[Milton-L] Nigel Smith's Milton in Time Magazine

Beth Quitslund quitslun at ohio.edu
Sun May 18 13:59:14 EDT 2008

Just a word of clarification: I disagree with quite a lot of Gary Taylor's 
decisions as a textual editor (don't get me started on the New Oxford/Norton 
Complete version of Richard III), but he is a very well-established one and a 
prolific Shakespearean critic. That said, having a nearly exclusively 
Shakespearean scholar write the Time essay was rather openly stacking the deck.


Quoting Carol Barton <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>:

> Thanks for that, Tom (I hadn't seen it). So much for Taylor's 
> "credentials"--which only reinforce the argument that Smith shouldn't
> have left Milton open to such obvious attack by trying to compare the
> two in the first place.
> The fact is that, in the U.S. as well as in England, both are 
> endangered species to a greater or lesser degree. Shakespeare--who 
> writes, I have repeatedly been told, in "Old English" is hard to
> read; 
> Milton is harder. In our idealistic efforts to leave no child behind,
> we seem to be reducing everything to the lowest common denominator, 
> rather than providing the skills students need to master what they 
> find challenging.
> I doubt that any of us found Shakespeare or Milton easy to read on
> the 
> first or second attempt; neither, for that matter, is Faulkner or Poe
> or Swift or Hawthorne or a hundred other authors who use language not
> found in _Horton Hears a Who_. (My stepson struggled with _To Kill a
> Mockingbird_, not knowing the meanings of some four hundred words
> used 
> in that tenth-grade standard.) But we were not allowed to abandon
> such 
> works because they were "hard" to read: we were given glossaries, and
> dictionaries, and taught patiently and firmly how to go about reading
> them.
> Taylor is hardly a fit judge of the relative merits of Shakespeare or
> Milton, and is not someone most of us would take seriously
> (especially 
> not after the light you've shed on the "authority" of this 
> "authority"). But how many parents of college students will see his 
> piece in _Time_, and defend their children's hue and cry against 
> having to read the works of an author most of America has supposedly
> abandoned--and how many of them will march right down to the dean's 
> office, protesting that Milton should be removed from the
> curriculum?
> I think Smith's book, as well-intentioned as I'm sure it was, will 
> ultimately do Milton more harm than good.
> Best to all,
> Carol Barton 
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Beth Quitslund
Assistant Professor
Dept. of English
Ohio University
Athens, OH  45701

phone: (740) 593-2829
FAX: (740) 593-2818

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