[Milton-L] Cosmic and Sublime

Carol Barton cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Wed Feb 6 09:52:10 EST 2008

Re: [Milton-L] Cosmic and SublimeLisa's approach to teaching Milton (or even Chaucer) in a survey course makes sense to me. Non-majors should at least be aware that things were not always written or pronounced by their authors as they appear in texts today (even if they don't know in detail all of the subtle ways in which that is true), and have some appreciation of the original (a page of Beowulf, the first few lines of the Prologue to Canterbury Tales). There isn't time for more--though for any interested students, one can always assign special projects (an examination of an excerpt of the original text against the textbook version, for example, or a creative presentation of a work the class won't have a chance to read). And many students--not just the best and brightest--will rise to the challenge, if the task of reading the "real" text is presented in a positive rather than an intimidating way. (As an illustration of the fact that communication is a two-way phenomenon, I've often recited the first dozen or so lines of Chaucer's General Prologue in a composition class, and asked my students what language I was speaking? They were usually quite surprised to learn it was their own, which I would prove to them by reciting and translating the lines one by one--heard that way, the similarities become clearer, the point being that the "message" only reaches the audience if the recipient understands the words. I can't say that they all went on to be English majors, but a number of them would always come up to me after class, wanting to see what Chaucer's language looked like in print . . . and I'd like to think that such arousal of their natural curiosity led them to more receptive encounters with things unfamiliar in their later coursework, too.)

But for majors, even at the undergraduate level, it seems to me that there is special kind of arrogance involved in wanting to enter the world of Medieval or Elizabethan or Stuart England without being willing to learn "to speak the language"--rather like going to Greece or Italy or Czechoslovakia, and expecting everyone to speak and understand English.  

Best to all,

Carol Barton
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