Milton and the Birth of Modernity Dr. Noam Reisner
MA seminar Fall Seminar Mon. Thu. 12-2 Webb 105
John Milton (1608-1674), one of the greatest poets in the English language is also one of the most difficult and challenging. More than 400 years after his birth, he is also one of the most relevant today. Milton’s major poems continue to stimulate profound debates across continents, not only about his singular achievements as a poet and his profound and lasting influence on English language and literature, but also as one of the earliest champions of the individual, domestic, national and religious liberties we take today for granted in modern “Western” societies. As a polemicist and public servant in England’s Revolutionary decades, he was at the centre of the greatest political upheaval in English history. More importantly perhaps, Milton is a poet and thinker who bridged two worlds. As a young adult, he grew up in a post-Elizabethan England that was still very much defined culturally by the high Renaissance, but as an old man he already looked beyond the Restoration to the birth of what we have since come to understand as the Enlightenment and modernity. As such, Milton’s literary works hold special place in the English and European canon between early and enlightenment modernity, and serve as an important locus for studying one of the most fertile and formative periods of English culture and letters. In this seminar we will study Milton’s oeuvre in the round by examining in detail his major poetry, and some of his prose as well, with an eye to his wider cultural-political engagement with fundamental questions about private and societal liberty, ethics, gender politics, and the re-formation of the modern subject.
Primary texts: We will focus on Milton’s major poems, with special emphasis on ‘Lycidas’, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, and on selections from the prose as well. It is recommended, therefore, that students purchase in advance of the course the Oxford World’s Classics anthology of John Milton: The Major Works, eds. Orgel and Goldberg (1991), as this is the only affordable paperback edition which contains all of Milton’s major poetry, including Paradise Lost, as well as samples from the major prose. However, for Paradise Lost students are also encouraged to consult the Longman Annotated edition by Alastair Fowler, second edn.
Requirements: Attendance and active class participation, two midterm assignments (each worth 20% of grade), a final referat/seminar paper (60% grade).