Color Is Everything: Comparing Editions of William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

Try to picture the stereotypical scene where the bad kids try to get the goody two-shoes to do something wrong because it’s the ”cool” thing to do, and then when ol’ goody refuses they get badly teased for being lame. In William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” he portrays Heaven as the boring goody two-shoes, and Hell as the interesting “cool kids”. This portrayal is starkly different from the normal views of society in that day and age. Blake says, “Good is the passive that obeys Reason / Evil is the active springing from Energy” (plate 3 line 11-12) here Heaven is now the outcast, and Hell is the fun interesting place everyone should want to be. He is still saying the normal views that “Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.” (plate 3 line 13). The difference is the paradoxical shift in which good is considered bad and evil is considered positive.

In the two separate editions Blake uses different artistic styles to help convey different messages. In the 1790 Morgan edition1 there is a more attention to detail and line. Also, the text is a simple black color set against a normal background. In the 1794 edition1 held at the Fitzwilliam Museum the lines are blurred and all of the images flow together, and the text changes color to match the pictures on the page. For instance, in Plate 3 (which is shown in the link) the text at the top of the page starts out orange then by the bottom turn to black in congruence with the pictures at the top and bottom of the plate. When looking at what helps convey a different message between the two versions the most important aspect is the way in which color is used. The color choice of the 1794 edition gives the poem a much darker feel. The 1790 edition on the other hand uses more light against dark, as well as shadows which helps show the struggle of Heaven vs. Hell.

  1. The comparison of Plate 3 from the two editions, 1790 Morgan and 1794 at the Fitzwilliam Museum(

One thought on “Color Is Everything: Comparing Editions of William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

  1. Your description of the cool kids and the goody two-shoes reminds me of The Breakfast Club. I wonder if the Saturday detention hall was inspired by Blake’s vision of Hell as a place of improbable creativity and self-discovery.

    At any rate, I’d like to see you complete the comparative analysis of color, though, with a conclusion about how it affects or is affected by the dynamic of “cool” and “lame” kids that Blake is setting up here.

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