Milton and Poetic Authority

Please note: this is archived course information from 2022 for ENGLISH 701.


John Milton is certainly the most important poet of the early modern period, but arguably he is also the greatest English political poet of any generation.  As a writer he achieved a certain fame in his own lifetime; within fifty years of his death his statue had been raised in Westminster Abbey; editions, commentaries and biographies quickly secured his “classic” status.  He wrote in a range of forms, but clearly engaged most seriously in a kind of renovation of poetic forms of highest prestige from the classical past.  He described “the true poem” in fundamentally ethical terms, as “a composition and pattern of the best and honourablest things”.  In short, history seems to have sided with him in creating conditions in which an aesthetic binds to a set of values of such general social importance that poetry which best answers to these naturally establishes the sort of community of readers that leads to canonical status. 

His writing matures in the period when English itself is discovering standards of expression that mirror the decorum and gravitas found in the works of esteemed classical writers.   Today, as a writer, he is primarily known for revitalizing in English the poetic forms of greatest prestige from the classical past, in particular the pastoral and the epic.  Yet, in his own lifetime Milton was best known for his radical tracts on political, religious and social issues. The tension between Milton’s avowed vocation, as the poet who speaks for God, and his views on established religion meant that he could justify the execution of a king on the grounds that he is not really a king at all, but something quite different, namely a tyrant and a rebel against God’s law.  Paradoxically, as Fredric Jameson reminds us, Milton is also considered the great poet of sex in the English language.  His views on sexuality, education, divorce, politics and the church underpin his poetical writing, especially his greatest works, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes.  In this paper attention will focus on Milton as rhetorician, revolutionary and poet.

 Course outcomes:

1.     The primary aim of this paper is that you read and enjoy Milton.  

2.      Improve your skill in writing a coherent and lucid essay

3.      It is also important that you develop good oral presentation skills. 



Course work only

Availability 2022

Not taught in 2022




ENGLISH 701: 30 points