Observations upon the Irish Devils: Echoes of Eire in Paradise Lost

Maura Grace Harrington
Seton Hall University

Harrington, Maura. "Observations upon the Irish Devils: Echoes of Eire in Paradise Lost". Early Modern Literary Studies 12.3 (January, 2007) 3.1-17<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/12-3/harrobs2.htm>.

  1. While John Milton’s Paradise Lost is too complex to be read as an allegory upon which one-to-one meanings can be imposed, its complexity lends the text to being read as a work that has meanings other than its literal meanings.  While Paradise Lost is certainly literally about the fall of man, the complex relationships among the characters also reflect the complex relationships between the colonizer and the rebellious colonized.  In Milton’s Imperial Epic:  Paradise Lost and the Discourse of Colonialism, J. Martin Evans discusses the overtones of trans-Atlantic colonialism in the discourse of Paradise Lost.  He observes a “common body of linguistic practices, descriptive tropes, narrative patterns, and conceptual categories” (3) that are analogous to “the rhetorical and argumentative strategies deployed by the promoters and agents of European imperialism” (3).  Evans notes that Adam, Eve, and Satan function in different roles throughout the text, reflecting at times the experience of discoverers and settlers, and at other times behaving like a Miltonian perception of Native Americans (4-5).  These seemingly opposite characteristics embodied in the selfsame characters are not mutually exclusive because they show that these images are fluid and can be applied simultaneously to multiple relationships and situations. 

  2. Because of the complex series of allusions and patterns of behavior that are featured in Paradise Lost, the text also lends itself to analysis as a chronicle of contemporary English feeling about the Civil War and relations with Ireland.  Catherine Canino’s “The Discourse of Hell:  Paradise Lost and the Irish Rebellion” presents a convincing case that Milton’s portrayal of the devils in Paradise Lost is informed by contemporary depictions of the Irish.  Canino demonstrates the changing discourse about the Irish:  “Before 1640, the Irish were condescendingly but consistently portrayed as mere savages and barbarians.  After the 1641 uprising, they were seen by Milton and most Englishmen as monsters and devils who owed their allegiance not simply to Rome and Spain, but also to Hell itself” (15).  Canino closely analyzes Thomas Waring’s 1649 An Answer to certain seditious and Jesuitical Queries, focusing on Waring’s idea that the source of the Irish rebellion against English rule is Satan.  Waring’s connecting Satan with the Irish rebellion is, to Canino, a connecting place for Waring’s text and Paradise Lost.  Canino observes that “By the year 1649, the association of the Irish with the infernal had become the unofficial position of the Puritan government” (17).  Enriching criticism of Paradise Lost, which earlier often assumed that the devils were based on English models of revolution, Canino asserts that “Milton’s representation of the rebels may in fact have drawn on the anti-Irish polemic of the 1640’s” (21). 

  3. Canino’s article is a good starting point for further discussion of the connections between the Irish and the devils in Paradise Lost.  She discusses intriguing connections between Waring’s manuscript and the devils as Milton describes them in Paradise Lost.  Canino briefly mentions Milton’s Observations upon the Articles of Peace in connection with Paradise Lost, and the relationship between these documents bears further exploration.  Aside from merely calling the Irish devils, the English of Milton’s time, and Milton himself, in Observations, delineate the characteristics that made the Irish devilish.  Milton’s own description of the Irish Catholics and the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians in Observations parallels the behavior of the devils and the speech with which he endows them in Paradise Lost. Canino focuses on the practice of casuistry and fraud as primary characteristics of Waring’s Jesuits and Milton’s devils; however, upon close examination of the Observations in tandem with Paradise Lost, other significant similarities between Milton’s depictions of various types of Irishmen and the denizens of hell emerge.  Milton sees several shared characteristics among Irish Catholics, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, and devils; the members of these three groups blaspheme, presume to be more important than they are, and incite unjust rebellion, thereby inducing chaos.  While it is overly simplistic to suggest that Paradise Lost is a strict, one-for-one allegory, it can be shown that there are connections among popular English rhetoric about the Irish, Milton’s descriptions of the Irish, and the devils in Paradise Lost.  The disobedience of the Irish and of the devils is threatening because it represents the power of these groups to break out of their prescribed social (colonial) place, and allows the colonized to switch places with the colonizer, bringing disorder to even the most orderly of worlds. 

