Books I and II – Plot Summary

Books I and II – Plot Summary

Thrown from heaven for his hubris, Satan is cast into a vast pit of fire and despair. With his minions he vows that ‘To do ought good never will be our task,/ But ever to do ill our sole delight, / As being the contrary to his high will/ Whom we resist.’ In these lines Milton sets up a dialectic (two contrasting concepts) between good and evil, a struggle that became as prominent in gothic literature as it was in the Renaissance.

Satan says that wherever God tries to do good he will find a way to do evil and promote evil. However the narrator, describing Satan, explains that however hard he may try, he will ultimately see ‘How all his malice serv’d but to bring forth/ Infinite goodness, grace and mercy shewn/ On Man’.

In the first book of the poem Milton describes Satan as he lies chained to a lake of fire, fire that gives no light but only ‘darkness visible’. He is with his minions, one of whom is named as Beelzebub. The reader is given a brief history of the events that led to this moment. Satan, not wishing to be subservient to God (or a Monarch) led a rebellion, a battle which he lost and was thus cast out of heaven for eternity.

They rise to earth and examine their new terrain. The narrator of the poem describes how they, ‘with thir darkness durst affront [God’s] light,’ by tricking humanity into worshipping and following them instead of God. Each of Satan’s army is introduced and associated with the deeds Milton thinks we might recognise them by. Many of their offenses come from the Bible. Their physical appearance is sometimes grotesque, however some of them are described as mighty and powerful, ‘Thir visages and stature as of Gods,’ despite the evil they possess. None more so than Satan himself who, above his enormous army stands ‘like a tower’.

Once his army is assembled Satan gives a rallying speech to encourage his vanquished troops. He outlines their political aims, directly criticising the sovereign role God held over them. He then explains their task, to make man fall. Having received enthusiastic applause, including the eruption of a volcano, Satan’s Capital building, ‘Pandemonium,‘ is erected and the council begins.

Mammon, Belial and Moloc put forward their ideas for what they should do next. Moloc proposes all out war, Belial that they do nothing and hope it gets better and Mammon proposes they make a heaven from hell, where everyone is free not subservient. Then Beelzebub speaks, and proposes that the only way to truly wreak revenge is to destroy mankind. Satan tells them to wait in hell while he goes on the perilous journey up to earth.

He reaches the gates of hell and there is a hideous creature, half woman, and half serpent with dogs at her waist. There is also a shapeless being that wears a crown- Death. Satan is informed that this is his son and the woman, Sin, was impregnated by Satan while he was in heaven. She holds the key to the gate and unlocks it for Satan and they behold another vast abyss which Satan must cross. He finally makes it to the tiny earth where he lies at the end of book two.