Unlike the Lucifer in Dante’s Inferno, John Milton’s version of Lucifer in Paradise Lost is portrayed through actual dialogue that constructs the devil as a tragic character who is both cunning and deceptive. Since Lucifer is a dynamic character who struggles to overcome his own weaknesses as he tries to corrupt humankind in Paradise Lost, Milton’s Lucifer changed the depiction of the devil from a passive symbol of evil to a dynamic expression of evil through Lucifer’s sly and deceptive dialogue. Ironically, Satan’s quest could be considered admirable after Milton introduces Lucifer in Book I as a revolutionary who is rebelling against God by claiming that angels are independent beings that should not be subjects of God’s tyranny. By making Lucifer’s basic goal the rebellion against tyranny, Milton allows the character of the devil to resonate with readers instead of just being perceived as a vaguely evil figure. Lucifer’s quest resonates with readers because he shows that he values independence, a principle that many individuals are sympathetic to, by stating that, “we know no time when we were not as now; know none before us, self-begot, self-raised by our own quickening power, our puissance is our own, our own right hand shall teach us highest deeds” (Milton V. 859-61). Milton’s republican sentiments to overthrow the King of England and achieve better representation of the people through parliament also resonate with Satan’s goal of gaining respect and acknowledgment from God. By humanizing Lucifer, Milton changes the construction of the devil in literature from a static symbol of evil to a dynamic character who expresses deeply human principles and resonates with readers. Lucifer’s quest is simply to be free as he states that, “[In Hell] at least we shall be free; the Almighty hath not built here for his envy, will not drive us hence: here we may reign secure; and, in my choice, to reign is worth ambition, though Hell: better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” (Milton I. 258-63). In Paradise Lost, Lucifer’s personality, weaknesses, and goals make the devil a more valuable character that connects with and charms readers. Milton’s characterization of Lucifer paved the way for other interpretations of the devil as a cunning and deceptive being in books such as Goethe’s Faust, Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger, and Stephen King’s The Stand.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. New York: Norton, 1975. Print.