  4.  An inspection of contemporary English discourse about the Irish will show that Milton’s association of them with things rebellious and thus diabolic was not out of the ordinary.  The table of contents of Sir John Temple’s 1646 The Irish Rebellion reveals the Irish as being characterized by their “ancient malice,” “miserable condition,” “Conspiracy,” “instruments in raising the Rebellion,” and “cruelties [without] provocation” (front matter of book).  To Temple, the problem of the Irish is not only that they are fraught with faults but also that there is no cure for their moral ills.  The people themselves are
    malignant impressions of irreligion and barbarism, transmitted down, whether by infusion from their ancestors or natural generation, [and] had irrefragably stiffned their necks, and hardened their hearts against the most powerful endeavours of Reformation:  They continued one and the same in all their wicked customes and inclinations, without change in their affections or manners, having their eyes enflamed, their hearts enraged with malice and hatred against all of the English Nation, breathing forth nothing but their ruine, destruction, and utter extirpation.  (9-10)
    ’s King Henry II found in Ireland, according to Temple,
    no other than a beastly people indeed.  For the Inhabitants were generally devoid of all manner of civility, governed by no laws, living like beasts, biting and devouring one another, without all rules, customs, or reasonable constitutions either for regulation of Property, or against open force and violence, most notorious murthers, rapes, robberies, and all other acts of inhumanity and barbarism, raging without control or due course of punishment.  (5)
    The Irish rebellion of 1641 was especially potent and virulent because the transmutation of Irish and English ways of life made discernment of the “enemy” very difficult:  “they had made as it were a kind of mutual transmigration into each others manners, many English being strangely degenerated into Irish affections and customs, and many Irish, especially of the better sort, having taken up the English language, apparel, and decent manner of living in their private houses” (14-15).  The blurring of the boundaries of “Irishness” and “Englishness” was, to Temple, very troublesome, because it indicated that no one was really free of the influence of the Irish.  In discussing the planning of the rebellion, Temple attempts to analyze and to rationalize what allowed the Irish to effect such an effective revolt:  “…I have observed in the nature of the Irish such a kind of dull and deep reservedness, as makes them with much silence and secresie to carry on their business; yet I cannot but consider with great admiration how this mischievous plot…should…arrive at the very point of execution without any notice or intimation given to any [who] perish[ed] in it” (16-17).  Although Temple retroactively can identify the “Conspiracy” and the factors that allowed the Irish to effect their plans with accuracy and ferocity, he does not indicate that anything can be done in the future to protect the English from more rebellions, or to keep the English from falling into any traps that the Irish might set.  In fact, his concern that the Irish are incapable of reform is the overriding concern of his work, and this factor leads to the assumption that the Irish are also out of control. 

  5. John Booker, in his 1646 A Bloody Irish Almanack, attempts to gain control over the Irish situation by using astrology to predict future happenings in Ireland, as related to English colonial rule.  Booker looks back to the astronomical configurations of the past to explain earlier atrocities perpetrated by the “Divellish Papists” (42), and sees in the stars an explanation for the present behavior of the Irish, as well as a prophecy for the doom of this group:  “Now they are at the height of their cruelty, and God is powring out his overflowing cuppe of wrath and vengeance upon them, and their adherents” (46).  Booker believes that the Irish attempt to throw off English control is born of “Fears and Jealousies….such a fire is kindled, that it is even come to our own doors, threatening us with unnaturall intestine wars” (59).  The cause of internal, “British” strife, the Irish pose a tremendous threat to English stability, and although Booker believes that he can understand the past and present and see the future, his power lies only in his ability to warn his fellow Englishmen of the trials ahead; he is ineffective to change any of the impending events, since God has already determined what will happen, and is simply “forewarn[ing]” Booker with “his Heavenly Militia” of “bloody murthers, treasons, and treacheries, [and] unheard of cruelties” (59). 

