (Shelley35.)
Victor Frankenstein's use of outdated science appears as a form of forbidden knowledge. The creation of the creature could be comparable to Eve eating the forbidden fruit in Paradise Lost, knowledge of creation, information that only God should posses. In this way, Victor Frankenstein represents the themes of creation and the fall from grace that are evident within Paradise Lost.
References/Suggestions for Further Reading
Curran, Stuart. Frankenstein, The Pennslyvania Electronic Edition. http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/. web. 17 Feb. 2015.
Milton, John, and Maurice Kelley. Paradise Lost, and Other Poems. New York: Published for the Classics Club by W.J. Black, 1943. Print., John. Paradise Lost. Print.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and J. Paul Hunter. Frankenstein: The 1818 Text, Contexts, Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.
Wade, Philip. "Shelley and the Miltonic Element in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein". http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/Articles/wade.html. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.