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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 is available on the Literary Studies website.

Mode of instruction

One two-hour seminar per week

Course Load

Weekly reading: 146 hours in total
Seminars: 18 hours
Weekly assignments: 48 hours
Final essay: 68 hours
Total workload: 280 hours (10 ECTS = 280 hours)

Assessment method

Short weekly writing assignments (200-400 words each) (35%)
1 end-of-term research essay (5000 words) (65%)

A sufficient grade (6.0 or higher) for both components. If the final grade is lower than 6, students may only resit the long research essay. Attendance is compulsory. Unauthorized absence will mean that you will fail to get credits for the course.


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 UBL and search for ‘oxford handbook milton’ et cetera. You will be asked to log on to your ULCN account.


Enrolment through uSis for classes, exams and final paper for classes, exams and final papers is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

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 concerning the course content or blackboard module contact the instructor of the course: Dr. J.F. van Dijkhuizen

Literary Studies departmental office

Coordinator of studies: Mr. J. Donkers, MA


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).