  6. Z. Isham draws a most vivid connection between the Irish and things Satanic in his “Pindarique Ode,” which appears in Edmund Borlase’s 1675 The Reduction of Ireland to the Crown of England.  A poetic interpretation of England’s centuries-long difficulty in subduing Ireland, Isham likens Ireland’s newest wave of rebellions to a cataclysmic ransacking of the country by venomous beasts: 
  7. Ireland now lost her old Renown,
    And poisonous Creatures rag’d in every Town:
    Vipers in dreadful crouds did stand:
    Which their own Mothers Bowels tore,
    And wallowed in her gore.  (V.7-11)  > 
    Isham introduces the devil to the rebellion in Stanza VI: 
    When her Sons arm’d with swords and spears
    Devoutly made Religion the pretence
    To shake off all Obedience,
    And even natural Innocence.
    The Devil assumes the Prophets shape again,
    And in a pious Garb deludes weak men.
    His lying Spirits through the Country went;
    And with this new Divinity are sent.
    Rebellion’s but a name Fools to affright;
    An Heretick to a Kingdom hath no right:
    They now for God against their King must fight.
    Thus are the People arm’d with Zeal,
    Whose edge is keener than the sharpest steel.  (VI.4-16)
    The Irish rebels are inspired by no better than Hell, and they adopt the characteristics of Satan:  “And first Plots and Conspiracies they contrive;/ And then with open force for their Diana strive./ Their Zeal like Hell, was dark and hot;/ And did as much torment the prey they got” (VI.17-20).  This “Pindarique Ode” is an appropriate selection with which Borlase should begin the main text of his book.  In his introduction, Borlase justifies the English conquest of Ireland in two ways:  by asserting the primacy of Briton occupation of Ireland and by attempting to show that Ireland’s inhabitants need England’s civilizing influence:  “nothing is more evident then that Ireland was at first inhabited by the Britains, the Scythians, Goths, Spaniards, Danes, and other Easterlings falling in afterwards…Conquest had been a sufficient one; especially since it was at first undertook against a Nation meerly Pyrates, Barbarous, and Inhumane against the Laws of Nature and Nations” (n. pag. [“Introduction” of book]).  The Irish, to Borlase, are not only adverse to civilization but also to the laws of nature itself; they are inhuman.  Borlase’s judgment of those who contest England’s right to control Ireland is that such individuals have “spirits [which] (like the foaming Sea) are unwilling to be confined” and that these rebellious people are attempting to “enfeeble (if possible) this [England’s] Right” (n. pag. [“Introduction” of book]).

  8. Many writers contemporary with Milton experienced difficulty in describing accurately the situation in Ireland, since it was more complex, and involved more parties, than many people realized.  It is likely that this difficult-to-express complexity led Milton’s contemporaries to simplify the problems of Ireland and to depict as barbaric and devilish anyone who might be sympathetic to the Irish.  Milton composed Observations in response to King Charles’ 1641 truce with Irish rebels that allowed them greater freedoms than they had enjoyed for many years.  It granted them freedom from their property being confiscated on the basis of their religion, allowed them to be educated according to their own wishes and to take degrees in the Inns of Court.  Additionally, the Articles called for an Irish Parliament (albeit, likely to be composed of non-representative representatives).  In order to discuss the complex political situation from which this treaty arose and to encourage the audience to agree with his judgment on the Articles, Milton follows suit with his contemporaries and allows his discourse to revolve around an oversimplified view of the complex political situation.  Thomas N. Corns in “Milton’s Observations upon the Articles of Peace:  Ireland under English Eyes” discusses Milton’s simplification of the Irish situation.  By implying that Ormond is aligned with the Irish Catholics, Milton, Corns asserts, “offers a simple binary opposition between ‘rebels’ and Parliament’s friends” (128).  Corns asserts that Milton takes advantage of his audience’s sympathies with his own ideas (127).  In “Milton and ‘the complication of interests’ in Early Modern Ireland,” Willy Maley suggests:  “Ireland, for Milton, constitutes an obstacle in the path of reform in England and an impediment to the establishment of an anglocentric British state in preparation for a British Empire, yet Milton’s anger is targeted not at the Irish per se, but at the twin threats of Catholicism and Presbyterianism, of Old English and Ulster Scots” (158).  While, for Milton, subjugating Irish Catholics was not a problem, the difficulty came in dealing with a hybridized Irish people, which included those with religious and ethnic similarities to the contemporary English.  In order to accomplish the work of demonizing the Irish to his audience, so as to justify the subjection of any rebels (or potential rebels) living in Ireland, Milton must lump the Irish together, regardless of their internal religious differences, and show cross-religious vices that seem to spring from inhabiting the island. 

