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Cooperative Creation in John Milton’s Paradise Lost

By Natasha Kinne

Since Milton’s Paradise Lost is an adaptation of the Bible’s book of Genesis, its plot inherently involves God’s creation of Adam and Eve. Unlike in the biblical Genesis, however, Milton elaborates upon the creation story with subsidiary examples of invention, including that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—thereby demonstrating that creativity is an equally human endeavor. He also emphasizes the complementary relationship between God and Christ (the Son), in which these two divine figures delegate the tasks of visionary and executor in a collaborative creative project. Contrastingly, Milton endows Satan and his demonic crew with creativity in a parodic vein. Unlike the generative and productive creativity of God and Adam and Eve, though, creativity of Satanic figures bolsters a fallen, chaotic world where creativity is not cooperative. Through Satan, Sin, and Death, Milton contrasts hellish invention, which is individualistic, with divine creativity, which is cooperative. The failure of Satanic invention lies in its absorption, while the success of heavenly creation lies in its collaborative nature. 

The relationship between the Father and Son demonstrates the cooperation of creator and creation in heaven. The Son (Christ) calls the father “Judg / Of all things made, and judgest onely right” (3.154-155), and through this weighty statement, recognizes the unmatched potency of God’s power in relation to his own. Instead of detesting God’s supremacy as Satan does (4.50-51), Christ embraces his secondary position to God by “attend[ing] the will / Of his great Father” and by seeking his Father’s approval of his plans (3.270-71). The Son accesses his power through submission to the Father. In response to his Son’s devotion to a non-selfish relationship with God, the Father calls Christ “alone / [the Father’s] word, wisdom, and effectual might” (3.170). Though the Father does not give his Son with equal power to himself, he acknowledges his Son’s special, indispensable role. The father establishes himself as the holder of power and Christ as his inspiration; he erects a collaborative relationship between Father and Son. 

The Father and the Son demonstrate a distinctly collaborative thinker-doer relationship through their plan to save mankind. In response to the Father’s request for one of his Heavenly subjects to “be mortal to redeem / Mans mortal crime” (3.214-215), the Son entreats his Father to “Account [the Son] man” (3.227). Though the scheme to save mankind is originally the Father’s, the Son enacts man’s salvation by volunteering for the task. This initial stage in the plan establishes the Father as the thinker and the son as the doer. The pair’s creative dynamic rejects authoritarian and individual creativity in favor of collaboration. It is this combined dedication to a sole effort that distinguishes the Father and Son from Satan, who selfishly claims all creative ability for himself. Without the Son’s action, God’s plan to redeem mankind could not be carried out. 

These thinker-doer roles are reversed, however, when the Son advances the scheme by proclaiming his future. The Son declares that his Father will “not leave [the Son] in the loathsome grave” after he has sacrificed himself for mankind (3.247), an assertion to which the father agrees (3.313-315). Milton portrays the Son’s resurrection as a collaborative project which the Father actualizes through his power. The Father reinforces the son’s divine and creative capacity through the creation of the earth by “perform[ing]” what the son “speak[s]” (7.164). By giving the Son creative authority the Father erects a power dynamic in which both the Father and the Son are necessary. Through this dynamic, the Father and Son,“redeeme” man from “Hellish hate” (3.300). The Father and Son achieve the ultimate triumph over Hell, which is reclaiming mankind, only through their cooperative efforts. The Son’s active role in achieving mankind’s salvation is fundamental to its success—no other angels volunteer to save the world. The collaborative relationship between Father and Son allows the pair to fulfill varying roles in creation to bring about the best effect. 

The Father also cooperates with Adam and Eve by granting them some creative license in maintaining the garden of Eden. When he creates the world, God proclaims that humankind will “acknowledge whence his good / Descends” (7.512-13) and “adore / And worship God Supream” (7.514-15). Since the Father demands praise from Adam and Eve for his almighty power, the Father’s creativity initially seems self-interested. God alters this image by endowing Adam and Eve with creativity in exchange for their adoration, thus forming a mutually beneficial relationship. By declaring that humankind should “fill the Earth” (7.534) and to “Till and keep” (8.320) the garden of Eden, God grants Adam and Eve an active, creative role in their lives. The Father invites Adam’s and Eve’s cooperation in fulfilling his will instead of coercing them through fear or brute strength. Though Adam and Eve betray God by eating from the tree of knowledge, Adam’s and Eve’s free will to repent combined God’s accessibility through prayer restores a cooperative balance between the two parties (11.61-71). God’s cooperation with humankind—despite his far superior power and goodness—implies the indispensability of cooperation to heavenly creation.

Adam’s and Eve’s creative role within Eden also exemplifies cooperative creation. In exchange for their residence in Paradise, God employs man in tending the garden of Eden (4.420-25). Adam and Eve “prune [the] growing Plants, and tend [the] Flours” (4.438) for their own stimulation and for the wellbeing of the garden; the relationship is reciprocal. Though Adam and Eve did not create Eden, they maintain the garden’s beauty and prevent “wanton growth” in the plants (4.629): their creative instincts shape the garden’s appearance. In exchange for their labors, the garden affords Adam and Eve with “delicious fruit” (4.422). Adam and Eve’s generative creative powers extract the generative creation of the garden. Thus, the Father’s cooperative relationship with Adam and Eve gives them a basis on which to form harmonious relationships with other living creatures and embody God’s will. 

