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The Life and Writings of John Milton

Discover one of the seminal Western writers in the history of English letters, and indeed in world literature.

Life and Writings of John Milton is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 35.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Summary of Milton's Life and Works These 12 discussions exceeded my exceptions. Lerer connected dots I didn't know existed about Milton's work and those that followed him. Interesting listen for sure.
Date published: 2023-01-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from An interesting introduction to the study of Milton This is a thorough overview of Milton's life and art- from earliest days to later writings, and the biographical relationship between what he wrote and the social and political influences that shaped him. This professor is clearly a passionate advocate for his subject, although maybe a little strident in his lecture style. There is no doubt Milton is a great classical writer, but his writing is difficult for a contemporary reader because of background knowledge required to really understand and appreciate the text.
Date published: 2021-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview My second course with Prof. Lerer. He provides an excellent overview of Milton - addressing not only the literature, but the cultural and political context in which Milton lived. Inspired me to buy a copy of Paradise Lost.
Date published: 2021-08-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview Worthwhile, if too short. The instructor provides insight into Milton's life and works. I would have liked more discussion of Milton's historical context. He interprets a lot of Milton's poetry biographically, with focus on Milton's relationship with various "fathers." The lectures on "Paradise Lost" are very good; I have read several attempts to link the poem to colonization and Lerer's is the most convincing. As other reviewers have said, more lectures on "Paradise Lost" would improve the course.
Date published: 2020-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from John Milton, step-father of my intellectual life I bought this course for a song and a dance about 2 weeks ago and found it very easy to listen to. When I was many years younger I began my life with books and ideas reading Shakespeare. I read out-loud to myself in an isolated attic discovering to my amazement that the stammer from which I suffered was not organic. Shakespeare taught me that I do indeed have a voice, smooth and continuous like a mathematical function. John Milton followed soon thereafter and his words seemed to me just as majestic and filled that attic room of mine with sweet auditory delights, well at least to me it seemed so. I call him my literary step-father picking up on the theme Prof. Lerer expressed in the lectures, fathers and sons. Shakespeare would be my first inspiration and Milton my second. Prof. Lerer has a talent of presentation that I have not encountered before in my studies, and I can recommend this series of lectures only with the highest praise and regard. Buy it, listen to it, follow along in the text if you have a copy, and be wonderfully entertained and engaged as I was.
Date published: 2019-08-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from None Wished it Longer Than it is Dr. Johnson’s off-repeated quote on “Paradise Lost” and also my view of this course. I had purchased this course both because it was on sale and also because I quite liked Professor Lerer’s course on Chaucer, but not because I was a fan of Milton. And perhaps my dislike of an enforced reading of “Paradise Lost” colors my overall rating. Still, for all of Dr. Lerer’s passionate and well-reasoned praise of Milton and his importance and influence in English Letters, I remain unconvinced. Even so there was plenty of content in these lectures for me to be able to recommend the course, especially if you are a fan of Milton. And even if you are not, there is much to be learned from Professor Lerer not only about Milton, but also about the many other personalities of the day. As an example, I was especially interested in his lecture on Milton’s influence on Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” and therefore on subsequent SciFi. But as Dr. Lerer often points out, many do not like (or even heartily dislike) Milton, but none can deny his influence.
Date published: 2017-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course But too Short This was an excellent course, and I liked Seth's presentation -- both substance and style. My only criticism is that at 12 lectures, this series is too short. I would have liked more Paradise Lost, which gets a somewhat truncated treatment here. Especially good was the situation of Milton in his political context and how his political ideas seeped into and informed his poetical works. I bought Seth's course on Chaucer, which I might listen to soon. The one downside for me was that my CD player fell into my hot tub while I was listening to lecture 4....that's just a cautionary tale to be careful.
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative! Listening to this series of lectures really helps with understanding the Book "Paradise Lost." I found it most helpful and the Professor is very passionate in teaching about John Milton's works. I started listening to an audio version of "Paradise Lost" and the story teller is very good, but I wanted to understand the words more and what they meant in the old language. A friend told me about the lectures so I purchased them. You will not be disappointed in listening to the lectures first if you are reading John Milton's works.
Date published: 2016-11-13
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There is no disputing that John Milton is one of the supreme writers in the history of English letters. Yet, for a number of reasons, many modern readers are unaware of the pleasures of his often intimidating poetry and prose. The Life and Writings of John Milton is a thorough examination of this seminal Western writer designed to help you understand his poetry: its richness and depth; its representation of 17th-century English life; and its impact on the Western literary canon. Award-winning Professor Seth Lerer gives you both an introduction to Milton's achievements and a means by which you can cultivate your own thoughts and opinions about works including "Paradise Lost," "Areopagitica," Samson "Agonistes," and "Lycidas."


Seth Lerer

Anyone who comes to know English as a child in school, or as an adult who speaks another language, is invariably confronted by the strangeness of its spelling.


University of California, San Diego

Dr. Seth Lerer is the Dean of Arts and Humanities at the University of California, San Diego. Before taking this position, he was the Avalon Foundation Professor in Humanities and Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Stanford University. He also taught at Princeton University, Cambridge University, and Washington University in St. Louis. Professor Lerer earned his B.A. from Wesleyan University, a second B.A. from Oxford University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Professor Lerer's research interests include medieval and Renaissance studies, early Tudor literary culture, textual criticism, Old and Middle English literature, and children's literature. He has published 10 books, including Chaucer and His Readers and Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language. Professor Lerer won the 2010 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin for his book Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter. The book also won the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of more than 100 scholarly articles and reviews. Professor Lerer received many awards for his scholarship and teaching, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation, the Beatrice White Prize of the English Association of Great Britain (for Chaucer and His Readers), and the Hoagland Prize for Undergraduate Teaching at Stanford.

