Our course focuses on two near-contemporaries who have too often been divided—by gender, education, and politics, as well as by the constraints of modern scholarship. Even though they died within a year of one another, they are even divided by period, with Cavendish seeming to embody the new science of the Restoration, and Milton the English Renaissance. Both Cavendish and Milton were close observers or active participants in the disruptions of Civil Wars and Interregnum; the royalist Cavendish experiencing exile from England during the 1650s and Milton an internal exile in the 1660s, his regicidal books recalled and burned. This pair of contemporaries took up many of the same topics—politics, paradise, war, marriage, gender and the nature of matter and the universe—and both authors insert themselves as narrators or characters in their literary texts. Likewise, Milton and Cavendish offer important negotiations of classical tradition, responding to and rewriting the works of Lucretius, Homer, and Virgil in Paradise Lost, Poems and Fancies and other works. Yet till now there has been surprisingly little scholarly attention to the remarkable connections between them. Our course will be particularly timely since Rutgers is hosting the first ever Cavendish and Milton conference in Fall 2020; key scholars of each and sometimes both authors will be presenting talks that will then be developed into a collection of essays, under consideration by Oxford University Press. Works and authors studied include: Margaret Cavendish, Poems and Fancies, The Blazing World, select Plays, Philosophical and Physical Opinions; John Milton, Poems, Areopagitica, Comus (or, the Masque at Ludlow Castle), The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, and Paradise Lost. We will also read shorter selections from authors with whom Cavendish and Milton are in mutual conversation, such as William Davenant and Thomas Hobbes.
Writing Requirements: Several short papers, frequently presented in class, and one short final conference paper-length essay.