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English 420Milton
Dr. Michael Bryson
Sierra Tower 832

Course Description: Is authority—even God’s authority—to be obeyed without question?  John Milton, the most famous “Christian” poet in the English language, has a definite answer.


Milton is perhaps the greatest, yet least-read and least-understood poet in English literature.  He was not a stuffy Puritan with a heart of stone; rather, he was a learned and passionate revolutionary who demanded freedom of thought and freedom from political, religious, and social tyranny. Milton did not suffer fools, and he did not suffer others telling him what to do, what to think, or how to live. In this course, we will examine the ideas of the man who helped bring down a kingdom and behead a king, only later to write the great poetry of Satan, God, Adam, Eve, and the Fall of Man.  We will read some of his early poetry, move through a quick examination of his prose-writing career, and then ascend the summit of the great epic, Paradise Lost

Texts: John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose ed. Merritt Hughes

1) Midterm essay exam, around 1500 words in response to questions I will distribute in class (on 10/8). You will have two weeks to work on the exam out of class. Print and staple everything together before turning it in. (due 10/22).
2) Final paper, approximately 3000 words on a topic of your choosing; I will provide a list of suggested essay topics, or you may choose your own)
This essay will be a researched argument paper that makes use of secondary sources. Print is an excellent thing, of coursebooks are still the coin of the realm in the highest reaches of humanities scholarship, but journal articles are often more immediate in terms of what is going on at the moment. Have a look at the CSUN library's page outlining electronic resources for English. Quotations from the works you deal with—and quotations from secondary sources—should follow MLA format. The final essay will be due by 11:59:59 PM on 12/21 by email (no physical submissions of finals). In your email subject line, put English 420 final, and make sure your name is on your paper, especially if using a non-CSUN address.

Statement on Academic Dishonesty: Plagiarism is a serious offense that will be treated seriously. Please read the CSUN policy here.

Weekly Preview:

Week 1 (8/27): Introductions; Milton’s Early Ambition—Sonnet VII (Sonnet numbers are keyed to the Hughes edition--other editions may vary).

9/3 Off for Labor Day

Week 2 (9/10):  Early Poetic Successes and Failures—On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, The Passion, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso. Theological Arguments for Liberty and Against Hierarchies that Separate Humankind from the Divine—Of Education, The Reason of Church Government (Preface and Chapters 1-7 of Book 1).

Week 3 (9/17): The Loss of a Schoolmate, Growing Commitment to Liberty, and the Idea of Companionate Marriage—Lycidas, Sonnet VIII, Sonnet XI, Sonnet XII, Doctrine of Discipline and Divorce (up to book II)

 Week 4 (9/24): Freedom to Write and Worship According to One’s Own Conscience—Areopagitica, On the New Forcers of Conscience, Sonnet XVI, Sonnet XVIII.

Week 5 (10/1): Milton the Regicide (The Right to be Free From the Tyranny of Kings)—Tenure of Kings and Magistrates.

Week 6 (10/8): Milton’s Work for the Republic—The Second Defense (excerpts), Sonnet XIX, Sonnet XXII, Sonnet XXIII (Midterm essay exam distributed—due 10/22).

Week 7 (10/15): “Of man’s first disobedience,” and Angelic Rebellion: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.” Why?—Paradise Lost Books 1 and 2.

Week 8 (10/22): Imagining God as a King, and Male and Female in the Garden of Eden—Is Adam and Eve’s a Companionate Marriage?—Paradise Lost Books 3 and 4 (Midterm essay exam due).

Week 9 (10/29): War in Heaven: Rebellion Against a King—Paradise Lost Books 5 and 6.

Week 10 (11/5): The Structure of the Universe; Food and the Ascent to Heaven?—Paradise Lost Books 7 and 8.

11/12 Off for Veteran's Day

Week 11 (11/19):  The Fall: A Setup?—Paradise Lost Book 9 and 10. (For an inside look at my take on the "Fall," and one of the arguments that deal with it in Milton scholarship, see here.)

Week 12 (11/26): History of the World, Part One: A Paradise Within Thee, Happier Far—Paradise Lost Book 11-12

Week 13 (12/3):  Discovering the Divine Within—Paradise Regained

Week 14 (12/10): Discovering the Inhuman Within—Samson Agonistes (Paper due by 11:59:59 PM on 12/21 by email no physical submissions of finals.)

Note on Web Resources
The best overall web resource for Milton is Thomas Luxon's Milton Reading Room. See especially his links to other web resources, and to print scholarship
. For the prose works, you may also want to look at my own site, Summary and Analysis of Milton's Prose. Also have a look at the CSUN library's page outlining electronic resources for English. Curious students might also want to have a look at the Yale Open Course on Milton delivered by John Rogers. We are each members of a loosely-defined group within Milton studies known as The New Milton Criticism, and his insights are always sharp and valuable.