Summary and Analysis
Book IV opens with a soliloquy by Satan. As he looks from Mt. Niphrates toward Earth, he thinks on all that he has done and the options open to him. He concludes that his only recourse is evil, and from now on, all his efforts will be to, if not destroy, at least divide God's kingdom. He will carve out a place where he can reign. As Satan considers these ideas, his face changes, revealing his conflicting emotions. On the sun, Uriel notices these emotions and realizes that the cherub cannot be an angel because the minds of angels are always at peace. Uriel sets off to find Gabriel to inform him of the being in the guise of a cherub.
Satan meanwhile moves toward Earth and Paradise — the Garden of Eden. The Garden is on top of a mountain offering only limited and difficult access. Satan gains access to the Garden by leaping the wall like an animal or thief. Once there, he sits in the Tree of Life in the form of a cormorant, a bird of prey. From this vantage, Satan is impressed with the beauty of Eden and the pure air he breathes. Even so, he begins to plot the destruction of God's new creation. Satan sees Man for the first time as Adam and Eve walk through the Garden. While Satan admires the pair and admits that he could love them, he adds that he, nonetheless, means to destroy them and their peaceful life in Paradise.
Uriel arrives at the gate of Eden to inform Gabriel about the interloper in the form of a cherub. Gabriel responds that no one unauthorized has come to the gate. He adds that if someone has managed to come into the Garden by crossing the wall, he and his assistants will find them by morning.
In Eden, Adam and Eve prepare for bed. Adam reminds Eve that they must work tending the Garden, keeping nature within bounds. He also reminds her of their one proscription from God — not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Then, hand in hand, they enter their bower for bed, where they enjoy the sexual love of husband and wife and fall asleep.
Outside Gabriel assembles his troops and sends them to search Eden for the interloper. Zephron and Ithuriel find Satan in the bower of Adam and Eve. The devil, "squat like a toad," is beside Eve, whispering in her ear, trying to produce nightmares. The two angels bring him out to face Gabriel, who questions Satan about his motives for entering Eden. Satan craftily replies that those in Hell seek a better place. He had come to scout out Earth but not to do evil. After further discussion, Gabriel accuses Satan of shifting arguments and threatens to drag the demon back to Hell in chains if he does not immediately return on his own. In anger, Satan rises to his full height, still magnificent even though diminished. Gabriel and his troops prepare for battle, but God cuts the conflict short by holding up a pair of golden scales in the sky. Both Satan and Gabriel recognize the symbol and the power behind it. Satan especially realizes that he cannot overcome God's will and flies away into the night, muttering to himself.
In the opening section of Book IV, Satan talks to himself, and for the first time, the reader is allowed to hear the inner workings of the demon's mind. This opening passage is very similar to a soliloquy in a Shakespearean drama, and Milton uses it for the same effect. Traditionally, the soliloquy was a speech given by a character alone on the stage in which his innermost thoughts are revealed. Thoughts expressed in a soliloquy were accepted as true because the speaker has no motive to lie to himself. The soliloquy then provided the dramatist a means to explain the precise motivations and mental processes of a character. Milton uses Satan's opening soliloquy in Book IV for the same purpose.
In his soliloquy, Satan reveals himself as a complex and conflicted individual. He literally argues with himself, attempting first to blame his misery on God but then admitting that his own free will caused him to rebel. He finally concludes that wherever he is, Hell is there also; in fact, he himself is Hell. In this conclusion, Satan develops a new definition of Hell as a spiritual state of estrangement from God. Yet even as he reaches this conclusion, Satan refuses the idea of reconcilement with God, instead declaring that evil will become his good and through evil he will continue to war with God. The self-portrait that Satan creates in this soliloquy is very close to the modern notion of the anti-hero — a character estranged and alienated who nonetheless will not alter his own attitudes or actions to achieve redemption from or reintegration with society at large.
As Satan debates with himself, he is still in the form of a cherub. The different guises and shapes that Satan assumes become a revealing pattern in the work. In Book I, Satan appeared almost as he had in Heaven — a majestic being. Here at the start of Book IV, he is in the form of a cherub, a much lesser angel. Next, when he leaps the wall into Eden, he sits in the Tree of Life as a cormorant, a large ravening sea bird that symbolizes greed. As he explores Eden and observes Adam and Eve, he takes the forms of a lion and a tiger. Finally, when he is captured whispering in Eve's ear, he is described as "squat like a toad." The devolution or degeneration of Satan in these different shapes is readily apparent. He moves from archangel to lesser angel, from angel to bird — a creature that still flies. Next he is a lion and a tiger — dangerous beasts, feared by Man but nonetheless beautiful and noble in bearing. Finally, he is described as being like the low and homely frog. The idea that evil corrupts and diminishes is made graphic in Satan's various guises.
