In 1671, four years after Paradise Lost, Milton published Paradise Regained, a Poem in IV Books, to which is Added Samson Agonistes. In 1665 the Quaker Thomas Ellwood reportedly read Paradise Lost in manuscript form and suggested Milton also give account of the return of Paradise. In 1666, Milton attributed his composition Paradise Regained to Ellwood’s inquiry. This association with Ellwood as well as the Quaker community at Chalfont St Giles, where the text was composed, may have influenced Milton’s representation of Christ, which contrasts sharply with the warrior figure of Paradise Lost. Instead, the Christ of Paradise Regained imitates Quaker pacifist values, defeating Satan with intellectual ability rather than through battle. Other noteworthy influences include Edmund Spenser’s Sir Guyon from the Faerie Queene and the biblical Book of Job, which Milton called a brief epic.
Milton’s own “brief epic,” Paradise Regained sets out to reverse the loss of Paradise and recounts Christ’s desert temptation, which takes the form of a battle of wits. Although the vision of Christ in Paradise Regained is distinctly pacifist and intellectual, he strongly reflects Milton’s disapproval of popular democracy as well as a distrust of worldly learning. Again in contrast to its predecessor, the language of Paradise Regained disposes of much of the decorative and complex language of Paradise Lost in exchange for a much simpler syntax and less frequent use of simile.
Samson Agonistes, first published along with Paradise Regained also demonstrates many of Milton’s later worldviews as well as his anguish over his blindness. Samson Agonistes features a dramatic retelling of the biblical story of Samson, beginning after his hair has been cut and his eyes have been gouged. Because Milton’s Samson does not kill all of the Philistines, just their lords, Samson Agonistes reflects a view that the leaders of a people should be punished for their crimes instead of those they lead. Structurally, the poem mimics classical Greek drama, but Milton’s Samson is a modern character with contemporary concerns.
Milton composed Paradise Regained in Buckinghamshire between 1665 and 1666. Although many believe that Samson Agonistes was composed around the same time, there is no definitive proof to determine its exact dates. Edward Philip, who assisted Milton in the production of Paradise Lost argued authoritatively that it is impossible to conclude with certainty when Milton wrote Samson Agonistes. It is relatively certain, however, that the poem was composed sometime after the Restoration, and was most likely written over several separate spaces of time.