Love and Lust in Paradise Lost

Love and Lust
Paradise Lost

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