1. Historical facts

Handout 2 John Milton

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Handout 2

John Milton (1608-1674)

  • ”the last Elizabethan”; the most learned poet-philosopher; the greatest Puritan poet

  • uniting the ideals of the Renaissance and the new Protestant values of Reformation

I. First period

  • education at St. Paul’s School (Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, French, German) and at Christ’s College, Cambridge (till 1632); 1632-1638: ”Horton-period” (reading!); foreign travels (1638-39)

  • juvenilia: Spenserian and metaphysical pieces (1625-32) – the best: ”On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” or ”Nativity Ode” (1629); ”To a Nightingale”; ”On Shakespeare”

  • twin-poems: ”L’Allegro” and ”Il Penseroso” (1632): titles from musicology, parallel pictures of contrasting moods, happiness and pensiveness

  • Comus (1634): supposed to be a masque (dancing, songs, fairies, magic), but a lyrical drama, an ethical-philosophical poem; allegory on chastity

  • ”Lycidas” (1637): pastoral elegy written on a friend’s death while attacking the corruption of the clergy (Puritanism); iambic pentameters and rhythmic paragraphs; ornamented, full of mythological allusions – ”poetic funeral of English Renaissance with the glory and grandeur of the Baroque”

II. Second Period (1640-1660)

  • controversies and practical ideas in short prose in English and in Latin

  • pamphlets dealing with political and related questions eg. education, against Episcopacy, defence of divorce, free press (”Aeropagitica”) and republicanism: ”all men were naturally born free” (”The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates”) – Latin Secretary to Cromwell’s Council of State; blind from 1651

  • sonnets: link bw. his earlier and later poems; fusion of the Petrarchan and the Elizabethan types; run-on lines; ”On His Blindness”, ”On His Deceased Wife”

III. Third Period (from the Restoration)

  • Paradise Lost (1658-1664): in 1667 ten, in 1674 twelve books; great Protestant epic on the Genesis and history of Mankind; ”to justify the ways of God to men” (Book I. line 26)

  • epic conventions: preposition, invocation, in medias res, enumeration, long dramatic speeches, blank verse – secondary (vs. primary) epic!

  • Son is the Redeemer, God as an absolute monarch, Satan’s problematic figure being another fallen creature (Faustian and human?); Eve is ruled by passion, Adam by reason, but Adam is ruled over by passion (?)

  • Satan’s council at Pandemonium and the plan (I-II); Satan’s journey through Chaos (II-IV); in Heaven God predicts Satan’s success in deceiving Mankind, but the Son offers his sacrifice (III); Satan in Paradise watching Adam and Eve (IV); Archangel Raphael recites Satan’s story and Creation to the couple (V-VIII); Adam about his own creation (VIII); The Fall (IX); Michael envisions the future (XI-XII) – leaving Eden

  • style and diction: ”Latinized English” in blank verse

  • Paradise Regained was modelled on the Book of Job, about Christ’s ability to resist the temptation in the desert, his victory with reason over passion (!)

  • published together with Samson Agonistes: classical (Sophoclean) drama with ’the three unities’, chorus, messenger, catharsis, but not intended for the stage (closet drama); the Hebrew hero’s last days – Milton’s poetical testament

  • the last two works were published together in 1671

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