John Milton was a man so famous in his own time that French and Italian tourists tracked down his childhood home to see the chamber in which he had been born. He was even more famous after his death; indeed, his teeth, hair, fingers, and one of leg bones were stolen as relics in the eighteenth century. Charles Darwin, even as he wrote his theory of evolution, carried a copy of Paradise Lost in his pocket everywhere he went, and the political philosopher Jeremy Bentham bought Milton’s old house in Westminster and put a plaque on its outer wall, stating ‘Sacred to Milton, Prince of Poets’. The critic William Hazlitt rented the house from Bentham, and turned the living room into a museum to Milton. The walls became swiftly covered in the signatures and messages of those who came to pay homage to the memory of the great poet.
On this module, you will find out why Milton has inspired poets, rebels, relic seekers, and scientists, and why it is hardly an exaggeration to say that Milton changed English literature forever. It will introduce you to Milton’s brave, clever, and often thrilling poetry, and, in doing so, it will make you aware of a vast network of allusions to Milton’s writing by many of the authors you will study elsewhere on this degree. By the time you complete this module, you will understand Paradise Lost as an intricate verbal universe in its own right; as a text that engages fiercely and rebelliously with the intellectual and political debates of its own time; and as the inspiration for writers from Dryden, to Pope, to Wordsworth, to Philip Pullman.
Aims and Objectives
Knowledge and Understanding
Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:
- the ways in which early modern English Protestant culture encountered, engaged, and incorporated classical thought and literary form;
- the relationship between Milton’s prose and poetry;
- the ways in which authors change and create language in the process of using it.
- the religious and political contexts in which Milton’s poetry was written;
- the function of allusion in literary tradition;
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
- recognize allusions to Milton’s writing – particularly Paradise Lost – in other literature, and think usefully about how and why these later authors might be using Milton.
- engage with and interrogate the arguments of other critics about the texts studied;
- identify patterns of words or images in literary texts and draw conclusions about the meaning these patterns create;
- analyse texts both as coherent objects in themselves, and as representatives of the culture from which they emerged;
- develop a clear critical thesis, and produce a sustained critical argument, based on your own analysis of the texts, with appropriate reference to the literary, religious, political, or biographical contexts in which those texts were produced;
This module will focus on the writing of John Milton, but it will also introduce you to a range of the texts that influenced him, and to a few of those produced in response to his great epic, Paradise Lost. During the first nine teaching weeks you will work your way chronologically through Milton’s poetical works, beginning with early masterpieces including Comus and ‘Lycidas’, followed by Paradise Lost, and finally Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. The module will then conclude with some of the late seventeenth and eighteenth century responses to Paradise Lost. Each week, you will also be introduced to a short text or extract from a text that will shed light on some aspect of Milton’s writing. This might be an extract from a biography, either modern or contemporary; a selection of comparable poems by a contemporary writer, such as Andrew Marvell; a section of a text that might have influenced Milton, perhaps Ovid’s Metamorphoses or the Bible; or a seminal piece of literary criticism. This will help you better to understand Milton’s sometimes challenging, but almost always brilliant, poetry, and will build your portfolio of critical skills. When can a poet’s biography be useful to a critic, and when should we, as critics be sceptical of biographical readings? How can understanding the history of a genre help you to interpret the aims of a poem that subverts or progresses that genre? How can you engage usefully with other critical voices whilst still constructing your own, robust critical argument? This module will encourage you to find your own answers to these questions, whilst also helping you to treat the glittering landscapes of Paradise Lost as your own intellectual playground.
Learning and Teaching
Teaching and learning methods
Teaching methods include:
- individual consultation;
- feedback on written work.
Lectures will provide an overview of the primary texts, including some historical or literary context, on which you will be expected to build in your personal study time. Seminars will focus on close textual analysis, and on understanding the primary texts in the light of selected secondary reading.
Learning activities include:
- reading books and engaging with artistic responses to Milton’s writing;
- seminar discussion;
- textual analysis and research;
- writing essays and critical commentaries;
- creation of a presentation to ‘pitch’ your idea for summative essay for class peer review and feedback.
|Preparation for scheduled sessions||50|
|Completion of assessment task||54|
|Practical classes and workshops||1|
|Wider reading or practice||13|
|Total study time||150|
Resources & Reading list
The core texts will be Milton’s shorter poems, Paradise Lost, and a selection of Milton’s prose..
John Dryden. The State of Innocence.
Aemilia Lanyer. Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.
Edmund Spenser. The Faerie Queene.
Andrew Marvell. Selected Poems.
Ben Jonson. ‘To Penshurst’.
Alexander Pope. Rape of the Lock.
This is how we’ll give you feedback as you are learning. It is not a formal test or exam.Presentation with supporting handout
This is how we’ll formally assess what you have learned in this module.
This is how we’ll assess you if you don’t meet the criteria to pass this module.
Repeat type: Internal & External