By This Professor

Introduction to Milton's Life and Art

01: Introduction to Milton's Life and Art

This introductory lecture places Milton's life and work in the contexts of the poet's own wide reading, his remarkable political life, and the contemporary events and institutions which shaped both Milton's public and imaginative worlds. It calls attention to the immense learning Milton brought to all his activities, while at the same time surveying the central social upheavals that marked 17th-century England. We will look closely at the inner narrative of "Paradise Lost."

32 min
Milton's Early Poetry

02: Milton's Early Poetry

This lecture focuses on two of Milton's early poems, which foreshadow major themes and idioms for all his major writings. The stanzaic hymn of praise, "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," written in 1629, is widely recognized as his first major English poem. The second poem is "Ad Patrem" ("To His Father"), written in Latin sometime between 1632 and 1638. These poems also stand as statements of what it means to be a poet in the world.

31 min

03: “Lycidas”

The pastoral elegy called "Lycidas"—written in 1638—is universally regarded as the poet's first truly great poem. With its form taken from the classical elegy, its theme bearing on the nature of life and death, and its dazzling rhetorical displays, "Lycidas" has long been the benchmark of the Miltonic in literary study. For a poem of less than 200 lines with such a reputation bears witness to Milton's powers of compression and expression. This lecture introduces the student to "Lycidas" its forms, its themes, its language, and its place in Milton's literary career.

31 min
Political Milton

04: Political Milton

This lecture surveys some of Milton's writings on political and social issues. The prose tract "Aereopagitica" (1645) remains a major statement on the need for a free press and on the pitfalls of censorship. We can see Milton struggling with the problems of patronage and power: problems that look back to his earliest reflections in the "Ad Patrem" and look forward to his struggle not with a literal or a political father, but a divine one, in "Paradise Lost."

31 min

05: "Paradise Lost"—An Introduction

"Paradise Lost" is so rich, vast, and long, it can be approached in many ways. Our goal in this lecture is to inspire the student to read and appreciate the texture of Milton's language and to organize his or her responses along some key lines in Milton's larger literary project. The lecture also seeks to define Milton's epic technique, his notions of history, and some guidelines for a personal, individual experience of reading the poem.

30 min

06: "Paradise Lost" Book I

This lecture surveys the sweep of Book I of "Paradise Lost" to explore how Milton creates both his great poetic voice and Satan's great malevolent control. It looks closely at the techniques of Milton's verse to see how he creates a world out of language. And it looks in detail at a clutch of individual words that will distill the tensions and the argumentative and literary effects of Milton's poetry.

30 min

07: "Paradise Lost" Book II

Book II of "Paradise Lost" takes us from the political arguments of Hell through the weird and horrific journey Satan makes on his way to Earth. This lecture seeks to explain Book II as part of Milton's encounter with the past. It also shows how Milton exposes the inherent sexuality in allegorical romance, and in the process, how Milton effectively criticizes his poetic forebears.

31 min

08: "Paradise Lost" Book III

Book III of "Paradise Lost" represents Milton's attempt to imagine the language of Heaven. Milton offers up a God, a Son, and a set of angels who speak. In so doing, he imagines the speech of unfallen individuals, and furthermore reflects on the nature of his own literary project. When the Son offers himself up to God as the redeemer of Mankind, he becomes something of a hero himself, and his heroic enterprise contrasts sharply with Satan's journey as we have seen it.

31 min
Book IV—Theatrical Milton

09: Book IV—Theatrical Milton

Book IV of "Paradise Lost" is perhaps the most poetically rich and critically challenging of all the poem's books. Among the questions Book IV asks are: What is the place of human artifice in describing the artistry of divine creation? How does Satan function as "artificer of fraud"? What does it mean to put a woman on the stage: that is, to place Eve as the central character in this drama of the Fall?

31 min
Book IX—The Fall

10: Book IX—The Fall

There are many ways to understand the Fall of Man. One way is to see it as Eve's tale; Book IV had placed Eve at the center of a complex and potentially already fallen Eden. Books V–VIII are where Adam is instructed in the nature of creation and the future of humankind. It is a story of amazement: of being trapped in a maze, of being astonished at the power of Satanic language, of being awed at Milton's poetry, of being struck by the profound consequences of the moral choice made by Adam.

30 min
Late Milton—

11: Late Milton—"Paradise Regained" and "Samson Agonistes"

Late in life, Milton devoted himself to two extended meditations on the nature of scriptural history and the closure of his own literary career. "Paradise Regained" offers in the epic language of "Paradise Lost" a story of Jesus' encounter with Satan. "Samson Agonistes" is a long poem in the form of a tragic play that retells the biblical story of its hero. But in its focus on Samson's blindness, and its emphases on certain images and idioms from "Paradise Lost," "Samson Agonistes" becomes another major landmark in Milton's autobiographical journey.

31 min
Milton's Living Influence

12: Milton's Living Influence

Almost immediately after its publication, "Paradise Lost" achieved canonical status in English literature. Milton's impact on the literature and culture of the English-speaking world is second perhaps only to Shakespeare and the King James Bible. This lecture traces the key moments in Milton's reception and transformation. We read him today for his grandeur, his eloquence, his anger, his brilliance, and his sweep of mind.

31 min