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Milton

ENGL 338.301
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This course will introduce students to the major poetry and prose of one of the strangest, most controversial, and most exciting writers in the English literary tradition. Contemporaries described John Milton as both a prig and a libertine, a puritan and a heretic: his classmates at Cambridge called him “our Lady of Christ College,” while his political enemies deemed his blindness divine punishment for his wicked writings. Modern readers have seen him as a revolutionary, a terrorist, a proto-feminist, a misogynist, a champion for individual liberty, and a religious reactionary. Given the wide range of topics that Milton discussed over his long and eventful life, such debate is hardly surprising. His poetry grapples with such subjects as a friend’s premature death, the incommensurability of human and divine ideas of justice, and the difficulty of knowing or understanding one’s own motives and desires. His prose argues variously for the right to divorce, the freedom of the press, the danger of Catholics, and the justice of executing the king. Throughout his oeuvre, Milton’s style is as intricate and difficult as the issues he ponders, offering endless opportunities for insight and discovery. Over the course of the semester, we will discuss the intersections of Milton’s formal, social, sexual, religious, and political innovations in order to consider more largely the relation between the aesthetic and the political. Students will compose several short assignments, culminating in a final research paper.