[Milton-L] Cosmic and Sublime

Paul Miller pm9 at comcast.net
Sat Feb 2 15:11:19 EST 2008

Yes I like the older spelling of the 1674 edition that Barbara Lewalski 
selected for her Paradise Lost.

Paul Miller

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "HANNIBAL HAMLIN" <hamlin.22 at osu.edu>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Saturday, February 02, 2008 11:22 AM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Cosmic and Sublime

> Here we go again with another assessment in the mainstream media of 
> Milton's problems for today's reader.  John Gross is of course much more 
> sensible than Sophie Gee, but I am still left wondering about the validity 
> of some of his broad generalizations.  List members would, I am sure, be 
> happy to challenge his statement that modernization of spelling and 
> punctuation is the right decision.  But I am more concerned with the 
> remark that Milton is "strenuously, oppressively great."  What does this 
> mean?  Is he simply too hard for the average reader?  This is surely a 
> criticism of readers rather than then writer.  Or is it rather that his 
> reputation gets in the way of the reading experience?  This makes a 
> certain sense, but can one can really then say that Shakespeare, by 
> contrast, wears his greatness lightly?  Surely "the Bard" has a far 
> greater cultural weight attached.  I suppose, though, that Shakespeare is 
> also supposed to be miraculously accessible.  But this isn't really tr
> ue in practice, I think.  From my experiences teaching Shakespeare and 
> Milton, I conclude that Shakespeare is actually the more difficult writer. 
> Undergraduates have a hard time figuring out the language of the plays, 
> dense as they are with complex intermixed metaphors and (archaic) puns. 
> Not that I question assessments of Shakespeare's greatness; I just think 
> is accessibility is something of a myth.  Milton, by contrast, is a much 
> easier read.  Sure, his syntax is Latinate, but it's still less knotty 
> than Shakespeare's, and his language is much more familiar.  Even his 
> subject matter is not so inaccessible as some might think.  Perhaps, 
> ironically, religious matters are much more alive now in the U.S. (one of 
> the most religious countries on the planet) than they are in Britain.  I 
> also challenge Gross's comparison of PL to the earlier poems.  My students 
> can't make head nor tail of "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," whereas they 
> embrace PL.  Pl, after all, has a rich narrativ
> e and complex characters.  This is what they understand most easily from 
> their experience of novels, film, and TV.  Lyric is a strange and foreign 
> country.
> It seems to me that one should be more careful in making generalizations 
> about modern readers, their preference and predilections, as well as the 
> current status of this or that great writer.  One really ought to have 
> some evidence on which to make such claims.  This would apply to Eliot as 
> well as Gross and Gee.  Academics, for instance, tend to accept Eliot's 
> assessment of Milton's status for the Modernists.  But this has little 
> bearing on how he was actually read by most in the 20s and 30s, except by 
> the small circle around Eliot and Pound.  And how many in the same period 
> were avidly reading Eliot, Pound, and Joyce?  Certainly they had some 
> devotees, but might many ordinary readers not have thought them 
> "strenuously, oppressively great"?
> Hannibal
> Hannibal Hamlin
> Associate Professor of English
> The Ohio State University
> Book Review Editor and Associate Editor, Reformation
> Mailing Address (2007-2009):
> The Folger Shakespeare Library
> 201 East Capitol Street SE
> Washington, DC 20003
> Permanent Address:
> Department of Englis
> The Ohio State University
> 421 Denney Hall, 164 W. 17th Avenue
> Columbus, OH 43210-1340
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Paul Miller <pm9 at comcast.net>
> Date: Saturday, February 2, 2008 10:08 am
> Subject: [Milton-L] Cosmic and Sublime
>> This is a Wall Street Journal article about the new Modern Library
>> Milton
>> collected poems and selected prose
>> http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120182675406533779.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
>> Paul Miller
>> _______________________________________________
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