ENGL 546-01: Milton & His Readers
If the New Criticism found the ideal objects for its analysis in the well-wrought urns of John Donne, and the early debates of New Historicism played out on the Shakespearean stage, then reader response criticism, reception history, and the study of interpretive communities developed largely in debates over to the epic poetry of John Milton. The aims of this course are twofold. First, we will examine the critical turn from the study of texts to the study of readers. What prompted this turn? To what kinds of critical practices did it give rise? Why did earlier versions of reader response theory give way to approaches like reception studies, book history, and media studies? Second, we will use the critical and theoretical tradition as a way of thinking more deeply about the poetry and prose of John Milton. Why did Milton’s poetry prove particularly susceptible to approaches that turn attention from texts to readers and interpreters? How does Paradise Lost structure and manipulate the responses of its various readers? We will use Milton’s writings as opportunities to practice and analyze the modes of literary criticism pioneered by late twentieth-century critics such as Fish, Iser, and Jauss, as well more recent successors including Chartier, Stallybrass, Achenstein, Lewalski, Trettien, Wilburn, and others.