Home Page Romantic Lit. & the ArtsMilton & the 17th Century


SPRING, 1999

Preliminary Note:  For any topic, stress the primary sources. You may use secondarysources (criticism, biography, but not Cliff Notes or similar short cuts) as necessary, but sparingly. Some topics will require research. Please bear in mind that some of the topics suggested below are not specific and need your focus. Successful essays willdemonstrate the following qualities: (a) imaginative and detailed reading of the literature; (b) clear essay organization, with sturdy paragraphs, controlled development of thought, varied sentence patterns, and (curse the thought!) sound editing for grammar, spelling, and format; (c) sound documentation. Due the final class week. I can meet with groups of students to discuss topics and your work in progress, and to make suggestions for topic treatment and additional topics. Some of these topics may be presented in Powerpoint format, or may be suitable for the Internet.


1. A study of two plays by a single Jacobean tragedian: Ford ('Tis Pity She's a Whore and The Broken Heart) or Webster (Duchess and The White Devil), or Middleton (Women Beware Women and The Changeling). The study should concentrate on one of a number of aspects:  attitudes towards love, the plays as studies in evil, studies of the abnormal personality, or portraits of specific human values. 

2.  A catalog and analysis of specific imagery and its use as figurative language in two of the plays above. Examples: blood, animals, images of confinement, images of polarity, hot and cold images. These images should be studied in relation to specific themes in the dramas. Examples: madness in women, deception, lonliness and alienation, revenge, self-love.

3.  A study of the structural patterns (sequence and interrelationships of poems) and image patterns and metaphor, with relation to theme, in one of the following groups (intentional cycles) of poems: (a) Donne's "La Corona" Sonnets; (b) Donne's Holy Sonnets; (c) George Herbert' The Temple (select 5 poems that, in your analysis, form a group by virtue of common theme or treatment).

4. Study what you find is an identifiable group of poems in Donne's Songs and Sonets. Study Donne's imagery patterns and metaphors as means for establishing his analysis of one of the following themes: the role of violence in secular or religious love, the legitimate scope of women's emotions and power, Donne's speakers as advocates for man or woman, or both.

5. Poems on noble estates by three authors of the Jacobean and Caroline periods: Jonson's "To Penshurst," Herrick's "The Hock-Cart, or Harvest Home...," Marvell's "Upon Appleton House," Carew's "To Saxham." Study the imagery and figurative language of order and civility in these poems.

6. Richard Crashaw's "The Flaming Heart" and the equivalent multimedia sculpture by Bernini (in St. Peter's, Rome), which possibly inspired it -- an interart analysis. Read also the other Theresa poems in our edition by Louis Martz.

7. Andrew Marvell, perhaps the most learned man of the Seventeenth Century, was among its best poets. He wrote a collection of poems, known as the "mower poems," which critics find enigmatic and mysterious. Study the imagery and metaphors with relation to their range of meaning as poems about the role of violence and death in the human experience. If you choose this topic, you should read specific other poems by Marvell in order to understand the various genres of the four mower poems and the range of Marvell's mind: Marvell's "Bermudas" "The Garden" and few others will suffice.

8. George Herbert's analysis of the relationship between the individual and God as a troubled yet necessary friendship in the following identifiable group of poems in The Temple: (Note: For those interested in this topic, you may see me for a selection of poems.).

9. Benjamin Britten, the major twentieth-century British composer, set about 10 of John Donne's Holy Sonnets as a song cycle. This would make a marvelous paper topic for someone. It could involve a contrast analysis of the differences between the seventeenth-century poem read as such and Britten's twentieth-century treatment, a study of the particular emphases and augmentations produced by Britten and the performers, and so forth. I have an audiotape.

11. Establish the concept of what Baroque art is. Discuss the myth of Hero and Leander, as presented in Ovid's Metamorphosis. Then, write an analysis of Peter Paul Rubens' painting, Hero and Leander, which hangs in the Yale Art Gallery, New Haven.

12. Milton's analysis of individual thought and freedom of choice and freedom to choose. Read Areopagitica and sections of Milton's The Christian Doctrine which are relevant to the topic. Then, using these treatises, write an analysis of these themes in Paradise Lost. It will help to concentrate on specific sections of this epic, possibly the arguments by God in Book 3, segments of the discussions between Adam and Raphael in Books 5 and 8, and/or selections from Book 12.

13. "Three Revenges, Differing Revengers": Shakespeare's Iago and Hamlet and Milton's Satan as personifications of evil, a comparison / contrast study of revenge characters and of the revenge theme in the Seventeenth Century.

14. John Martin's engravings of Milton's Satan, at the British Art Center, New Haven. As with other Romantics, Martin portrays the heroic dimensions of Satan. Until recently, and still, many critics have argued that the Romantic poets and artists misrepresented Milton's Satan. To what extent does Martin's view concide with or contradict Milton's actual portrayal of Satan, as you understand Milton's view.

15. As in the prior topic, study William Blake's Romantic analysis of Satan in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

16. Gustav Dore's engravings of Paradise Lost as mis/representations of Satan.

17. The meaning of the Fall in Paradise Lost. Within your essay, you might consider some of the following questions. How does reason inevitably contribute to or lead to the Fall of Eve or Adam? Are the causes of Eve's Fall different from the causes of Adam's Fall and, if so, what is the effect of Milton's distinguishing their separate Falls? How do Adam or Eve respond to the fact of their Falls after the Fall? to each other? What, if any, is the role of God's omniscience in the Fall of man and woman. Is the Fall of man and woman inevitable? Is it due to external temptation, or are Eve and Adam self-tempted, as was Satan?

18. "Satan, Adam and Eve ride the Internet": a description and evaluative study of several Web sites devoted wholly, or in large measure, to the presentation and study of Milton's epic.

19. Write an eight page essay surveying the following topic, "Approaching the Image of Eve in Paradise Lost." Incorporate, as you study the topic, the views of Sandra Gilbert, Joseph Wittreich, and Joan Webber.

Discussion of Topic: It may not be an overstatement to claim that Paradise Lost most likely presents the most despised of the famous portrayals of women in the history of literature. In March, 1978, Sandra Gilbert published a very smart and clear critique of Milton's figure of Eve as a negative female portrait. Gilbert's analysis has challenged many responses. Joan Webber's response (publ. 1980) is equally clear, but analyzes the image of Eve as somewhat a more positive portrayal. In a more recent book length study, Feminist Milton (1987), Joseph Wittreich presents a respectful but skeptical attitude towards Gilbert's feminist critique of Eve, and of John Milton. He admits, however, the social legitimacy of Gilbert's twentieth-century reading, and notes that Gilbert and Webber each catch some of the truth concerning ways of reading Paradise Lost and ways of understanding the figure of Eve.

Gilbert's analysis is an excellent example of recent feminist criticism. She emphasizes the role literature plays in socializing future readers. Webber, a more traditional critic, is no less clever than Gilbert, sees Gilbert as performing a misreading, and insists that literature be read with an understanding of the time period and the author who produced it. What is fascinating is that both Gilbert and Webber are feminists who clash over their divergent readings of Milton's male attitudes and Milton's "poetic creation" of the figure of Eve. My own approach depends more heavily on a poetic analysis of Paradise Lost and specifically the figure of Eve.

Following your introductory paragraph, present, as accurately as you can and in your own imaginative way, the views of both Gilbert and Webber. Then, as a bridge towards your own analysis, critique the value of those views. What do you agree with, or disagree with, and why? Finally, and for the bulk of your essay, present your own analysis of the figure of Eve in Paradise Lost. As always, present and analyze Milton's text.

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