  9. Milton constructs his Observations in a way in which he hopes to rouse any good, sensible, English Protestants against the too-generous treaty that the late king made with the rebels.  He points out the stipulations in the Articles of Peace, Made and Concluded with tie Irish Rebels, and Papists, by James Earle of Ormond, For and in behalfe of the late King, and by vertue of his Autoritie that should be most offensive to those who share Milton’s hatred of the Irish, justifying his and his audience’s views with his assertions that the Irish behave in unacceptable ways, and that their attempts to rise above their set station as subjects causes them to unjustly rebel and to induce chaos.  Milton’s indignation that the Irish should be granted any freedom is based upon his perception that they are utterly and irredeemably depraved.  Milton asserts that “no true borne English-man” (301) can tolerate the toleration of the Irish, who executed
    the mercilesse and barbarous Massacre of so many thousand English, (who had us’d their right and title to that Country with such tendernesse and moderation, and might otherwise have secur’d themselves with ease against their Treachery)[; it is unjust that these barbarians] should be now grac’d and rewarded with such freedomes and enlargements, as none of their Ancestors could ever merit by their best obedience, which at best was alwaies treacherous, to be infranchiz’d with full liberty equall to their Conquerors, whom just revenge of ancient Pyracies, cruell Captivities, and the causeless infestation of our Coast, had warrantably call’d over, and the long prescription of many hundred yeares. (301-02)
    The release of the Irish from the Oath of Supremacy particularly enraged Milton, who retorts that the Irish have been “advanc’d to a Condition of freedome superior to what any English Protestants durst have demanded” (302).  The Irish, then, are making demands to which even their superiors would not be entitled.  Milton believes that the Articles have given control over the province of Ireland to the Catholics, who are “mortall Enemies” (307) and that such an act by the late king was treasonous and will lead to further treasonous acts by the Irish.  Charles’ releasing the Irish from laws that Milton thought were essential to the wellbeing of the nation is also, to Milton, sacrilegious: 
    if God the neerer to be acquainted with mankind and his frailties…made himself a man, and subject to the Law, we gladly would be instructed why any mortal man for the good and welfare of his brethren being made a King, should be a clean contrary motion make himself a God, exalted above Law; the readiest way to become utterly unsensible, both of his human condition, and his own duty. (307-08)
    The king was wrong to release humans, who by definition should be bound by law, from the law, and the Irish are bound to be wrong for accepting these terms, which will allow them to aspire to be greater than God.  The Irish, then, are presumptuous and constantly striving above their station.  Milton further condemns the sacrilege of the Irish in his diatribe against Catholicism:  “What more blasphemous…Religion then Popery, plung’d into Idolatrous and Ceremoniall Superstition, the very death of all true Religion; figur’d to us by the Scripture…in the shape of that Beast, full of the names of Blasphemy” (316). 