God’s symbiotic relationship with Adam and Eve facilitates their reconciliation after the fall. Adam actively pursues a return to their collaborative relationship as he suggests that he and Eve beg for pardon for their sins,  with the hope that God might teach them how to cope with their fallen condition (10.1060-70, 1111). Adam realizes that he must work with God for his own preservation; he cannot take unilateral control over his life through denial of his fault or by killing himself as Eve suggests: he and Eve must ask for God’s forgiveness to redeem themselves and return to a relationship of symbiotic creativity. In response to Adam and Eve’s supplication, the Father lets Adam and Eve live on earth “though sorrowing, yet in peace” (11.117). Though God banishes Adam and Eve from Eden, he “intermix[es] / [his] Cov’nant in …[Eve’s] seed” and thereby resumes a cooperative relationship with Adam and Eve. Though free will allows Adam and Eve to betray cooperation with God by eating from the tree of knowledge, their concerted efforts to seek God’s forgiveness and return to their state of collaboration helps to reconcile their relationship with God. Adam’s and Eve’s desire to be forgiven and the Father’s willingness to forgive preserves God’s creation and allows Adam and Eve to continue creating on earth. 

Through his self-contained creativity, Satan embodies a parodic version of heavenly cooperation. Upon creating the palace Pandemonium in Hell the fallen angels assemble to discuss their next course of action. Milton first distinguishes Satan’s creativity from God’s creativity through the arrangement of the meeting hall. In heaven, the Father sits “High Thron’d about all heighth” with his “onely Son” on “his right” (3.558, 62, 63). Though God is elevated above his heavenly subjects, Christ sits on his level and thus holds the same ranking. In Pandemonium, Satan sits in solitude “High on a Throne of Royal State” (2.1). Even Satan’s closest colleague, Beelzebub, sits below Satan in the court (2.299-300). The governments of heaven and hell are parallel in that the leader is raised above their followers; what differentiates them  is that Satan does not share his power. Since the devils Moloch, Belial, and Beelzebub give speeches during the assembly, Satan gives the impression of leading (2.19) a “Royal State” (2.1) with some democratic principles. The narration provides, however, that these democratic principles are a false pretension. After Beezlebub wins popular approval through his suggestion that the devils “waste [the Father’s] new creation”, man, the narrator reveals that Beezlebub’s speech was “first devis’d / By Satan”, who is “the Author of all ill” (2.379-280, 281). Though the fallen angels approve of Satan’s scheme (2.387), they have no agency in determining their actions; Satan indoctrinates the devils instead of inspiring them through his creativity. Satan’s success depends solely on his unique, solitary capability, whereas the success of the Father and the Son is bolstered by their combined powers. 

Satan also demonstrates his individualistic creativity through his limited communication with both his conspirators. God discusses the fate of Adam and Eve after their fall with his Son, who makes concessions for mankind. God is so inclined to his Son’s advice to “reconcile” with mankind that he heeds his “request for Man” (11.39, 46). Through his conversations with the Son, the Father demonstrates his cooperative decision-making tendencies and his capacity for changing his mind. Unlike God, Satan only converses with himself. Filled with “Disdain”, Satan convinces himself after his fall that if he “could repent” for his sins, he would only “heavier fall” from God’s grace (4.82, 93, 101). Satan does not consult God nor the other devils to confirm his belief; he simply resolves that God will not forgive him (4.104-105). Unlike the Father, who hears perspectives other than his own, Satan reinforces his will through his own influence; he avoids change of heart or mind. Through such instances of soliloquy, Satan mocks heavenly and human discourse by reserving conversation for himself. He is therefore excluded from enlightenment by creative alternatives to his fate.

Unlike the Son, who acknowledges his indebtedness to his creator, Satan considers himself his own creation. Raphael relates to Adam how Satan raised his revolutionary army in heaven. Satan attempted to dissolve the angels’ devotion to their maker by asserting that they were “self-begot” and “self-rais’d / By [their] own quick’ning power” (5.860-61). Contrary to Eve’s creation, God’s scheme to save mankind, and human procreation, Satan believes that he was formed without cooperation. The birth of Sin might suggest that he is right. Sin reminds Satan that she was born “Out of [his] head,” generated by Satan’s “bold conspiracy against Heav’ns King” (2.751). This claim reasserts Satan’s vision of self-generation, apart from God’s will. This self-contained procreation prevents the augmenting line of cooperation that God’s creations form. Satan and hell are restricted to Satan’s creativity instead of benefitting from an ever-growing league of creative forces. The fruition of cooperation is what distinguishes heavenly and hellish creation.

Though Satan parodies God’s cooperative creation, his individualist behavior and beliefs prevent him from accessing the fertility of heavenly creation. While God shares his power with his Son and extends creative agency to humankind, Satan reserves all power for himself–—limiting his own creative potential in doing so. Cooperation exposes its participants to different perspectives and can aid reconciliation between divided parties. If Satan had asked God for forgiveness and sought reconciliation with his creator, it is possible that Satan would have been saved, and his creative powers augmented through cooperation with God. Because of Satan’s insistence upon individualistic creativity; however, he is doomed to carry out his misguided will in undisturbed creative solitude, closed off to the potential benefits of the views and capabilities of others. Instead, humans should reinforce their relationship with God by cooperating with others to resolve problems and produce a prosperous future. 

Works Cited 

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Edited by Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007.