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With Dangers Compast Round: Paradise Lost in Context


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Literary Studies, research master Literary Studies and the research MA Arts, Literature and Media (other relevant MA on request and if places available, please contact the study coordinator).


John Milton was not only the most important poet of the late seventeenth century but also a prolific public intellectual: he wrote theological treatises and was a tireless pamphleteer, deeply involved in the political and religious struggles of his time. In this course we will study Milton’s great epic poem Paradise Lost in relation to his prose work on such diverse issues as freedom of the press (in the Areopagitica), the right to divorce (The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce), and the nature of political (especially royal) authority (Tenure of Kings and Magistrates). For each week we will read one book from Paradise Lost, coupled with (sections from) a prose work, and a scholarly essay. We will closely analyse the language and form of the poem, while also looking at how Milton used the medium of epic poetry to explore the various political and religious questions also addressed in his prose tracts. We will also familiarize ourselves with some of the recent scholarly work on Milton.

Course objectives

This course will extend and deepen the power of students’ literary critical analysis through in-depth consideration of literary texts and contextual material. Students will gain a broader understanding of the work of John Milton, and of seventeenth-century literature more generally, and of current critical debates about Milton and his contemporaries. Students will share analytical and critical views on the reading materials in class discussions and deepen their academic writing and research skills by means of short weekly writing assignments and a research paper.


The timeThe timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Short weekly writing assignments (200-400 words each) (35%)

  • 1 end-of-term research essay (4,500 words) (65%)

Research MA students should write a longer research essay (5,500 words). Their research essay should also offer substantial theoretical reflection on their chosen topic, as well as indepth engagement with the cultural-historical contexts of Paradise Lost.


  • Short weekly writing assignments (200-400 words each) (35%)

  • 1 end-of-term research essay (4,500 words) (65%)


Students who fail the course can submit a revised version of their research essay if their essay grade is at least a 5. If their essay grade is lower than a 5, they must write a new research essay on a new topic.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. by Stephen Orgel and Jonathan Goldberg (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). Paperback. ISBN 978-0-1995-3574-3. Other good editions of Paradise Lost are also allowed.

  • William Kerrigan & John P. Rumrich (eds), The Essential Prose of John Milton (New York: Random House, 2007). Paperback. ISBN 978-0-8129-8372-2.
    Note: students are required to purchase this particular edition of John Milton’s prose.
    We’ll also read various scholarly essays from academic journals and from the following collections:

  • Dennis Danielson (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to John Milton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

  • Nicholas McDowell & Nigel Smith (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Milton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

  • Louis Schwartz (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Paradise Lost (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
    Note: The essays in these collections, as well as those in academic journals, can be accessed via the Leiden University Library online catalogue; you can download individual chapters as PDF files. Surf to UBL and search for ‘oxford handbook milton’ et cetera. You will be asked to log on to your ULCN account.


Enrolment through My Studymap Login | Universiteit Leiden is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal

Coordinator of studies:


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