Ordinarily English 325 would cover a broad selection of poetry and drama from the late English Renaissance (aka the seventeenth century, aka the early modern period). This pandemic-modified version, offered asynchronously with an optional synchronous component, will use a surprising recent archival discovery to frame a more in-depth study of the period’s two most important writers.
In 2019 in a public library in Philadelphia, two scholars found a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio that appears to have been owned and annotated by John Milton. The book, now fully digitized, is filled with handwritten markings apparently showing us how Milton read and responded to his predecessor. It is being called “one of the most important literary discoveries in modern times”:
This course will start with a selection from Milton’s Paradise Lost, widely considered either the last great premodern work of English literature or the first great modern one. We will then proceed reverse-chronologically, sampling works from Milton’s career as a poet and activist before moving to the three Shakespeare plays that (if the annotations are to be believed) Milton paid the closest attention to as a reader: Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear. In addition to the syllabus readings and regular participation exercises on Canvas, students will complete two essay exams and a term project investigating Milton’s annotations via the digital facsimile of the Shakespeare Folio available on the Free Library of Philadelphia’s website: