Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(9) John Milton (1608 - 1674)


- educated at St Paul's and at Cambridge which he entered with the intention to become an ordained priest

- gave up the career of priesthood for the lack of reformation and the corruption he found in the Church of England

- undertook a six-year programme of self-directed study of the western literary and intellectual heritage

- studied ancient and modern languages, theology, philosophy, history, science, politics, and literature

- commanded a number of languages, including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, French, Spanish, and Dutch

- undertook a 'grand tour' of France, Italy, and Switzerland at the time of the civil wars in England (1638 - 39)

- on return to England opened a school, then served as a Latin secretary to the Commonwealth Government (1649 - 53) and to Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate (1654 - 58), which involved writing official letters to foreign states

- married unhappily to a young woman who left him a few months after marriage (1641), returned to him several years later (1645), but died in childbirth after another couple of years (1652), the same year he became totally blind

- his second wife died two years after he married her along with their infant daughter (1658), finally his third wife (1663), who survived him, provided him domestic comfort in his worsening health and reduced circumstances

- on the Restoration of Charles II was briefly imprisoned, but his friends, especially the poet Andrew Marvell, managed his pardon and his release from prison


- actively participated in public political and religious affairs, proclaimed himself a self-appointed prophetic bard

- devoted his life to public causes, but his understanding of those cause often arose out of personal concerns

- wrote successively on church government, divorce, education, freedom of the press, regicide, and republicanism

... on Religion

- remained faithful to the Puritan cause despite the repression Puritan dissenters faced after the Restoration

- involved in Presbyterian efforts to depose the bishops and reform Church liturgy, wrote five anti-episcopal tracts (between 1643 and 1645) attacking both the idea and the supposed enormities of English episcopacy

> Of Reformation Touching Church Discipline (1641):

- argues against the Anglican compromise, charges bishops for propping up an incompletely reformed church and for precipitating a war between England and Scotland

> The Reason of Church Government (1642):

- one of his five anti-episcopal tracts, contains digressions on his own life, education, and development

> Christian Doctrine:

- an unpublished Latin treatise summarizing his later highly radical and unorthodox religious views

- denies the Trinity by making Christ and the Holy Spirit much inferior to God the Father, insists upon free will against the Calvinist predestination, and privileges the inspiration of the Spirit over the Scriptures

... on Marriage

- wrote four tracts advocating divorce on the grounds of incompatibility and with the right to remarry

> The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643, revised 1644):

- draws extensively on arguments from history, theology, and Scripture and claims that an unhappy marriage makes for a kind of chaos which stands against God's order in creation


... on Censorship

> Areopagitica (1644):

- written in response to the fact that his tracts on divorce were not licensed by the Parliament for publication

- argues for a free press against a predominantly Presbyterian Parliament determined to restore effective censorship

- draws a parallel between the persecution of heretics by the unreformed Church and the suppression of ideas by the Protestant state, comparing both actions to an unlawful murder

- the title is inspired by the Areopagus, i.e. the site of meetings of the state council in ancient Athens

... on Politics

> The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649):

- comments on the execution of Charles I (1649) and argues for the propriety of bringing a tyrant to account and putting him to death

> The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1660):

- the last work to defend the 'good old cause' of the Revolution, appeared only two weeks before the Restoration

- proposes the establishment of a council of ablest representatives chosen by the people to guard the new republic

- argues for a free and emphatically Protestant Commonwealth which would preserve civil and religious liberty, introduces the idea of federalism based on county assemblies subordinate to a national parliament

> History of Britain (probably written in the late 1640s, published 1670):

- covers the period from the earliest times to the Norman Conquest and bemoans the failure of both Britons and Saxons to maintain and defend their ancient liberties


- self-consciously modelled his career on the Roman poet Virgil, beginning with pastoral and ending with epic

- influenced by E. Spenser whom he most closely resembles in his use of myth and archetype, and his blending of biblical and classical stories

- introduced new subjects for the sonnet, the form traditionally dealing with love: praise of Cromwell and the new republic, the struggle to come to terms with his blindness as part of God's providence, etc.

