Eve: A Tailored Portrayal

Author’s Note: Since I know I may have to post this here, for some. No, my views are not explicitly expressed within this text. It is an analysis reading of the views I perceived as expressed by Lanyer and Milton, respectively. 

The portrayal of Eve is not one of flattery within the texts of both Ameilia Lanyer’s Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. What she represents shifts between both of these texts, as her role is portrayed in different lights to fitly suit the text. For the majority of the time Eve is in contrast between Lanyer and Milton. As Lanyer portrays a woman who seeks to share with Adam “what she held most dear” (764) and that her heart was in a place where “no hurt therein … intended” (774). Whereas, Milton provides a sight into the source of The Fall being Eve’s susceptibility to flattery as the serpent beguiled her through fraud and “much flattery extolling [her] above all other creatures” (966). While both of these poems contrast a woman who was either humble with love, or one who was of weaker spirit, they both agree upon one factor of Eve: that she had weakness. From this, both portrayals of gender are made as Lanyer builds up her argument of “What weakness offered, strength might have refused” (779), and Milton portrays the downfall of Man upon the “worth in women overtrusting, Lets her will rule: restraint she will not brook” (1184).

A large divergence occurs between Milton and Lanyer on the portrayal of Eve during The Fall, and the perception of Eve’s intentions. While Lanyer speaks of a “harmless heart” (774) and a woman “whose fault was only too much love” (801), Milton portrays her as of a lesser logic than Adam. Their initial discourse is worded in a set of arguments and counter-arguments, a stream of intellectual dialogue. Yet, the wording attributed to Eve’s discourse hint of more emotion than intellect, and a weaker frame than Adam. As Milton uses terms as “Persisted” (377) and “Go in the native innocence” (373). Even the rather poignant line “O much deceived, much failing, hapless Eve” (404) does portray a weaker frame in contrast to the descriptions of Adam. “So spake the patriarch of mankind” (374), and “with healing words” (290) are but a few that are coined in Adam’s discourse. These words are powerful in describing Adam, raising his intellect over the emotional state of Eve. Even the Serpent does comment in that “Her husband, for I view far round, not nigh, / Whose high intellectual more I shun” (482-483). It is with these words that Milton sets the tone for what will be The Fall due to Eve’s ease towards flattery, and fraud. For in his words, the Serpent “Into her heart too easy entrance won” (734). Moreover, a new weakness is portrayed, a selfishness that overcomes Eve in questioning why God would “Forbid us good, forbids us to be wise?” (759), and even unto questioning if this knowledge may make her equal to Adam. Ultimately, a disturbing resolution is brought about as Eve decided to share with Adam so that “Adam shall share with me in bliss or woe” (831). An unsettling portrayal by Milton, of the corruption that “evil hour” (780) brought out in the mother of mankind.

In contrast to Milton, the Eve in Lanyer’s apologia is one of love and kindness in her motives and thought. The causes for her choice are surmised as “No hurt therein her harmless heart intended” (774) and that “If Eve did err, it was for knowledge sake” (797). A difference in moral display, in comparison to the persistent and hapless Eve of Milton’s poetry. Rather than the unsettling decision to share with Adam, instead is a boundless love as “Giving to Adam what she held most dear” (764) and that, in Eve’s mind, her actions were “simply good” (765). In this, Lanyer portrays an Eve who merely “alleged God’s word” (775), who sought for them both to “even as gods be wise” (776), and whose goodness was “betrayed” (767). However, the love and well-meaning of Lanyer’s Eve does serve a purpose to the author’s end. While Lanyer does elevate the mother of mankind over Milton’s words of “coveting to eye” (923) and the fall of Adam stemming from “female charm” (999), Lanyer also uses the portrayal of weakness in Eve to her writing. As with her words, the decision of Eve to partake of the fruit was one of “undiscerning ignorance” (769) and even unto “What weakness offered” (779). However, contrary to Milton displaying only Eve as a mark of womankind, Lanyer seeks to show a loving, but ignorant, Eve in defense of women who have “on Patience’s back” (793) had to “endure” (794) the fault for The Fall. Rather, to Lanyer, the portrayal of womankind is set with both Eve and the wife of Pontius Pilate. A woman who sought to convince her husband of Jesus’ innocence, to stop “innocent blood inbrue” (750). That the weakness of Eve, intended with love and wisdom, compares little to the “sin of yours hath no excuse nor end” (832), being the crucifixion of Christ. That, men should have been able to withstand, in that “what weakness offered, strength may have refused” (779), the offer of Eve to Adam. Even so, if Eve is to blame for The Fall in her weakness, then men are to be blamed for the death of Christ in their weakness and sin.

The portrayal of Eve as constructed by both Lanyer and Milton in their respected works, is one that demonstrates the respected view on feminine gender. This view does contrast between Milton’s depiction of a being driven by wiles, emotion, and coveting sin in comparison to the drive for knowledge, and sharing in love to Lanyer’s more innocent portrayal. However, both authors do depict her as a being of weakness in that choice of The Fall. To Milton, this weakness is what bring Adam to submit to Eve’s female charms, and to Lanyer this weakness is a moment of betrayed innocence and ignorance. However, in that comparison of weakness both authors diverge once more, as on one hand The Fall is placed upon Eve, whereas Lanyer uses that weakness to compare to the weakness of men. In that comparison, the weakness of a woman is, perhaps, dwarfed by the failings of men who have placed such a burden on the backs of women. In truth, failings are upon the back of both sexes, the consent to The Fall was given and men had say to refuse, whereas the death of Christ was one that “we never gave consent” (823).

Works Cited

Lanyer, Ameilia. Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women
Milton, John. Paradise Lost: Book Nine

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