michaeldobiel2003 at yahoo.com
Tue Aug 29 22:07:03 EDT 2006
In response to your question I would like to offer a lowly undergrad's perspective. I took a course this past semester in British Literature. We started with Shakespeare's Henry IV and went chronologically to Robinson Crusoe. Thus Milton fell roughly in the middle. I found that the short poems of most of the poets we read were quite manageable. Milton's sonnets and Areopagitica were also not too imposing. Alas we arrived at PL mid semester. As a music student I had concerts starting to come up and the like. A longer treatment of a work like PL starting from the beginning of the semester might have been helpful. I do not wish to excuse students on the basis of having too much work however! Musicians sometimes encounter pieces of music that require months of preparation, especially for a student who is not yet at the professional level. The first steps to learning a difficult piece generally include a preliminary, cursory reading of the music that I suspect is
not unlike what you are describing. Generally my ensemble courses and instrumental lessons have been structured based on the assumption that students will not be able to reach a particularly high level of mastery in playing the semester's music. This is because the music is intentionally chosen to challenge the students and push them to stretch the limits of their abilities. I do not know if this approach is generally useful in literature courses, but I do recall my consternation at the prospect of reading PL in a matter of a few weeks. A corresponding work of the magnitude of PL might very well warrant a whole semester's worth of time in my music courses. In instrumental lessons, which are one-on-one, we even have the luxury of spending multiple semesters on a body of difficult material. This is what I have done once and am currently doing again in preparation for degree recitals. Having said all of this, I will also say that I undertook to read PL more closely
this past summer. This was one of the more rewarding experiences I have had in reading difficult literature and I have since purchased an edition of Milton's complete works. Thus I hope that many more students may develop a similar enthusiasm in courses such as yours!
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