The Legal EpicParadise Lost and the Early Modern Law

The Legal EpicParadise Lost and the Early Modern Law

Alison A. Chapman

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226435138

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


The first sustained study of the poet John Milton’s considerable involvements with and knowledge of law, this book argues that Milton's great epic poem Paradise Lost sits at the apex of the early modern period’s long fascination with law and judicial processes. Readers have overlooked the crucial role that law plays in Milton’s poem because they bring to bear specifically modern, positivist ideas about law as an imposition of the secular state. But seventeenth-century Natural Law adherents, like Milton, regarded law and religion as linked disciplines, and so in different ways, both law and religion should reflect the will of God. This book argues that throughout Paradise Lost, Milton invites his readers to judge actions not only using reason and conscience but also using core principles of jurisprudence drawn from varying early modern jurisdictions such as common law and Romano-canon law. Law thus stands at the center of Milton’s attempt to “justify the ways of God to men.” By using law so pervasively in Paradise Lost, Milton also points readers toward the kinds of legal justice that should prevail on Earth. The Legal Epic adds to the growing interest in the cultural history of law by showing that England’s preeminent epic poem is also a sustained reflection on the role that law plays in human society.