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Love and Lust in Paradise Lost
Love and Lust
In Milton's Paradise Lost, sexuality is an innate part of human nature. Milton celebrates Adam and Eve's prelapsarian "connubial love" (PL, IV, 743), singing "Hail wedded Love" (PL, IV, 750). In its proper place in the hierarchy (below God), sex in Milton's view is sacred and spiritual, sanctioned by God. Sacred sex is portrayed almost as an intellectual act rather than a physical act, as a union of souls rather than a union of bodies. In contrast, however, lascivious sex is associated with bestial imagery and tortured sleep. It is the abdication of God for physical pleasure that Milton condemns. By contrasting Adam and Eve's "pure" love before the Fall to their enflamed "carnal desire" (PL, IX, 1013) after the Fall, Milton celebrates the idea of sex, but deplores lasciviousness and warns against the evils of such behavior.
These attitudes are revealed in two key scenes in Paradise Lost which depict Adam and Eve making love and then falling asleep. The first passage, characterized by a holy and solemn tone, shows the prelapsarian bliss of Adam and Eve and their "Nuptial Bed" (PL, IV, 710). Adam and Eve pray to God before retiring to "thir blissful Bower" (PL, IV, 689) demonstrating their "adoration pure/ Which God likes best" (PL, IV, 737-8). As Eve decorates the "Nuptial Bed," "heav'nly Quires" sing the Hymenaean (PL, IV, 711), lauding the sanctity of marriage. By saying "God declares/ [it] Pure" (PL, IV, 746-7) and calling it "mysterious Law" (PL, IV, 750), the poet proclaims the sacredness of marriage. Furthermore, his use of the words "innocence" (PL, IV, 745), "true" (PL, IV, 750), "holiest" (PL, IV, 759), "undefil'd and chast" (PL, IV, 761), "and "blest pair" (PL, IV, 774) support the claim. It is important to note that in less than twenty lines, Milton uses the word "pure" four times ((PL, IV, 737, 745, 747,755). This love is "Founded in Reason, Loyal, Just and Pure" (PL, IV, 755). Milton contrasts this love against "adulterous lust" (PL, IV, 753) and "loveless, joyless, unindear'd/Casual Fruition" (PL, IV, 766-7).
In the second lovemaking scene, taking place after the Fall, Adam and Eve's "pure" love turns into "carnal desire." "Their first act of love after eating the fruit is undoubtedly guilt-ridden, hectic, and finally unfulfilling" (Aers, 28). While before the Fall Adam and Eve displayed humility, they now display egotism and arrogance. With their new found knowledge, they perceive themselves to be superior even to God. Therefore, they do not find it necessary to pray to God before retiring. Instead, they misdirect their devotion towards each other rather than to God. Adam completely disregards Raphael's warning against idolatry. "[H]ee on Eve/ Began to cast lascivious Eyes" (PL, IX, 1013-14). He sees her as a sexual object and she sees him as the same: "she him/As wantonly repaid" (PL, IX, 1014-15). They are no longer sharing in a "mutual love" (PL, IV, 728), but in "mutual guilt the Seal" (PL, IX, 1042). Their "mutual guilt" is the eating of the Fruit. Lust, one of the seven deadly sins, is their second sin which "seals" or reaffirms the first.
While their lovemaking in the first example is endorsed by God ("God declares/ [it] Pure" (PL, IV, 746-7) ) and Love is personified as an angel with purple wings (PL, IV, 763-4), there is no such heavenly sanctioning in the second passage. In fact, there is no divinity present at all. Adam and Eve, however, feeling superior to God, "feel/Divinity within them breeding wings/Wherewith to scorn the Earth" (PL, 1009-11). The poet contrasts the "breeding wings" with Love's purple wings. The word "breeding" alludes to the "adulterous lust" that was "driv'n from men/Among the bestial herds to raunge" (PL, IV, 753-4). With their lustful transgressions, they have brought back "adulterous lust" to "scorn the Earth."
The irony here is that the true product of this "adulterous lust" is the human race. In this scene Milton reveals the tension he feels about the origin of man. Adam and Eve were not the products of physical union. They were created by God. Breeding, however, is a physical act of reproduction. Milton associates it with animals, but it is the essential fact of human life and Milton's condemnation of breeding indicates his disgust at the human condition. And yet, implicit there is the sense that life born from breeding is bestial, but life born from the "mysterious Law" (PL, IV, 750) should be our true origin. Reproduction should not be crude or carnal. It should be "mysterious," certainly not physical. It should be sensed not experienced. Sex before the Fall hardly seems a physically pleasurable or passionate act. It is the sacrament, rather than the act that is joyful.
Further condemning lustfulness, the poet exchanges terms emphasizing purity for ones evoking the notion of sin and sin's consequence, Hell. For example, he uses words such as "lascivious" (PL, IX, 1014), "wantonly" (PL, IX, 1015) and "intoxicated" (PL, IX, 1008). He even says, "in Lust they burn" (PL, IX, 1015), referring to Hell. In addition to images of lust and burning, Milton also uses terms of hunger to describe "carnal desire." Pervading images of eating and consuming are fitting because this passage comes soon after the eating of the fruit. Milton shows Adam and Eve's hunger for pleasure by using terms such as "taste" (PL, IX, 1017), "savor" (PL, IX, 1019), "Palate" (PL, IX, 1020) and "relish, tasting" (PL, IX, 1024). Kerrigan writes, "Lust, too [referring also to the Fruit], is an intemperate meal" (Kerrigan, 250). They gorge on each other until they have "thir fill of Love" (PL, IX, 1042), and "dewie sleep/ Oppress'd them, wearied with thir amorous play" (PL, IX, 1044-5). Milton compares their exhaustion from "amorous play" to the sleepiness that overcomes one after gluttonous behavior, another one of the seven deadly sins.
Milton casts lovemaking in the first passage in a holy light, referring twice to "Rites" (PL, 736, 742). "Rites" brings to mind holy rites and services. Preceding the lovemaking is Eve's decorating of the "Nuptial Bed," the singing of the Hymenaean marriage song and Adam and Eve's prayer to God. These events lend an atmosphere of solemnity and sanctity to the sexual act. Following these events are the Rites/Mysterious of connubial Love" (PL, IV, 742-3). The word "mysterious" appears again in line 750, adding to the notion of lovemaking as a divine mystery or a sacrament.
In contrast, the second passage has no such sanctities. Instead, it is laden with words evoking images of playfulness and frivolousness such as "fancie" (PL, IX, 1009), "dalliance" (PL, IX, 1016), "let us play" (PL, IX, 1027), "toy" (PL, IX, 1035), "disport" (PL, IX, 1042) and "amorous play" (PL, IX, 1045). This sex is the "Casual fruition" (PL, IV, 767) which the poet warns us about in the earlier passage. Here, however, it is seen as ordinary and "common." It is not the spiri
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