Department of English

University of Toronto


ENG303H1S L0101 TR2-5
Instructor: Sam Kaufman
Office Location: Jackman Humanities Building, Room TBA

Brief Description of Course: In Paradise Lost, fresh from eating the forbidden apple, Eve exultantly praises “experience” as the “best guide” for discovering “wisdom’s way.” Yet after realizing the enormity of her deed, when Adam refuses her request for forgiveness, she deplores the failure of her “sad experiment” to move him to pity. In this course we will read Milton’s poetry and prose as a similarly ambivalent series of literary experiments testing convention by the eruption of Milton’s life experience. While Paradise Lost marked Milton’s completion of a conscious literary self-construction along Virgil’s classical model, the 20-year interruption of the English civil wars inarguably improved the poem by providing an opportunity for Milton to participate in the important political, religious, and intellectual debates of his age.

We will examine the evolution of Milton’s views in parallel with these debates, paying particular attention to contemporary arguments about the nature and value of experience and experiment in justifying political revolution, guiding religious reform, and legitimizing scientific discovery. While Paradise Lost will occupy the second half of the course, we will prepare for it by reading Milton’s earlier prose and poetry alongside other relevant writers on experience and experiment (for example, Augustine, Machiavelli, Montaigne, Perkins, Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, Glanvill, Locke). These readings will be guided by two shaping questions: How does experience interact with other forms of knowledge, including religious and political ideals? Can personal experience produce lessons that are generalizable across persons and times? We will also consider how Milton’s work subsequent to Paradise Lost reframes these questions. Classroom activities and assignments will help students engage with Milton’s complex style by developing close reading skills allowing them to describe the experience Milton creates for his readers.

Method of Evaluation: Close reading (25%); essay (30%); exam (35%); participation (10%).

Link to ARTSCI Calendar Course Description.

Link to ARTSCI Summer Timetable with Room Allocations.

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