Milton's Imperial Epic: Paradise Lost and the Discourse of Colonialism

By J. Martin Evans | Go to book overview

Conclusion

The greatest event since the creation of the world (excluding the incarnation and death of He who created it) is the discovery of the Indies.

-- Francisco López de Gómara, Prima Parte de la Historia General de las Indias

From the analysis contained in the previous four chapters it would appear that Paradise Lost contains not one but two colonial narratives: first, an anti-colonial text, based on the Spanish conquest of the West Indies, Mexico, and Peru, according to which a corrupt and power-hungry adventurer discovers the New World, enslaves its inhabitants, and takes possession of their land; second, a pro-colonial text, based on the English attempts to settle Virginia and New England, which relates how a sly and treacherous Indian deceives a pair of honest and industrious planters and is subsequently punished by their vengeful sponsor.

The radical bifurcation between these two very different versions of the colonial enterprise reflects with extraordinary clarity the essentially binary character of English colonial ideology as it had existed for most of Milton's lifetime. For throughout the seventeenth century, English empire-building in North America developed in conscious opposition to what its promoters regarded as a morally reprehensible form of the very same activity, Spanish empire-building in the Caribbean and South America. From Raleigh's report of the discovery of Guiana with its relentless emphasis on the deceitfulness and violence of the conquistadores to Cromwell Declaration Against Spain with its ringing denunciations of the wrongs and injustices committed by the encomenderos, English colonial discourse continually insisted on the contrast between Spanish greed and English generosity,

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