Readers of Paradise Lost have argued that the epic registers England’s nascent imperialism negatively through its associations of trade with Satan. This essay rethinks Paradise Lost’s relation to empire by tracing its involvement in the making of an early modern subjectivity that is constitutively informed by an awareness of debt, debit, and credit. That profane mode of thought later finds more enthusiastic expression in the early English novels of Daniel Defoe and others, but it begins to take shape in Milton, who derives it from none other than religious sources such as scripture, atonement theology, and nostalgia for purgatory. Despite its voiced misgivings about British commercialism, Paradise Lost thus participates in England’s historical growth from peripheral island to sprawling world empire.

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