Milton’s Satan Echoes Lovelace in Prison

face of a prisoner

Writing in England about 1642, Richard Lovelace in the last stanza “To Althea, from Prison” declared:

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

Writing in England about 1667, John Milton in Paradise Lost had God cast Satan into Hell. Milton describes Hell as a “Dungeon horrible” and a “Prison ordained in utter darkness.” In Hell, Milton’s Satan declares the supremacy of the mind: “The mind in its own place, and in itself / Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”^ Milton’s Satan thus echoes the sentiment of Richard Lovelace in the poem, “To Althea, from Prison.”

Imprisonment for debt was a common aspect of life for men in late-seventeenth-century England. Both in literature and in politics, imprisonment was a major public issue. Relatively liberal communication between prisoners and family and friends outside of prisons in early-modern England probably contributed to public concern about imprisonment.

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