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Milton’s revaluation of epic values is closely bound up with his revolutionary politics. While humanist critics tended to want to underplay his Puritanism, a movement to restore centrality to his religious and political aims has recently gathered momentum. In this context the crucial problem is that a professed revolutionary, supporting the execution of Charles I, should nevertheless in Paradise Lost condemn Satan as a rebel and endorse the unquestioned authority of Heaven’s King [Ross, 1943]. Related to this ideological conundrum is the literary problem of the War in Heaven, which presents Satan’s insurrection and Christ’s victory. From Johnson onwards, critics have often found this episode a puzzling mixture of epic battle and risible hyperbole. The loyal angels’ resort to mountain-tossing against their opponents made Waldock think that even Milton had to giggle at his fantasy [112; cf. Peter, 1960, 77]. However, Stein thought that the point here was precisely to burlesque militarism [1953, 20–3]; an apparently illogical suggestion, since it is unlikely that Milton would wish to ridicule the loyal angels at any rate. In the work of historical critics a very different picture emerges.
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