Pride Goeth Before a Fall

Ambrose Research Conference presentation

The character of Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost is a subject of heavy debate among Milton scholars. Some, like C.S. Lewis, believe that Satan is a villain through and through, and any sympathy towards him shows the reader to be an atheist, or at the very least, not firmly Christian. Others, like William Blake, claim that Milton was “of the devil’s party without knowing it,” and consider Satan to be a tragic hero rather than a villain (Blake 88). The latter is an especially convincing argument when studying Paradise Lost as a tragedy, since one of the key elements of tragedy is hamartia, the hero’s fatal flaw or error in judgement that inevitably brings about their downfall. However, while Satan may not be able to fit the stock character of a tragic hero, he is not without a fatal flaw. Satan’s downfall is brought on himself over and over again by his pride, and the tragic irony of his character is that he cannot see himself falling ever further in his attempt to overstep his place. Satan’s downfall is a result of his hamartia, pride, and the narrator allows the reader to watch his descent through the evolution of his disdain for servitude, his descent down the renaissance image of the Great Chain of Being, and the symbolic imagery of the serpent.

12 pages