John Milton’s Satan, by common consent is one of the greatest artistic creation in any language. He is the most heroic and magnificent character ever portrayed. There has been a great controversy on the ambiguity of his character, yet it is an absolute truth that his character engages the reader’s attention and excites his admiration also. He is the main character of Milton’s epic. From the beginning of the epic poetry till the very end Satan’s character degenerates. This degeneration gives real epic quality to Paradise Lost and also to Satan himself.
Satan’s speeches reveal pure Miltonic lyricism. his opening speech to Beelzebub is a magnificent set piece. it reveals the character of Satan-a defiant rebel and a great leader. He encourages and sympathizes with bold words and sentiments. Satan first takes pity on the change in his friend. then he refers to their friendship of the hazardous enterprise in heaven and their present misery. He is ashamed to admit the might of God but, he will not allow it to change his mind. He has nothing but contempt for God who insulted his merits. It is a sense of injured merit that makes him rage war against the tyrant of heaven. As for the battle, it has been an equal match and the issue uncertain. It is not their want for acknowledgement of their merit but God’s new secret weapon that made God victorious in the war. There is an irony through Satan’s speech which continually reduces his stature even when apparently it seems to be building it up. Satan’s historical ‘high disdain’ and ‘sense of injured merit’ have overtones of the hedicrous. It seems weak and childish.
A single victory does not permanently ensure God’s victory. For the present, they may have lost the battle, but that does not mean they have lost everything, ” What though field be lost? … And what is the else not to be overcome”. He, who failed to conquer these things cannot be called to be a victor at all. Defeat is complete only when the spirit and the will too are subjugated. The bow down before God is worse than defeat. So, he is determined to rage eternal war by force or guile.
Satan’s question “What though the field be lost?” is an exposure of himself and his inability to act in any other way other than what he enumerates. Though the speech is one of high rhetorics there is barrenness no suggestion no action at all except to brood on revenge and hate. Revenge will be eternally “studied” and have sustained yet it is so grandly expressed that we are thrilled by the implied suggestion to wage ceaseless battle against hopeless odds, this appears as admirable.