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Fall 2013 Course Descriptions

English 3804  John Milton and the Radical Defense of Individual Liberty

Section 001    CRN 98181
John Milton and the Radical Defense of Individual Liberty: Poet, Prophet, Polemicist   1100-1215 TR

Revered by some and hated by others, John Milton is one of the most controversial figures in literary history. As a young and optimistic university student, Milton was consistently disappointed by his nation’s leaders who failed to deliver on their promises. Milton believed that tyranny in all of its myriad forms—social, religious, political—necessitated a radical defense of liberty. Many in England agreed, leading them to the revolutionary actions of the English Civil War, the public beheading of King Charles I in 1649, and ultimately the political and social experiment that became the United States. Milton’s contribution to this fight took place not on a battlefield but on paper. Though he could have fled England to America as so many of his contemporaries did, he remained in London in the midst of this upheaval. The result of this decision is some of the most powerful prose and poetry ever written that focuses on the nature, cause, and limitations of liberty. As a passionate advocate of civil, political, and religious liberty, Milton’s writing concerns matters ranging from censorship to divorce to the authority of individual conscience and reason. His defense of liberty culminated in Paradise Lost, one of the greatest epic poems ever written. In this course, we will read closely much of Milton’s poetry and some of his most important prose in order to come to terms with his radicalism and his archaism and along the way discover what seems pleasingly familiar and at the same time dissonant to our understanding of the value of the individual and his or her place in society. As everything else in this course, the requirements will be quintessentially Miltonic—that is, a significant investment in history, reading, writing, and public debate. (Group 3D)