November’s hottie of the month is John Milton, the seventeenth-century Puritan poet, polemicist, and civil servant who wrote one of the great epic poems of all time, Paradise Lost (1667).

Milton was born in 1608 in London. He studied to become an Anglican priest at Cambridge University, where he earned an M.A. in 1632. As the English nation seemed poised for civil war, Milton began writing tracts in favor of the Puritan and Parliamentary cause. In return for his support, Milton was appointed the Secretary for Foreign Tongues, a position in which he translated the government’s correspondence in Latin. Throughout the Commonwealth period, Milton used his writing to support the government and articulate Puritan positions on important issues of the day.

After the Restoration, Milton was arrested for his beliefs, but his friends in Parliament, most notably Andrew Marvell, intervened on his behalf, and he soon released. The last decade of his life was lived in relative quiet in London.

His waning years were, of course, most notable for the publication of Paradise Lost in 1667 and its expansion and revision in 1674, the year of Milton’s death.

I selected Milton for this month’s hottie because this week marks the end of OU’s fall quarter, which began for me with Paradise Lost. This is the second time this year that I’ve taught this poem; I also taught it in my graduate class this past winter. This quarter I taught a new honors tutorial, which was designed to introduce our first-year students to the methods and theories of reading critically at the college level. The course’s content was largely put together by a committee earlier this year, and one of the things we wanted this tutorial to cover is a narrative poem. For me, this instantly suggested Paradise Lost as one of the core texts in the class.

Because my students were all first-year honors students, I required them to read the poem over the summer. (They came to OU for precollege in June, so I gave them the assignment then). One of my goals in assigning the poem over the summer was to impress the new students with how hard they were going to have to work in our honors tutorial program. This program requires a great deal of intense, independent reading and writing; they needed to know that they were going to have to work hard from day one — or perhaps I should say even before day one.

I was pleased with the fact that not only have all four of the new students read the poem but had also started thinking about it critically. It’s true that much of their thinking about the poem was still rather high school-ish, which makes total sense since three of them were just out of high school. And it was one of the goals of the course to show them how to evolve away from that level of thinking and towards the kind of critical thinking we require in the tutorial program.

In this regard, Paradise Lost was certainly a good choice. They all came to class the first day a little worried about what they had gotten themselves into. Unfortunately, we didn’t ultimately spend much time on the poem, really only two weeks. In retrospect, I think this was problematic. They spend a lot of their summer working on this text; we should have spend as much time on it during the quarter.

Despite that problem, the tutorial as a whole went well, I think. All four students have grown as readers, and I’m confident that they’re well on their way to succeeding in subsequent tutorials. By the end of the quarter, I really hated to see them leave, and I know I’ll miss seeing each of them for our weekly hour-long meetings.

While I was pleased with how the class went overall, I also think that I want to change a lot of it next year. I’m not totally sure that I’ll be keeping Paradise Lost on the syllabus. I might, but I’ll have to figure out a way of spending more class time on it. We’ll be adding a research component to the course, so maybe I can have them write research papers on Paradise Lost!

It’s been interesting teaching Milton in two different classes this year. I’m increasingly tempted to teach him in my eighteenth-century course. When OU moves to semesters in 2012, I think I will add Paradise Lost to my syllabus. It’s a great poem, to state the obvious, and students can really get into it, even if they don’t think they will at first.

Because he made such a good contribution to my first time teaching this new tutorial, John Milton is the Gaudy Gilded Stage’s hottie of the month for November.

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