“Unoriginal Night” and Milton’s Chaos

  • Malabika Sarkar


Chaos is a deeply troubling presence in Paradise Lost. While the immense power of the opening books of the epic can be attributed in large measure to Milton’s portrayal of Satan, there can be no doubt that the other significant factor that contributes to this sense of a strong beginning is his depiction of chaos. Milton’s chaos is powerful because it is enigmatic. Chaos is a dynamic entity, simultaneously a place and a person. It is evil and terrifying in its indefinable shapelessness and immensity—“formless infinite” (3.12)—and in its destructive potential, while at the same time it is recognized as the residuary of good first matter. It is submissive to God but always suggests subversive tendencies. This essentially fluid identity holds immense imaginative power and opens up questions about many aspects of the epic narrative. Although chaos occupies only a brief segment of the second book of Paradise Lost, it makes an enormous impact. A recovery of the contextual data for Milton’s depiction of chaos helps us uncover nuances and suggestions embedded in this brief description. This, in turn, reveals Milton’s strategies for defining character in the epic.


Opening Book Prime Matter Paradise Lost Immense Complexity Total Privation 
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© Malabika Sarkar 2012

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  • Malabika Sarkar

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