Department of English

University of Toronto

ENG448H1S L5101

ENG448H1S  L5101  R6-8
Advanced Studies Group 4: Milton and his Dramatic Predecessors
David Adkins
Office Location: Jackman Humanities Building, Room 701
E-mail:  david.adkins@mail.utoronto.ca

Brief Description of Course: Since the publication of Paradise Lost, John Milton has been celebrated as England’s greatest epic poet, a figure to rank alongside Greece’s Homer and Italy’s Virgil. But Milton composed drama too: his first major work was A Masque presented at Ludlow Castle, and Samson Agonistes one of his last. When Milton first set about planning his poem on the biblical Fall, moreover, it began as the tragedy Adam Unparadis’d. Paradise Lost not only retains vestiges of that biblical morality play but reads as a dramatic poem in its own right, bearing the influence of English Renaissance drama and ancient Greek tragedy alike. It is from Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, that Milton learns to write soliloquy, and from tragic figures like Macbeth and Marlowe’s Faustus that he fashions the infinitely despairing Satan. Yet Milton also looked to the Greeks for his dramatic principles, and was a devoted reader of Euripides especially. What is more, he benefited from one of the most significant feats of Renaissance scholarship, the rediscovery of Aristotle’s Poetics, which gave us our modern vocabulary for interpreting tragedy (e.g., pathos, katharsis, harmartia, anagnorisis, pity and fear). If Paradise Lost bears the basic structure of a Greek tragedy in its drama of the Fall, Samson Agonistes fully rehabilitates the ancient form for the English language and a biblical theme.

 In this course we will study Milton’s dramatic poetry in view of the various, and at times conflicting, dramatic traditions that informed it. In addition to elucidating Milton’s notion of the tragic, these traditions will offer insight into the following topics: the problem of Satan, mimesis (the imitation of reality) in English drama and Paradise Lost, Milton’s at once Puritan and humanist reception of pagan antiquity, and his views on the political implications of various kinds of theatre, from the drama of democratic Athens, to “our best English tragedies” (which rejected the “modern bondage of rhyming”), to Restoration theatre.

Required Reading: TBA

First Three Authors/Texts: TBA

Method of Evaluation: TBA

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