Pairing Mozart’s Requiem with Paradise Lost in Second Life: Part 2 – Milton’s Paradise Lost

Reading Paradise Lost in Second Life_002 - edit blogcopy

I first read Milton’s Paradise Lost for an undergraduate class in English Literature. I must admit, I didn’t really get on well with the Poem – finding the cryptic language a barrier to immersion in what could have been, I thought then, a brilliant adventure story.

1667

In a nutshell, Paradise Lost is about the origins and fall of humankind: how the fallen angel Satan tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God, and how they were expelled from the Garden of Eden, punished with lives of hard toil, and eventually, death.

Originally published in 1667 as ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse, Milton published a second edition seven years later, arranged in twelve books, which is the version we’re most familiar with today. Paradise Lost is considered John Milton’s major work, and firmly establishes him as one of the greatest English poets of his time.

Title page from the first edition of Paradise Lost (1668)
Title page from the first edition of Paradise Lost (1668)

I’m sure, given the anticipation surround Paradise Lost in Second Life, you’re all inundating Amazon.com with your orders for the book, so that you can be ready for the play! I get you, I did the same thing when first Lord of the Rings movie was coming out. 😉

The plot

For those of you won’t be reading the epic poem, but want an ultra-quick synopsis of what the story is all about, look no further! I hereby give you my ultra-condensed, no-nonsense version of the plot line in twelve books:

Book

Summary

Book I

Satan is tossed out of Heaven, and recovers from the fall in Hell.

Book II

Satan begins his journey to the world, intent on corrupting man in revenge for being expelled from Heaven.

Book III

Satan arrives on earth, while God prophesies man’s disobedience.

Book IV

Satan watches Adam and Eve and attempts to tempt Eve in a dream while disguised as a toad.

Book V

Angel Raphael comes Eden to warn Adam and Eve about Satan, and tells them of the Angelic War in Heaven.

Book VI

Raphael completes the war story and how it was won by the Son of God.

Book VII

Raphael tells Adam about the creation of the world and man.

Book VIII

Adam tells his own story, and Raphael again cautions him for being too nosey about things that don’t concern him.

Book IX

Satan succeeds in tempting Eve, and she corrupts Adam.

Book X

God exacts his retribution, Adam and Eve show remorse and reconcile.

Book XI

The Son intercedes on Adam and Eve’s behalf, God accepts the Son’s sacrifice, and sends Michael to expel them from Paradise with instructions to reveal to Adam what is to come as a result of his transgressions.

Book XII

Michael continues his prophecies (including the story of Noah and Moses), Adam is consoled and then goes forth into the world with Eve.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis (Chapters 2:7 – 3:2). In Paradise Lost, Milton fills in the gaps of the narrative to tell the epic story of what happened behind the scenes, firmly placing Satan, and Adam and Eve in the centre of the action, as the tragic heroes of the poem. In this way, he infuses Paradise Lost with two narrative arcs – one about Satan, the other following Adam and Eve.

The characters

My Kindle Version of Paradise Lost
My Kindle Version of Paradise Lost – with a plain and simple English translation

Milton rounds out many characters we are somewhat familiar with, providing them with more depth and motivation.

Satan is a leading protagonist – deeply arrogant and charismatic, but also doubtful of himself and his plans. Milton spends a lot of time developing him – and his portrayal is one of the most complex characterisations of this figure in literature.

Adam and Eve, of course, figure prominently. Adam however, is more intelligent and curious than he was portrayed in Genesis. Further, he is completely infatuated with Eve. While devoted and caring, his blind love for her contributes to his biggest mistake.

Eve, though graceful and submissive, also longs for knowledge and, more specifically, self-knowledge. She is extremely beautiful – and not a little bit vain. She loves Adam deeply, but is somewhat suffocated by his constant presence, leading to her wanderings and her vulnerability to Satan’s temptations.

Satan’s council of fallen angels: Beelzebub, Moloch, Mammon, and Belial, among others, are also featured prominently. They each appeal to Satan to subscribe to a unique plan to take their revenge on God, but it is Beelzebub’s plan – to infiltrate Eden and corrupt man’s favourite creation – that wins the day.

We are  introduced to a few notable archangels, the eloquent Raphael, who spends a great deal of time with Adam, endowing him with the stories of the past he so curiously seeks to understand. There is also the mighty Michael, who leads the charge in the Angelic War and shows Adam the future consequences of his actions in Eden.

The Son of God (well before he was called Jesus by his mum) also has a big part to play, alongside God himself. Greatly compassionate towards both Adam and Eve, he tells them of God’s judgement, and sacrifices himself to redeem the fall of humankind by his own death and resurrection.

After studying Paradise Lost, we still needed to adapt the poem to not only match the Requiem, but the theatrical opportunities and challenges we anticipated when adapting the poem for a Second Life performance that is one hour in length. We needed to cut some characters from the production, and slightly change some of the actions of other characters in the play to enable greater simplicity, continuity and dramatic effect.

In my next post on the sources behind Paradise Lost in Second Life, I’ll share a bit more about the catalyst for choosing this story to be the subject of our play, and how we layered it onto the spine of Mozart’s Requiem.

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