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  1. In writing Paradise Lost, Milton drew on an immense reserve of biblical, classical, and other learning. Yet many of those who read and admired Milton's poem in the next two centuries were not learned; Paradise Lost was often one of the very few books found in British and American households. While it is clearly possible to enjoy Paradise Lost on its own, how necessary is an understanding of Milton's learning and his sources to an informed appreciation of the poem? How, if at all, has reading the texts gathered on this Web site changed your way of reading Paradise Lost?
  2. Paradise Lost recounts the same events described in Genesis 1–3, yet it is many times longer. Milton both expands upon the events of Genesis and incorporates material from other sources or his own imagination.
    1. How far does Milton rely on Genesis, and which elements of his narrative have no basis in Genesis? What might account for Milton's inclusion of these episodes? (Choose one and analyze it in depth.)
    2. Does Milton see himself as another Moses, divinely inspired to add to the biblical text?
  3. Paradise Lost may be seen as belonging to a long tradition of Genesis commentary, while differing on many points of both style and substance.
    1. How closely does Milton's representation of work, sex, emotions, the nature of man and woman, and other aspects of human life in Eden before the Fall correlate with the views of Augustine, Calvin, and Speght?
    2. Why does the Fall happen, and is God at all responsible for it, according to the earlier commentators and according to Milton?
    3. Does Milton's account of these matters in Christian Doctrine accord with the poem?
  4. Compare Rachel Speght's and Aemilia Lanyer's (NAEL 8, 1.1317–19) accounts of Eve's personality and her culpability in the Fall with Milton's accounts.
    1. Do Speght and Lanyer agree with Milton on any points?
    2. To what extent does Milton fall among the ranks of commentators on Genesis opposed by Speght and Lanyer? To what extent does he anticipate their objections?
  5. What resemblances and what differences do you find between the representation of the Fall in Du Bartas's Divine Weeks and Works and in Milton's poem?
  6. In describing the creation of Eve, Milton drew on the story of Narcissus told in Ovid's Metamorphoses.
    1. In what particular respects does Eve's story of her creation resemble or refer to the myth of Narcissus? How does reading Ovid change your understanding of Eve's personality, if at all?
    2. Is Eve, in the story of her creation and later, "narcissistic," according to Sandys's moralization of the Narcissus story or Freud's psychological theory? Which of these versions of narcissism seems more useful in shedding light on Milton's poem, and why?
  7. On his trip to Italy in 1638–39, Milton may have seen a number of remarkable Renaissance paintings and tapestries portraying episodes from Genesis.
    1. What similarities do you perceive between Milton's evocations of Adam and Eve, the Edenic garden, the Fall, and the Expulsion and the pictorial representation of these individuals and events by Veronese, Cranach, Dürer, the maker of the Medici Tapestries, and Masaccio?
    2. Which of these images seems closest to Milton's imaginative portrayal, and what is your basis for making this judgment?
  8. As revealed in The Reason of Church Government Urged Against Prelaty (NAEL 8, 1.1811–16), Milton had long considered the composition of an epic poem based on British history and modeled on the works of Homer, Virgil, and Tasso. Yet by the time he came to write Paradise Lost, his chosen theme and his relation to the epic form had altered considerably.
    1. How does Milton undertake to reconceive the epic subject?
    2. How does he reconceive the epic poet's relation to his muse?
    3. Milton seriously considered composing an epic based on the life of King Arthur. Do the materials on Arthurian literature gathered in the Middle Ages section of this Web site help you to imagine what that epic might have been like, why Milton was attracted to this theme, and what led him to reject it?
  9. Like the classical epics of Homer and Virgil, represented here in modern translations, Paradise Lost is written without rhyme. Yet most early modern translations of Homer and Virgil, such as Chapman's Odyssey and Dryden's Aeneid made use of rhyme, a device Milton attacked in his note on The Verse of Paradise Lost.
    1. Do you find Milton's objections valid in respect to these rhymed translations?
    2. Do these rhymed translations sound and feel more or less "classical" than modern ones? Why do you think this is?
    3. Paradise Lost includes one striking instance of rhyme, at the moment Eve takes the forbidden fruit: "Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat. / Earth felt the wound, and nature from her seat . . ." (Book 9, lines 781–82). What, in view of the significance of Eve's act, and Milton's comments on rhyme, might explain this startling couplet?
  10. Published in the second edition of Paradise Lost, Marvell's commendatory poem is the first important evaluation of Milton's epic.
    1. What elements of Paradise Lost especially impress Marvell? What doubts does he express, and do you find any justification for them?
    2. Compare Marvell's critique with the later comments of Joseph Addison (NAEL 8, 1.2485–88) and Samuel Johnson (NAEL 8, 1.2769–74). What do the comments of these later writers reveal about the reputation and influence of Paradise Lost in the eighteenth century? What cultural and aesthetic concerns do they bring to their reading of the poem, and how do these differ from those which occurred to Marvell?
  11. To Romantic poets such as Blake, Shelley, and Byron, Satan could be seen as the true hero of Paradise Lost. The Satanic/Byronic hero had an enormous impact on nineteenth-century literature and continues to influence our way of reading Paradise Lost.
    1. Is there anything in Milton's sources, or in the events of his own life, which could have suggested the idea of Satan as hero? Is there anything to suggest that Milton consciously intended such a portrayal?
    2. Is it conceivable that a man of Milton's learning and reflectiveness could have been, as Blake claims, "of the Devil's party without knowing it"?
    3. To what extent do Blake's and Shelley's comments on Satan's character accord with your own response to the first two books of Paradise Lost? If you have seen Satan as a hero, are you "of Blake's party without knowing it"?

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