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John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667, 1674)

Lecturers: Marion Campbell and Justin Clemens

Originally Taught: Evening School Sem 1 2016

Paradise Lost is one of the great canonical poems of the English language as well as a significant text of the revolutionary English seventeenth century. It employs the classical form of nationalist/imperialist epic to tell the Biblical story of the "Fall of Man". It was written and published in mid-seventeenth century England, during the period of civil wars, republican government and restored monarchy; Milton was a humanist scholar, a Puritan regicide and a propagandist in Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth.

The focus of this course is twofold: first, to provide a close literary reading of each of the poem's twelve books through generic, metrical, rhetorical and narrative constructs; and second, to delineate its broader political, economic, theological and epistemological contexts. The first project will address topics such as the classical epic tradition, Biblical narrative, Miltonic blank verse paragraphs and Latinate syntax, rhetorical tropes and epic similes. The second will include discussion of the expansion of radical Protestant religious sects; experiments with new forms of government; the origins of modern science and technology; transformations in sexual and familial relationships; social theories of generic change; and the development of new forms of print culture. Deploying a critical discourse which connects material and rhetorical realities, we will investigate how literary texts can act as agents of historical, political and social change.

Paradise Lost is widely available in many hard copy and online versions. You are advised to read the poem (1674 version in twelve books) in a critically edited and annotated edition, such as one of the following:

  • John Milton, Paradise Lost, edited by Alastair Fowler. New York: Longmans, 1998.
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost: authoritative text, sources and backgrounds, criticism, edited by Gordon Teskey. New York: Norton, 2005.
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost, edited by Stephen Orgel and Jonathan Goldberg. London: Oxford Worlds Classics, 2008.

A weekly schedule of topics and a bibliography of select secondary material will be provided at the beginning of the course.

Course schedule

1: "Things unattempted yet": The Epic Tradition and Miltonic Poetics
Paradise Lost Book I

2: Hell and The Problem of Satan
Paradise Lost Book II

3: Heaven and The Problem of God
Paradise Lost Book III

4: "The Want of Human Interest": The Garden of Eden
Paradise Lost Book IV

5: Cosmic and Domestic: The Structure of Temptation
Paradise Lost Book V

6: The War in Heaven and the New Model Army
Paradise Lost Book VI

7: Divine Creation and the Development of Empirical Science
Paradise Lost Book VII

8: Political Philosophy and the Commonwealth: Milton's Leviathan
Paradise Lost Book VIII

9: Felix Culpa: The Fall of Woman and the Fall of Man
Paradise Lost Book IX

10: Regeneration and Restoration: The Failure of Choice
Paradise Lost Book X

11: "An Undigested Lump of Futurity": Providential and Historical Time
Paradise Lost Book XI

12: "Hand in Hand": Generic and Political Transformations
Paradise Lost Book XII