Fall 2020 Undergraduate English Courses

358:320 Milton's Late Poetry

01 W3F4   CAC  05669  MASIELLO, M.   HH-A1

Milton’s Late Poetry 

At the very end of the English Renaissance and the beginning of the “long” eighteenth century sit the three masterpieces of John Milton’s final years: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes. Some of the “issues and problems” we will explore along the way include these works’ relationships to biblical, classical, earlier English, and Continental traditions in poetry and drama, to Milton’s own theological and political writings, to philosophy, to humanism, and to the historical and political contexts out of which they emerged. These are issues and problems that arise directly from the works themselves.

Those works would become literary touchstones for future ages, but at the time of their composition, they were out of step with emergent literary fashions. We will also, therefore, take a look at the fascinating relationship between the republican Milton and England’s first Poet Laureate, the royalist John Dryden, a great admirer of Milton’s who nonetheless turned the blank verse of Paradise Lost into a rhyming dramatic poem—initially conceived as an opera libretto—tailored for Restoration audiences. Dryden’s contemporary playwright, Nathaniel Lee, wrote a poem for the publication of Dryden’s piece, The State of Innocence, alleging that “Milton did the Wealthy Mine disclose,/And rudely cast what you cou'd well dispose:/He roughly drew, on an old fashion'd ground,/A Chaos, for no perfect World was found,/Till through the heap, your mighty Genius shin'd[.]” Dryden both retained and attempted to correct this judgment in his own introduction to his work. Today, Lee’s claim borders on the incredible, but it is worth trying to understand how he could have made it.

Above all, however, we will spend the majority of our time reading intensively the texts themselves, along with some brief selections from Milton’s prose, and attend to the issues and problems they create at the line-to-line level. What do these works do and mean? How are they related to one another? What claims do they make on us here and now? Required: attendance, attentive reading, critical thinking, participation, occasional one-page response papers, and three essays, one for each of these great texts.