His published religious beliefs were regarded as heretical. He defended in print ideas thought in his own time to be highly immoderate, if not downright revolutionary (divorce, regicide, the liberty of the press). Even his decision to write his great epic Paradise Lost in "free" blank verse was in defiance of a tradition of rhyming he thought a form of "bondage." His life might have been considered as controversial as his works: his early decision not to enter the church, his vexed multiple marriages, his blindness and his notorious use of his daughters to read to him in languages they could not understand, and his service to the Commonwealth that resulted in his imprisonment, fining, and the burning of his books. This class will focus on what might fairly be termed "Milton's radicalism" as it expressed itself throughout the life and works which he himself attempted to integrate. What kind of writing, in both prose and verse, did his adversarial views and stances produce?
During the course of the semester, we will read several of Milton's prose treatises (The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, Areopagitica), a number of his early works (Comus, "Lycidas," "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," selected sonnets), and the late works which have ever since been indispensable to the study of English literature: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes. There will be routine written assignments, one paper (10-15 pages), and no exams.