  10. Milton justifies his combination of diverse Irishmen into one hateful group by his assertion that the “Irish Rebels” constitute a “horrible Conspiracy” (316).  This “Conspiracy” of course includes the Catholics, but, importantly for Milton, it also includes the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who are at least as loathsome as the Catholics.  Milton disdains the Presbyterians because they are “pretended Brethren,” when in reality, they conspire “with their Copartning Rebels in the South” (317).  Led by “unhallow’d Priestlings” (322), Presbyterians “speak lies in the name of the Lord” (323).  Using comparison with Catholics as a vehicle to demonstrate the innate evil of Irish Presbyterians, Milton effectively shows that the two groups have much in common:  “with as much devillish malice, impudence and falshood as any Irish Rebell…from a barbarous nook of Ireland [the Presbyterians] brand us with the extirpation of laws and liberties; things which they seem as little to understand as ought that belongs to good letters or humanity” 327).  By their self-imposed close association with Irish Catholics, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians have rendered themselves monstrously uncivilized.

  11. The Presbyterians’ main fault, to Milton, is their presumptuousness.  “Liars and impostors” (329), Prebyterian ministers abuse the power of their preaching:  “For what they began in shamelessness and malice, they conclude in frenzie:  throwing out a sudden rhapsody of Proverbs quite from the purpose” (332).  Presbyterians’s reasoning is flawed, and their religious practice is undertaken for the sole purpose of self-advancement, Milton thinks.  The Presbyterian ministers’ upbuilding of their congregations is intolerable to Milton, who complains that “they talke at random of servants raigning, servants riding, and wonder how the Earth can beare them.  Either these men imagin themselves to be marvellously high set and exalted in the chaire of Belfast, to voutsafe the Parlament of England no better stile then servants…supposing all men to be servants, but the King” (332-33).  The Presbyterians have forgotten their place; they are merely guests in Ireland, allowed by the English to stay there.  Their rebellion against the current English rule makes them “worse…then those Heathen, [and] ingratefull and treacherous guests to thir best friends and entertainers” (334).  Finally, Milton exhorts his audience that it is against the Presbyterians’ very nature to participate in a rebellion against England (334).  As Sharon Achinstein discusses in “Imperial Dialectic:  Milton and Conquered Peoples,” Milton’s concept of barbarism, as expressed in his History of Britain, is in degrees, and the Scots, while more barbaric than the Britons, are not as wild as the Irish.  In degenerating into Irish behavior, the Scots-Irish Presbyterians, then, are showing not only their own depravity, but the potential decline of the civility of any involved with the Irish.

  12. In “How Milton and Some Contemporaries Read Spenser’s View,” Willy Maley points out the connections between seemingly disparate works of both Sir Edmund Spenser and Milton:  “Milton of the Areopagitica and the Milton of the Observations, like the Spenser of The Faerie Queene and the Spenser of the View, are one and the same.  There are no more two Miltons than there are two Spensers” (202).  While it may be tempting to read Milton’s prose and poetry discretely since Milton’s philosophies and political agendas are very volatile, in the case of Observations and Paradise Lost, the antagonists (of Milton and of God, respectively), are imbued with the same characteristics.  While the devil characters and the scenes of disorder in Paradise Lost are perhaps not literally based on specific experiences that Milton observed (or imagined) between the Irish and the English, resonances of the interplay between the two nations, which Milton discusses in Observations, are present in Paradise Lost.  The conspiracy of Satan with his cohorts, their presumptuousness in attempting to override a higher power, their blasphemous imitation of the order of their creator, their desire to cause disorder, and importantly, their power to effect negative change liken the devils of Paradise Lost to the Irish of Observations