> Poems of Mr John Milton, both English and Latin, Composed at Several Times (1645):

- his first collected volume of verse covering some fifteen years of his experiment with English and Latin metres

> "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" (written in 1629):

- a devotional hymn in which he also first proclaims himself a prophetic bard

- presents the birth of Jesus as that of a wondrous divine sovereign who extinguishes the power of the pagan gods

- stresses the cosmic rather than human aspect of the event

> "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont" (probably 1655):

- a sonnet calling down God's vengeance for Protestants massacred by the Duke of Savoy in Piedmont, Italy (1655)

> "Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint" (probably 1658):

- a sonnet presenting a moving dream-vision poignant with the sense of loss, both of sight and of love

- probably addressed to his late second wife

> Comus (first published anonymously in 1637):

- an occasional mask for performance at the official residence of a newly appointed Lord President of Wales

- the version revised for publication emphasizes the word rather than music, dance, or spectacle

- the mask establishes what proved to be a lasting professional interest in the nature and force of temptation and in the character and motivation of a tempter

> Lycidas (published 1638):

- a pastoral elegy on the death by drowning of his Cambridge contemporary Edward King (1637)

- moulded by his disillusion with the Church of England, charges the corrupt Anglican clergy for failure in duty

- also expresses his sense of poetic mission, contemplates poetry as a vocation

- the title is taken from the Greek bucolic poet Theocritus and means 'the best of pipers'

- echoes classical pastoral poetry, but in form adapts the current Italian canzone for English

- blends elements of the pagan and the Christian, intermixes gods and saints, nymphs and angels

- moves from grieving through stoic acceptance of loss to an assertion of a hope for the Christian Resurrection

> Paradise Lost (1667, revised 1674):

- moves from a meditation on the political disappointments in England to an epic treatment of man's fall

- explores the consequences of man's first disobedience and humankind's failure to live according to divine order

- the prophecy of St Michael to Adam makes clear that the course of human history will be tragic until the Second Coming of Christ, yet throughout history God will raise up prophets and heroes to resists corruption and tyranny

- defines Adam's final wisdom not by his knowledge of good and evil but by his willingness to accept obedience

- urges obedience to the behest implicit in the creative order of an omnipotent God, but also asserts the ultimate justness of a loving God's 'eternal providence'

- prompts certain assumptions but in an essentially Puritan way insists on a reader's freedom of interpretation

- radically reconceives the epic genre and epic heroism in choosing as protagonists a domestic couple rather than martial heroes and degrading the military glory in favour 'of patience and heroic martyrdom'

- the poem is set in the garden of Eden, in Heaven whose light is characterized as the blazing and blinding perfection of an unseen but imagined Godhead, and in Hell whose lack of light is described as 'darkness visible'

- echoes older epics and uses extended similes or idioms derived from Greek and Latin, which helps him to forge a new, sustained, variable, weighty, and to some extent artificial language appropriate to his ambitious scheme

> Paradise Regained (1671):

- a brief epic in four books concerned with the Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness

- remarkable for its presentation of arguments, in Satan's intellectual and sensual assaults and Christ's reasoned responses to them juxtaposes different ideologies, ways of seeing, thinking, reading, interpreting, and believing

- presents the temptation as a difficult intellectual struggle through which the hero comes to understand himself and his mission and defeats Satan by renouncing all the false or faulty versions of the good life

> Samson Agonistes (published 1671):

- a classical tragedy, closely follows the tree unities of time, place, and action, and puts emphasis on the chorus

- concerned with the ruined and blinded Samson, the failed hero of Israel, and his slow enlightenment which finally reconciles him to the benign purposes of God

- Samson dies, but in his death triumphs over his captors and offers his people a chance to regain their freedom

Základní údaje

  • Předmět

    Britská literatura 3.
  • Semestr

    Zimní semestr 2008/09.
  • Přednášející

    David Livingstone.
  • Status

    Povinná přednáška pro III. blok.


Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.


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