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.