Milton goes even further with images of shape shifting. When Zephron captures Satan squatting like a toad, Satan immediately assumes his actual shape. Yet, at this point, his real appearance is so changed that Zephron does not recognize him. The animal forms that Satan has assumed symbolize the actual degradation that is taking place in both Satan's physical appearance and moral character. Milton makes the point that evil is a destructive and degenerative force almost palpable as he describes the different physical changes that Satan goes through.
While Satan's soliloquy and shape shifting are important, the most memorable part of Book IV is Milton's description of Eden and the introduction of Adam and Eve. Eden is described as a garden on a plateau-like mountain. It is surrounded by a wall and has only one entrance, guarded by angels. Milton depicts the Garden itself in lush, sensuous detail with the two trees — the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge — singled out. The image of Satan sitting in the Tree of Life in the shape of a cormorant presages the entrance of Death into Paradise.
A significant aspect of Milton's description of the Garden is the role that Adam and Eve have there. Their duty is to tend Eden, to keep nature from running wild. The implication here is that Man brings order to nature. Nature is beautiful in itself but also without control. Left alone, the beauty of nature can be lost in weeds, unchecked growth, and decay. Eve mentions how difficult it is for the two humans to do all that is necessary. Some commentators see the struggle between Man and nature as one of the basic themes in all literature. Nature represents the Dionysian side of the universe, emotional, unrestrained, without law, while Man represents the Apollonian side, moral, restrained, lawfully structured. Nature runs rampant: Man civilizes. Milton's description of the Garden and Adam's and Eve's duties within it bring this Dionysian / Apollonian contrast into play. Satan's entrance into the Garden shows that both the natural and civilized aspects of the world can be corrupted by evil.
Milton also emphasizes the physical nature of the love between Adam and Eve. Some Puritans felt that sex was part of the fall of man, but Milton literally sings the praises of wedded love, offering an Epithalamion or wedding song at line 743. Milton does emphasize the bliss of wedded love as opposed to animalistic passion, however.
Milton also provides insight into the characters of Adam and Eve. At line 411, Adam reminds Eve of the one charge God has given them — not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. While this short speech reminds the reader of what will happen when Satan gains access to Adam and Eve, it also hints that Adam may think too much about God's proscription concerning the Tree, since there is no particular reason for him to bring the warning concerning the tree up at this point in the poem.
The introduction of Eve even more obviously reveals her character and points to the future. Eve describes how she fell in love with her own image when she first awoke and looked in the water. Only the voice of God prevented this narcissistic event from happening. God turned Eve from herself and toward Adam. The suggestion here is that Eve's vanity can easily get her into trouble. Eve's weakness is further indicated in her relationship with Adam. Adam is superior in strength and intellect while Eve is the ideal companion in her perfect femininity. This relationship is sexist by modern standards but reflects the beliefs of Puritan England as well as most of the rest of the world at the time. Even so, Eve's dependence on Adam suggests that she could be in trouble if she has to make serious decisions without Adam's aid. Eve's vanity and feminine weakness in conjunction with Adam's warning about the Tree of Knowledge are a clear foreshadowing that Eve will eventually yield to temptation.
The final scene of Book IV, as Satan confronts Gabriel and a small phalanx of angels, has received much criticism from commentators. Milton's description of Satan as he confronts the angels emphasizes the devil's power and magnificence even in his corrupted state. The scene seems to call for a battle, but Milton instead produces a deus ex machina in the form of a golden scale in the heavens. The suggestion that Satan has been weighed and found wanting causes the great demon immediately to fly away. The intense drama of the moment fizzles with the image of the scale and Satan's inglorious departure. Of course, Milton's point is that the only power of Satan or the angels comes from God, and, at this moment, God chooses to exert his own power symbolically. In terms of drama, the ending of Book IV may be unsatisfying, but in terms of theology, it reminds the reader of where the real power in the universe resides.
Apocalypse (2) any of various Jewish and Christian pseudonymous writings (c. 200 B.C-c. A.D. 300) depicting symbolically the ultimate destruction of evil and triumph of good.
visage (116) the face, with reference to the expression; countenance.
irriguous (255) moist, well-watered.
nuptial (339) of marriage or a wedding.
Purlieu (404) orig., an outlying part of a forest.
impregn (500) impregnate.
arede (962) advise.
phalanx (979) an ancient military formation of infantry in close, deep ranks with shields overlapping and spears extended.