Satan, as portrayed by Milton, was a different kind of character in an epic. Accordingly to the strict rules of dramatist art Satan should be a piece of villain but he is the most important character of the poem. The narrative which Milton selected for Paradise Lost is depended for its action on a wicked character rather than hero; but “Paradise Lost exists for one figure that is Satan”, as Abercrombie remarks. Satan has all the heroic qualities, besides being nobility and dignity; he has valour and determination which goes to make him a great hero.
As the Paradise Lost opens we see Satan in a hopeless situation. He and his companion are hurled down to the bottomless pit of hell. Heaven is lost to Satan and his companion and they are doomed to live forever in the darkness of hell. The original sin of Satan is same as man’s--- disobedience to God. At the very outset of “Book I” we see him as a fallen creature: “Fallen cherub, to be weak is miserable, Doing or suffering”. Like a hero, Satan has the power of recovery in the face of defeat. It was Satan who first of all arouses himself out from the lake of fire. God banished Satan but at once his active mind begins to scheme and makes an effort to join his shattered forces.
The best poetry of Paradise Lost is found in the paragraphs where Satan appears or speaks. In his five speeches, he appears as a magnificent figure. “Satan’s speech is incessant autobiography”, as C.S. Lewis remarks. We first analyze Satan’s character through these speeches and than try to locate within overall Miltonic argument.
Satan’s first speech is one of the pure Miltonic lyricisms. He asks his followers not to lose heart and advices them “what though the field is lost? All is not lost”. These famous lines embody, not the spirit of puritan or armies, but the spirit of Hitler. In this speech he appears as a leader, accordingly, the leader of the angels go to the solid plane, where Satan exhorts Beelzebub to come over his disappointment and face the situation bravely in which they are: “Courage never to submit or yield What is else not to be overcome”.
The line “Receive thy new possessor”, in the third speech shows satanic mind and its passion for over lordship. This speech shows his feelings of pride in which he says “It is better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven”. Satan says place is not important for him because he thinks mind is important and he claims to have a mind which “Can makes Heav’n of a Hell, Hell of a heav’n”.
In fourth speech, he addresses his followers like a politician and calls them “power matchless”; and later he addresses them “Princes, potentates, warriors and flower of heav’n”. In this speech, he says them “wake, arise or be forever fallen”. This speech is so commanding that they at once arouse out of their stupor. In fifth speech, Satan is determined to combat with God to save his pride. To his followers, he says, that they must not think of peace: “War, than war Open or understood, must be resolved”.
One may put forward the point that Satan embodies Milton’s courage, love of freedom, republication and hatred of tyranny. Just as Milton opposed the autocracy of King Charles I and became a stern republican, so also Satan defied the authority of God and rebelled against Him. In his own way, Milton, was determined to rebel against constituted authority and this, unconsciously, he puts into the mouth of Satan
There comes a time in the life and character of Satan getting distorted. There is an instance where little of heroism remains in him when he takes the shape of toad to whisper in Eve’s ear, he was stirred up by the Spear of Ithuriel. At the close of the poem, Satan’s degradation is complete.
Truly speaking, man is really the heroic figure of the poem. It is all the truth if we consider together Paradise Lost where Man, though conquered, wins the readers’ sympathies and the coming of the Greater Man is foretold. Paradise Regained where the Divine Man triumphs. In the later part of the poem, Satan is not only vanquished ignominiously, but also appear before the reader a mean, shifty, paltry creature as contrasted with the haughty, desperate impersonation of evil of the earlier work.
The Puritans were God-fearing. It was a protest and reaction against the decadent Spirit of the Renaissance. Puritanism is the potent force in Milton’s work. The makes use of the controversial topics such as the universality of Divine Providence, the reality of evil, the hope of redemption from evil, and the unity of human race.
To conclude, if we are to understand Satan’s character we must stop him reading as a great unfortunate. This is of course, he is like Mecbeth, and like Mecbeth he is wicked and unrepentant till the end. Thus, knowingly or unknowingly Milton presents Satan in such a manner that he becomes to us, as Begehot remarks, “the hero of Paradise Lost”; but the evil degenerates him from the role of a great hero to a cunning villain. This makes him a tragic figure/hero but not an epic hero. If we go deep in Paradise Lost we find that without Satan it would be nothing more than a theological thesis composes in a verse.