A person's interpretation of different literary works is often a subject of debate. This statement is quite true of the reading of John Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost. Many have agreed with William Blake's statement in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that, the reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it (William Blake, year). The question here is what did Blake or others imply when saying this, was it maybe the way Milton's presented his epic and its contents that led to this deduction Well, to fully understanding what Blake meant by his assertion we need to look at how the character of Satan was presented and take into consideration the differences in eras that might have influenced his interpretation of Paradise Lost.
As we try to shed some light on Blake's assertion we need to take a closer look at the characterization of Satan in Paradise Lost. This is important because in Blake's statement he clearly says that the way that Milton portrayed his characters was the reason why he thought Milton part of the Devil's party. Well, Milton depicts Satan as possessing outstanding traits of a great epic anti-hero. As the victorianwed.com expresses an epic-hero is someone in the midst of turmoil. We can see this in lines 54-67, for now the thought /Both of lost happiness and lasting pain /Torments him....Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace /And rest can never dwell, hope never comes/That comes to all; but torture without end. (line 54-67). One that is a leader, demands attention and is a confident speaker. He also possesses unique powers and as Satan did in Paradise lost he undertakes a task that no one else dares to attempt. (Victorianweb.com). He tries to make a heaven for himself, The mind is its own place, and in it self /Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.(line 254-255). The only thing that makes him an anti-hero is that he is a 'god-despiser', Lucifer thinks that his own abilities and power are greater than those of God and God's son. As we in Book I, Satan has been thrown down to hell because he thought himself better then God (line 37-49). And again we see this in lines 138-142, As far as Gods and Heav'nly Essences/Can perish: for the mind and spirit remains/Invincible, and vigour soon returns,/Though all our Glory extinct, and happy state /Here swallow'd up in endless misery. (line 138-142).And again in line 263, Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n. Other more subtle characteristics that he possesses is a mighty stature (line 222), he executes his free will with never to submit or yield (line 108). All these qualities seemed to make Satan a great hero and support Blake's assertion that Milton is portraying Satan in a good light and so he must be part of the Devil's part, but as we said before this not true because there lies great flaws in Satan's person that ultimately also leads him to his downfall. Something else to note is that since most evidence is based on Satan's speech there is a bias on how he presents his information and therefore how his followers absorb that information.
Now, lets look at exactly how Satan is really not as great as he presents himself. In Book I, we are exposed to Satan very first speech, here explains how much his party as well as himself have transform, But O how fall'n! how chang'd /From him, who in the happy Realms of Light /Cloth'd with transcendent brightness didst out-shine (line 84-86) Here, we are also exposed to Satan's vulnerable side he realizes how much power God really has and how badly he has fallen. And at the same time he struggles to come to terms with what has just happened. I think that Satan is going through not only physical turmoil like shown previously, but as well as in his mind. As pointed out before he says that heaven can be in hell as well. Another example is Though chang'd in outward lustre; that fixt mind /And high disdain, from sence of injur'd merit, /That with the mightiest rais'd me to contend, (line 97-99). Although it seems that Satan hasn't learned his lesson and he still thinks that he can bring God down and overthrow God's heaven; it should be seen as Satan knows exactly what is going on. He has decided to use his evil manner and manipulation to bring others down and therefore gain what he thinks a position above God. (line 157-165). Furthermore, this shows that Satan is really a tyrannical ruler.
Now, this point rises another reason that could explain why Blake thought that Milton was part of the Devil's party. It is argueable that Milton and his Satan character have parallelistic traits to an extend. Since, Milton creates a different realms such as heaven and hell, he could be considered to be using fluency in his writing as trying to exalt himself as a writer. As Milton asks for a guideance from above to help him with his epic poem. Moreover, he asks the Muse to give him the Truth so that he could share it with the world. Also, he asks that he may be recognized for his work. (line 1-26) In addition, Milton sates that the purpose of writing Paradise Lost is to justify the ways of God to man (line). In Book III, we find that Milton again asks for this insight and to be illumanated, Shine inward, and the mind through all powers /Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence /Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell /Of things invisible to mortal sight. (line)
As we have concluded Satan isn't really that great and as we saw he is an tragic epic anti-hero. Though, what makes him tragic? Well, in retrospective even though he has lost his beauty and his position in heaven he has chosen to use his remaining abilities for evil. He has decided to bring those around him, who decide to listen to him, down. Though, the most tragic thing is that he thinks that all these things will bring him to position of exaltation, somewhere where he is greater than God. Furthermore, it is because of his greed and want to be better than God that it becomes essential for him to destroy the truth and use it to his own advantages. As someone that know of the Christian background, I can relate this to Matthew 4:6, where Satan uses Truth found in the Bible to tempt Jesus to fall as he did.
Now the use of this powerful manipulation presented in Milton's writing is also a factor that comes into play in the differences of literary periods. Something to note, Milton wrote Paradise Lost in 1668 in the Renaissance more specifically the Commonwealth period and Blake wrote his poem in between 1790-93 which is the Romantic period. Looking deeper into the Renaissance one specific responsibility that many of the writers had was to have fluency in their writing and this fluency has two ways of being expressed. Therefore fluency can be either condemnable or admirable, admirable is when the person is looking to benefit his audience with his speech and inform them in a positive when. Furthermost, the person giving the speech is not looking for any kind of recognition. Unlike admirable fluency, condemnable fluency is when the person looks to gain admiration such as when Satan has used his speech he demands to take revenge upon God. Although, it can be viewed that he is really seeking to become a god himself and establish an alternative heaven, because he didn't achieve destroying God as we saw in Book I. This can very well explain why Milton portrayed Satan as an almost perfect epic hero, though to keep with his Protestant views he maybe Satan as an anti-hero. So why would Blake still accuse Milton of being part of the Devil's party?
Well, as expressed before Blake's work was published in the Romantic period and this influenced his work a great deal. In the Romantic period there was an immense shift in beliefs and values that people had. Moreover, views of totalitarianism or absolutism changed from those presented in the Renaissance and more specifically when the French Revolution occurred. As a side note, during the reign of Charles I the country split into two: the Commonwealth and the Royalist (monarchy). Well in 1648, the royal family was capture and a year later Charles I head was cut off. Therefore the Commonwealth to control of the country, and since Milton was part of this movement he became the secretary of foreign languages. Though, in 1660 the country went back to the monarchic style and Milton was put in prison. During this time, the Commonwealth wanted the church to be more democratic and so they wanted change. Why don't we get back to Blake's time? Well, it could be argued that Blake could have seen the devil's party as an opposition to an absolute religious ruling and therefore because he might have related Satan to the Commonwealth and God to the monarchy. As a result, he would have concluded that Milton was part of the Devil's party not only because Milton was in opposition with the monarchic ruling in his period but his handling of the English Revolution issues.