English | Milton
L731 | 28098 | Anderson

L731  28098   P ANDERSON (#2)

2:30p – 5:30p T

In the flurry of publications, conferences, and exhibitions that
marked Milton’s four hundredth birthday celebrations in 2008,
William Wordsworth’s invocation seemed to be everywhere:  “Milton,
thou shouldst be living at this hour! / England hath need of thee”
(“London, 1802” 1-2).  This plea provokes our first question:  what
do we need of Milton?  What in his work seems particularly relevant
for our present moment (or for Wordsworth’s)?  Why have his writings
proved particularly amenable to certain modes of critical inquiry,
and particularly intransigent to others?

And yet Milton has always seemed to be a writer particularly of his
own historical moment, perhaps more at home in the cut and thrust of
political pamphleteering than in the long-delayed writing of his
great epic.  Our most important goal, then, will be to take Milton
on his own terms, reading closely and carefully his poetry and
(rather less of) his prose:  the short Poems 1645 (including A Maske
Presented at Ludlow Castle and “Lycidas”); Areopagitica; selections
from Of Reformation, Eikonoklastes, and The Readie and Easie Way;
selections from the divorce tracts; Paradise Lost; Paradise
Regained; and Samson Agonistes.  Throughout, we will struggle with
the richness and complexity of Milton’s myriad contradictions:  he
evokes the pleasures of love in Eden while shading them with
patriarchalism; he problematizes God’s authority by paralleling it
to the monarchy he derides; he gives us a rebellious hero in Samson,
then refuses any certainty of his virtue.  Along the way, we will
read brief analogues from some of Milton’s contemporaries: political
theorists like Thomas Hobbes, polemicists like Marchamont Nedham,
and epic poets like Lucy Hutchinson.

In the first two-thirds of the course, we will work our way through
the above readings, with selected critical readings that raise
crucial issues.  During this period, each student will give a brief
presentation on one (or a portion) of the course texts, sampling
criticism from different periods to offer a brief account of the
text’s changing critical fortunes to the class.  You will also write
a brief, exploratory paper to accompany this presentation.  In
addition, in weeks when you are not presenting, you will write short
weekly blog posts on some aspect of the reading.  In the latter
third of the course, you will undertake an extended research paper,
which you will write in several stages.  After your initial research
and writing, we will have informal works-in-progress sessions, at
which you will present your research and argument to date, and on
which you will receive feedback.  Then, you will finish writing a
seminar-length paper (25-30 pages) of publishable quality, due at
the end of the term.