Wednesday, April 29, 2009


For next time, we will be reading Milton's prose tract, Areopagitica.

Questions we will be asking:

1. What is the genre of Milton's prose tract? What was the occasion of its composition? For whom was it written? Why did Milton write the tract? What are the aims of the tract?
2. What were the particular contexts for Milton's composition? Given these contexts, what is strange about the frontispiece of the tract figured above?

3. Critics claim that Milton began the early modern challenge to censorship. Is this born out by a reading of his prose tract?
4. 'Milton was a liberal before his time.' Do you agree?
5. 'Milton's London was like Petrograd in 1945 and Havana in 1965, and Areopagitica was neither liberal or libertarian in its time; it is a militant and exclusivist revolutionary pamphlet.' Do you agree with this sentiment?
6. How does Milton represent difference in his prose tract? What does he think about - in his own terms - about sects and schisms?
7. Milton - as we saw in relationship to Lycidas - was attacked for his metaphysical temperament. Are there ways in which the sensibility that nourised - according to Dr. Johnson - discordia concors in his poetry is also present in Areopagitica?
A text of the tract - if not in your anthologies - is available here.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Some questions to think about for reading 'Lycidas':

1. What is the genre of 'Lycidas' and how does Milton approach it? Is his approach to the genre of 'Lycidas' parallel in some ways to his approach to 'Comus'?

2. Dr. Johnson wrote that in Milton's poem 'trifling fictions are mingled' with the 'most awful and sacred truths, such as ought never to be polluted with such irreverend combinations.' Is Johnson's critique justified?

3. A contemporary critic writes that 'Lycidas' criticism is “an effort to bind and clamp together a universe trying to fly off into separate bits.' Do you agree with this evaluation? What are the separate bits to which the critic refers? Does the poem have a discernible structure? Is there a progression from one part to the next? Or does Milton show himself unable to control the different materials of his poem?

Comus' Greatest Hits

Check out here for songs by Henry Lawes - including some from Comus.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


In our next meeting we will be reading Milton's Masque at Ludlow, more popularly known as Comus. As preparation for reading Comus, please read Ben Jonson's masque, Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue which is available as a pdf file on our documents site.

In preparing for our class, please think about the following questions:

1. What is a masque? Where was it performed? Is this particular literary genre associated with a social class? Marxist literary critics argue that genres are laden with certain ideological assumptions; is that true of the masque? If so, how does Milton make his peacce with writing the masque? Does he accommodate his poetic sensibility to the ideological underpinnings of the masque?

2. How does Milton deal with the more specific antecedent for Comus in Jonson's text. Does Milton entertain the reconciliation achieved in Jonson's mask - is there a possibility of the reconciliation of 'Pleasure' and 'Virtue' in Milton's text?

3. Does Milton continue to think about poetry as he did in the earlier companion poems? Are there forms of poetry which Milton embraces? forms of poetry which he rejects? if so, why?

4. Finally, why do you think the poem has come to be known by the name Comus?

Comments with links to helpful sites about the masque - images would be great! - are welcome.

These are some preliminary thoughts for the diligent among you. Check back after Pesach for possible further thoughts and guidance.