Paradise Lost: Text and context

English, School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies

College of Arts and Law


Code 21681

Level of study Third/Final year

Credit value 20

Semester 2

Pre-requisite modules You must have completed at least two years of appropriate study in this discipline.

Module description

This module enables you to focus in depth on Milton's 12-book epic poem, Paradise Lost, one of the most canonical works in English literature. Through close reading of 1-2 books per week, you will be invited to explore numerous aspects of Milton's poetic mythmaking, including his transformation of biblical and classical sources; dramatisation of theological doctrine; allusion to the politics of the Civil Wars, Interregnum, and Restoration; and engagement with late-seventeenth-century philosophical debates over the nature of existence and the limits of human knowledge. Working outward from the text of the poem, you will be required to read widely in extracts from relevant contextual material. These will include classical and Renaissance epic poetry (e.g. Homer, Virgil, Ariosto, Tasso, Spenser); and Milton’s own prose tracts on matters of theology (De Doctrina Christiana), political and ethical principle (Areopagitica, Tenure of Kings and Magistrates), and gender relations (Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce). Three weeks will be devoted to considering, respectively, the ‘companion’ poem to Paradise Lost, Milton's brief epic, Paradise Regained; contemporary responses to Paradise Lost (especially Dryden and Marvell); and the reception and critical history of the poem from 1700 to the present day. Throughout the module, students’ analysis and evaluation of the poem will be informed by wide reading of significant recent critical studies, including Stanley Fish's reader-response theory, and the so-called ‘new’ Milton criticism of Rumrich, Goldberg, Corns and others, which tends to focus on the poem's political radicalism, theological heterodoxy, and aesthetic innovation.

Teaching and learning methods

Seminar and plenary session