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Unattempted Yet in Prose or Rhyme: Paradise Lost in Context


Admission requirements

A relevant BA degree. If in doubt, please contact the tutor.


John Milton was not only the most important poet of the late seventeenth century but also an astonishingly prolific public intellectual: he wrote theological treatises and was a tireless pamphleteer, deeply involved in the political and religious struggles of his time, and revolutionary in several senses of that word. 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), the nature of political (especially royal) authority (Tenure of Kings and Magistrates), and Christian theology (Of Reformation). For each week we will read one book from Paradise Lost, coupled with (sections from) a prose work and an article from the Companion to Milton. 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 texts ascribed in class discussions and short presentations, and will focus research skills in the writing of two papers.


The timetable will be available by July 1st on the website.

Mode of instruction

One two-hour seminar per week

Course Load

  • Weekly reading 12 hours, total 144 hours

  • Seminars 1,5 hours, total 18 hours

  • Weekly assignments 4 hours, total 48 hours

  • Mid-term essay total 30 hours

  • Final essay total 40 hours

  • Total workload 280 hours
    (10 ECTS = 280 hours)

Assessment method

Assessment and grading method (in percentages):
Short weekly writing assignments (200-400 words each) (30%)
1 mid-term paper (2500 words) (30%)
1 final paper (4500 words) (40%)
In the case of a fail, you are entitled to rewrite your mid-term and/or your final paper.


This course is supported by Blackboard.

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.

  • Nicholas McDowell & Nigel Smith (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Milton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). To be accessed via the Leiden University Library online catalogue; you can download individual chapters as PDF files. Surf to and search for ‘oxford handbook milton’. You will be asked to log on to your ULCN account.

Further material to be downloaded via Blackboard.


Students should register through uSis. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272251 or mail.

When registering students of the MA Literary studies take priority. The deadline for registration is August 15. All other students should contact the Coordinator of studies: Mr. J. Donkers, MA, P.N. van Eyckhof 3, room 1.01b.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Contact information

MA Literary Studies departmental office, Van Wijkplaats 3, room 002A. Tel. 071 527 2251 or mail.
Coordinator of studies: Mr. J. Donkers, MA, P.N. van Eyckhof 3, room 1.01b.


Note: students are required to purchase the edition of John Milton’s prose by Kerrigan & Rumrich (see above).
For the first seminar, make sure you have read:
Book 1 of Paradise Lost and the chapter by Edward Jones on ‘“Ere half my days”: Milton Life, 1608–1640’ from The Oxford Handbook of Milton.