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With Dangers Compast Round: 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 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 from one of the three companions listed below. 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 on the website

Mode of instruction

One two-hour seminar per week

Course Load

Number of hours
Weekly reading 12: total 146
Seminars 1,5: total 18
Weekly assignments 4: total 48
Mid-term essay 24: total 26
Final essay 40: total 42
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) (25%)
1 final paper (4500 words) (45%)

The average grade of the three components should be 6.0 or higher.


Blackboard will be used to provide students with an overview of current affairs, as well as specific information about (components of) the course.

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 scholarly essays 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 can 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’ et cetera. You will be asked to log on to your ULCN account.


Students need to register in uSis for classes, exams and final papers.

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: Jurjen Donkers

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs


Contact details

For questions about the content of the course, you can contact the teacher: Dr. J.F. van Dijkhuizen.

Administration Office: Van Wijkplaats
Coordinator of Studies: Jurjen Donkers.


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 Stephen B. Dobranski on ‘Milton’s Social Life’ from The Cambridge Companion to John Milton (pp. 1–24).