John Milton’s Paradise Lost: Poetry, Tyranny, and Disobedience
John Milton’s Paradise Lost may be the most influential poem in the English language—and the most complex. An epic retelling of the Fall of Man, Paradise Lost is also an epic poem about a War in Heaven, a story of Satan’s sly revenge against God, and a bittersweet romance between Adam and Eve. As well as an explanation of God’s reasons behind the evil and suffering of our world, it’s also a serious meditation on rebellion, authority, and democracy. Milton’s Satan, often taken to be the poem’s hero, establishes a republic in Hell and positions himself as a revolutionary freedom fighter against the tyranny of Heaven. What does Paradise Lost have to teach us about democracy and the freedom to disobey? How can we place this poem in its own time, and also in ours?
In this course, we will read the whole of Paradise Lost. We’ll develop a vocabulary for describing the beauty, complexity, and horror of Milton’s verse, as well as his use of poetic forms such as metre and metaphor. We’ll discuss the poem’s account of tyranny, gender inequality, colonialism, and luxury. Alongside extracts from some of the most important works of criticism, we’ll consider interpretations of the poem by Thomas Jefferson, Mary Shelley, and Malcolm X. As we read, we will ask: Does Paradise Lost contain a theory of democracy? And, how do the different interpretations of the poem reflect the crises of democracy in the modern age?
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm BST (1:30-4:30pm ET)
July 07 — July 28, 2021