  13. Despite their depraved state, the inhabitants of hell in Paradise Lost aspire to be upwardly mobile.  In the reader’s first encounter with them, the fallen angels, retaining some of their former characteristics, still betray the fact that God created them.  Satan, among his compatriots, “Stood like a Towr; his form had yet not lost/ All her Original brightness, nor appear’d/ Less then Arch Angel ruind, and th’excess/ Of Glory obscur’d” (I.591-94).  The narrator’s rhetorical choices in his descriptions associate grand size and height with goodness, and small size and lowness with evil.  Satan’s followers have seen “Thir Glory witherd” (I.612), and the characters’ speech reveals their desire to re-ascend, despite their claims that they want only revenge.  Satan’s proposal “That all these puissant Legions, whose exile/ Hath emptied Heav’n, shall…re-ascend/ Self-raised, and repossess thir native seat” (I.632-34) demonstrates Satan’s belief in the devils’ own power to invert the cosmic order.  Additionally, the foregoing and other suggestions that the devils’ natural state is height, for example, Moloc’s assertion “That in our proper motion we ascend/ Up to our native seat:  descent and fall/ To us is adverse” (II.75-81), suggest that there is something in the nature of the devils, namely, the stuff of which they are created, that naturally propels them upward.  His presumptuousness leads Satan to strive toward goals that the narrator deems unreasonable: 
    Satan exalted sat, by merit rais’d
    To that bad eminence; and from despair
    Thus high uplifted beyond hope, aspires
    Beyond thus high, insatiate to pursue
    Vain Warr with Heav’n… (II.5-9)
    Satan and his cohorts agree with the narrator persona, that it is unreasonable to attempt a frontal assault on heaven; instead, they decide to effect a covert infiltration.  Still, Satan does assert his power, in that he is able to navigate through the cosmos to the very locus of temptation.  Sin also reveals that Satan is self-important and narcissistic; having created Sin out of himself he “took’st [joy]/ With [her] in secret, that [her] womb conceiv’d/ A growing burden” (II.765-67).  Although his success is not final and complete, his temporary success, and the analogous temporary success of the Irish, are enough to frighten Milton and his contemporaries. 

  14. The devils’ attitude of entitlement is also analogous to the English idea that the Irish unreasonably expect free reign in their own land.  Satan opens his council in hell with the intent of devising a way that the devils may “claim [their] just inheritance of old” (II.38).  Having been flung from heaven for treason (that is, for disobeying the ruler), it would seem obvious that Satan and his followers have given up the rights they had to an inheritance; however, they, like the unreasonable Irish, think that they are still entitled to what was originally theirs.  Beelzebub’s suggestion that the devils might infiltrate Earth and claim it for their own since this “utmost border of his Kingdom” (II.361) “may lye expos’d” (II.360) again demonstrates that the devils believe that they have the right to control a space that borders their kingdom.  The Irish, likewise, desired control over areas inhabited by the colonizer, and in Milton’s view, the Irish were remiss in not realizing that any land they lived on (like the kingdom of the devils) was a special place assigned to them by an authority.

  15. The reasons for which Satan and his cohorts intend to undertake revolutionary action are unjust.  The narrator notes that the devils’ desire for revenge is a result “Of dauntless courage, and considerate Pride” (I.603).  Satan sees no reason for which God should be the ruler of heaven; God is the ruler only because of “old repute,/ Consent or custom” (I.639-40).  The devils wish to improve their own station, and, as Moloc articulates: 
                …and by proof we feel
    Our power sufficient to disturb his Heav’n,
    And with perpetual inrodes to Allarm,
    Though inaccessible, his fatal Throne:
    Which if not Victory is yet Revenge.  (II.101-05)
    Their intended violence is senseless, not unlike the violence that Milton ascribes to the Irish at Drogheda, who effected “the mercilesse and barbarous Massacre of so many thousand English” (Observations 301). 

