Conceptualizing the Notions of Hell in Milton’s Works

Literature Review

The given literature review will focus on conceptualizing the notions of hell in Milton’s works, which is one of the first major visualizations and revisions of the notion of an afterlife.

The concept of hell takes a new form in Milton’s overall approach, which influenced various representations of the given place. There is a tendency to view hell as a derivate of one’s mind in which a person descends to by free will (Williams, p. 46). Hell is also a place where Satan resides, which is one of the key features of the conceptualization (Samuel, p. 26). In addition, various key figures in theology and religious dogma gave hell a number of different features, ranging from physical location to a state of mentality (Gardiner, p. 115). The Miltonic hell has an unqualified certainty, which is because the author is a poet of absolute (Herman, p. 7). Another important feature of hell is its tight relationship with the idea of punishment (Thuswaldner and Russ, p. 14). It was stated: “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty, when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it” (Hart, p. 2). In other words, Miltonic hell and his overall approach to revising these connotations led to some criticism.

The author’s work is still a major point of influence in deconstructing the idea of hell (Jordan, p. 6). In addition, hell is often associated with finality and frustration, which leads to the factor of escapism (Buenting, p. 77). Milton’s description of hell can also provide valuable insight for preserving ecology if the text analyzed through a neoteric approach (Bruckner et al., p. 67). It is stated that Satan, the main inhabitant of hell, is master persuader, which is critical to understand Miltonic revision (Knudsen, p. 30). One of the key aspects of hell is the fact that the notion of freedom plays a central role in establishing whether a person becomes its inhabitant (Myers, p. 31). The latter concept is tightly intertwined with the idea of predestination or determinism, which can go in conflict with free will (Myers, p. 65). It is important to note that the Miltonic illustration of hell and heaven is designed around the idea of humanity, and God represented as an unlikeable being (Pace, p. 3). Lastly, hell is always associated with the notion of fall, but its intricacies were highly divergent among various writers (Otten, p. 87).

In conclusion, the concept of hell cannot be studied as a standalone subject, because a number of essential ideas are tightly associated with it.


The era in which Milton lived required the revision of many ideals. The author questioned the unshakable concepts of good and evil embodied in the images of God and the devil. It was Milton, who was one of the first to approach the Bible as a literary phenomenon. The poet’s choice of certain artistic means transforms the biblical interpretation (Herman, p. 7). Milton portrays Satan as a beautiful being in his rebellious grandeur, magnifies his grandiose tragic figure, however, to please the Christian doctrine, portrays him angry and vengeful, instilling in the toad, then in the snake (Buenting, p. 79). Satan’s famous admission that hell is within himself sets a special tone for the narrative and, at the same time, communicates the main truth, later accepted by all world literature.

Hell and paradise are not only beyond human comprehension, but also found in people themselves (Gardiner, p. 115). Milton’s Satan appears in rebellious greatness, Milton often exalts his tragic figure, which goes beyond the biblical concept (Hart, p. 3). This is a manifestation of cultural investment, where hell is viewed as a source of tragedy. The image of Adam is opposed to Satan, and his fall is depicted as a conscious decision of a hero who, seeing the fall of Eve, commits his sinful act, being fully aware of this. This shows that human beings are free to act in accordance with the God’s laws (Williams, p. 46).


  1. Bruckner, Lynne Dickson et al. Ecological Approaches to Early Modern English Texts. Routledge, 2016.
  2. Buenting, Joel. The Problem of Hell: A Philosophical Anthology. Routledge, 2016.
  3. Gardiner, Eileen. Medieval Visions of Heaven and Hell. Routledge, 2018.
  4. Hart, Jonathan Locke. “Comparative Milton and Poetics.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, vol. 43 no. 2, 2016, p. 282-302.
  5. Herman, Peter. Destabilizing Milton: “Paradise Lost” and the Poetics of Incertitude. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
  6. Jordan, Bolay. “‘Their Song Was Partial; But The Harmony […] Suspended Hell’: Intertextuality, Voice and Gender in Milton/Symphony X’s Paradise Lost.” Metal Music Studies, vol. 5, no. 1, 2019, pp. 5-20.
  7. Knudsen, Live Hvalsbråten. Powerful Persuaders: A Rhetorical Analysis Of John Milton’s Characters In Paradise Lost. University of Oslo, 2017.
  8. Myers, Benjamin. “Predestination and Freedom in Milton’s Paradise Lost.” Scottish Journal of Theology, vol. 59, no. 1, 2006, pp. 64-80.
  9. Myers, Benjamin. Milton’s Theology of Freedom: Volume 98 Of Arbeiten Zur Kirchengeschichte. Walter De Gruyter, 2012.
  10. Otten, Terry. After Innocence: Visions of The Fall in Modern Literature. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.
  11. Pace, Jordan. God the Father or Mother Divine?: Subversive Theology in John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Trinity College Digital Repository, 2017.
  12. Samuel, Irene. Dante and Milton: The “Commedia” and “Paradise Lost”. Cornell University Press, 2019.
  13. Thuswaldner, Gregor, and Daniel Russ. The Hermeneutics of Hell: Visions and Representations of the Devil in World Literature. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.
  14. Williams, Charles. Descent into Hell. Read Books Ltd., 2019.
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