English 218: Milton

Instructor: Professor James Turner

This course fulfills the elective requirement for the DE in REMS.

For better or worse, most roads in literary history lead either to or from Milton. The goal of this course is to find a way through the massive corpus of Milton’s writing, to see how Milton “produces himself” in his work. You should get an adequate knowledge of the major poems, or new angles if you are already familiar with them, but we will also give a central place to hitherto marginal texts: prose, minor poems, manuscript variants, foreign-language writings. Without prescribing a theme, my selections will foreground Milton’s materiality, in several senses: awareness of economic corruption; political activism in the “Puritan Revolution;” educational theory that includes physical exercise and hands-on experiment; the “wanton growth” of the natural environment, the ecosystem of Paradise and the Fall; monist cosmology; visceral fear of gender inversion; conflicted relation to the body, especially digestion and sexuality (and later blindness); music, dance and scenery in the Ludlow Mask (“Comus”); the physical production and correction of Milton’s manuscripts and printed books. We will coordinate with a conference on “Milton and Materiality” organized by our own students and the Townsend Center this Spring.

The class meets only once a week, from noon to 3pm with a short lunch break; essential to bring food and drink. However, it is not planned as a specialist research seminar. I welcome students in entirely different periods and language areas, as well as Early Modernists and future Miltonists. As explained below, individuals can choose the amount of secondary literature they wish, and may concentrate on close readings. If you are a Modernist, say, or a Classicist or an Anglo-Saxonist you can craft essays that bring your own expertise to bear.

We begin with an achronic ‘brochure’ of autobiographical passages and life-records from various decades, to get under Milton’s skin. Then follows a read-through of the major verse and prose. Some classes, especially on Paradise Lost, will be joined by Milton experts whom I am able to fly in thanks to my endowed James D. Hart Chair. Our basic text, to keep us on the same page, is the inexpensive paperback Oxford Authors selection, edited by Stephen Orgel and Jonathan Goldberg. If you already own The Riverside Milton, ed. Roy Flannagan, or Complete Poetry and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes, they will do fine (I can supply the page numbers of prose extracts as needed). For those who want to delve into the larger scholarly editions that specialists use I will arrange a visit to our own Department Library and provide a list of research tools.

The secondary literature on Milton is overwhelmingly vast, and I am concerned that attention to ‘the literature’ will crowd out the literature. I will curate an idiosyncratic selection of articles and passages from books, which will be optional rather than required; you will get full credit for papers that focus entirely on keen-eyed readings in Milton’s own oeuvre. To provide a ‘locovore’ tasting menu most of these anthologized texts will be by current or former members of the Berkeley faculty or PhD students who developed papers generated for this very course, English 218.  . For the specialist I will provide much fuller bibliographical listings, customized to the individual project.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes