[Milton-L] Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom

Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Thu Aug 3 09:55:17 EDT 2006

To Cynthia's good list of reasons why "each successive
[semester of teaching _Paradise Lost_] starts further away from the text, in
that students, with some exceptions, bring less and less

1. experience in reading older literature
2. experience in reading poetry other than modern self-
referential lyric
3. knowledge of history - US or English
4. general knowledge - like why the rooster crowing in
L'Allegro fits the theme of fertility and sexuality
5. vocabulary
6. knowledge of the Bible
 7. knowledge of Greek/Roman myths"

I would add a few more items:

8. knowledge of theology, especially Reformation sectarian infighting
9. ability to comprehend the centrality of religion to seventeenth century
10. ability to comprehend the urgency of Milton's need for a personal
epistemology, in a world in which all of the received "truths" had collapsed
like the proverbial house of cards--

not to mention:
11. an understanding of the difference between end-stopped and enjambed
verse lines
12. comprehension of the purpose of complex punctuation
13. ability to comprehend complex periods
14. interest in the subject matter
15. attention span (in the face of the absence of car chases, explicit
steamy sex, filthy language, and gory battles)

In all fairness, re-reading many of the things I only half-understood as an
undergraduate with the broadened experience (and exposure) of an adult, I
wonder sometimes why we even insist that young people tackle such things. A
good example is James' "Beast in the Jungle": a 20-year old has no real
concept of the middle-aged need to have one's life "mean" something . . . so
the story, even when explicated, elicits a "so what?"  When one has been
there, done that, to some degree (at least to the extent that he/she
realizes there will be no Great American Novel, cure for cancer, or
establishment of world peace in his or her biography), the point of the
story--that *nothing* happens--takes on far greater significance.

Thank you, Cynthia, for a useful list. It can serve as a reminder to
frustrated faculty, too--of the obstacles that must be overcome before we
can help young people to understand why PL is even worth reading.

Best to all,

Carol Barton

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