  16. Although the devils strive to create disorder, they do so in such a way that they remain particularly cognizant of the order which they eschew.  The narrator suggests that the devils wish
                To found this nether Empire, which might rise
    By pollicy, and long process of time,
    In emulation opposite to Heav’n.
    Which when Beelzebub perceiv’d, then whom,
    Satan except, none higher sat. (II.296-300) 
    Although the devils want to create a new order in which heaven’s order will be inverted, they must, before inverting it, acknowledge heaven’s order, and this is how Satan’s seat above the other devils is the place of honor.  The danger of the devils lies in their ability to imitate, and thereby to convince.  When he adjourns his council, Satan comes forth “Alone th’Antagonist of Heav’n, nor less/ Then Hells dread Emperour with pomp Supream,/ And God-like imitated State” (II. 509-11).  Because he has dwelt in heaven, Satan knows what God is like, and can impersonate good forces.  After Satan departs on his mission, the devils abate their concerns about their future by keeping themselves occupied.  Some philosophize, but they find “no end, in wandring mazes lost” (II.560).  Others indulge in “false presumptuous hope” (II.522) and become “perplext” (525).  Still others sing in the fashion of angels, “Suspend[ing] Hell, and [taking] with ravishment/ The thronging audience” (II.553-54).  The devils can serve as a reflection of whatever they want since their source is good and their present state is evil.  Mammon notes God’s ability to create a threatening appearance, and suggests, “As he our darkness, cannot we his Light/ Imitate when we please?” (II.269-70).  In order to effect his plan, “Satan[,] with thoughts inflam’d on highest design” (II.630), will transform his appearance more than once.

  17. The devils’ council and their decision to confound mankind by having an effect on human nature shows the absurdity of allowing a depraved group its own governing body and the dangers that become imminent as a result of such an arrangement.  The narrator is surprised at the evil that can come from a council of devils:
                …for whence,
    But from the Author of all ill could Spring
    So deep a malice, to confound the race
    Of mankind in one root, and Earth with Hell
    To mingle and involve, done all to spite
    The great Creatour?  By thir spite still serves
    His glory to augment.  The bold design
    Pleas’d highly those infernal States, and joy
    Sparkl’d in all thir eyes; with full assent
    They vote… (II.380-89)
    The narrator’s commentary on the council and on its decision, seemingly confident that the brutes are powerful to effect much damage, is similar to the ideas to which Milton gives voice in Observations about an Irish Parliament.  However, in both cases, it seems likely that the speaker is concerned, like Booker, about the damage that can be done by allowing devilish people to exercise power.  Although they believe that it is predetermined that good forces will regain control in the future, the speakers must live in the present, and it is in the present that there is a threat from a destabilizing force. 

  18. It is clear that in Paradise Lost, Milton described the devils’ behavior in ways that rebels’ behavior would normally be described in his day.  The particular type of rhetoric that Milton chose for the devils, closely echoing his own rhetoric about the Irish in the Observations, aligns the Irish of his day with the devils of an earlier eon.  Milton probably did not intend the devils to be read only as Seventeenth-Century Irishmen, because if they were, Adam and Eve could only be read as colonial settlers of Ireland, and God would necessarily have to be read as Oliver Cromwell.  However, since Milton wrote Paradise Lost to “justifie the ways of God to men” (I.26) and particularly to the English men of his day, Milton’s use of “Irish” characteristics for the devils is useful for his purposes and revealing to us.  If the Irish have devilish characteristics, and the devils have Irish characteristics, and both groups, as Milton admits in a slippery way, have at least temporal power, he and his contemporary countrymen are threatened by both groups.  Because of the power they wield in their capabilities for imitation and deceit, the Irish and the devils both threaten to turn Milton’s cosmos inside out.  Both Willy Maley in “How Milton and some contemporaries read Spenser’s View” and Norah Carlin in “Extreme or mainstream?:  the English Independents and the Cromwellian reconquest of Ireland, 1649-1651” proclaim that blame needs to be laid on Milton for his own participation in developing propaganda against the Irish.  They write against the tradition, articulated by Christopher Hill, that Milton “was duped by some faceless, nameless, ‘propagandists’” (Maley “How Milton and some contemporaries read Spenser’s View” 203).  Carlin places Milton in a group of propagandists who “chose to emphasize…the view that barbarism was not only a matter of behaviour or customs lower down the scale of social development (as the English had argued since the twelfth century), but of an incorrigibly inferior nature, which might be tamed but not cured” (218).  However, the power that both the Irish and the devils have to confound Milton and his cohorts makes it seem just as likely that Milton’s demonizing of the Irish and “Irishizing” of the demons, while attempting to belittle both groups, actually gives them the dubious distinction of wielding a power that Milton cannot quite understand.



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Works Cited

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