Paper Topics

English 513/622

Dr. Fike


During Fall 2013, my 622 students wrote about the following 4 topics: Nimrod and the Stuarts; Eve and the "paradise within"; Milton's multiple allusions to Circe; and Ptolemaic vs. Copernican cosmology in connection with Adam as a reader. All of these projects were quite successful . 

Topics that seem especially well suited to ENGL 622: In keeping with the nature of our course, most of the following topics call for connections between Milton's texts and  history. C&C = Campbell and Corns's biography.

Consider Milton's portrayal of General Fairfax in "On the Lord Gen. Fairfax at the siege of Colchester" vs. Marvell's in "Upon Appleton House." Milton also mentions Fairfax in Second Defence.

Compare Milton's sonnet "To the Lord General Cromwell" and Marvell's portrayal of Cromwell in "First Anniversary" and "Horatian Ode." Obviously these first two topics would require extensive reading on Fairfax and Cromwell, respectively.

See Flannagan's Riverside edition, page 1077, column 2, full par. 1 (staring "Milton was perhaps"): You could write an excellent paper about Eikonoklastes and Richard III in terms of parallels between Charles I and Richard III + what Nigel Smith, quoted here, calls "'a redefinition of the contemporary understanding of tragedy.'" Doing this paper properly requires reading Eikon Basilike and all of Eikonoklastes. See especially the reference to R3 on page 1085, right. What "Other stuff of this sort" does Milton have in mind? And how does the business about R3 tie in with M's frequent theatrical references in Eikonoklastes? See also Marvell, "Horatian Ode," lines 79ff. for another theatrical metaphor.

You could also write a paper about Pamela's prayer, mentioned on 1086: M accuses C1 of plagiarizing Sidney. Pages 1085-87 may indeed be a rich focus for one of you. Note the connection to PL 9.30 on page 584. M also talks about the pagan gods in the Nativity Ode.

Monarchs in PL: Good kings are superior to those under them vs. Aristotle’s definition of tyranny (rule of one person over his superiors). Start with 5.351-57. Campbell and Corns 341: “domination over his equals (or superiors) by a ruler who is not himself inherently superior constitutes tyranny." E.g., Nimrod in PL 12.65-90 who would be a good focus. Cf. page 1094, note 101.

Milton's Piedmont sonnet in relation to the letters he wrote on that subject to foreign heads of state. For a head start, see Campbell and Corns 259.

Criticism of Charles II’s debauchery: PL 11.714-18 parallel C2’s court. This topic imbricates another: discuss the history in PL 11 and 12 in terms of M’s account of the present age in History of Britain. See C&C 353.

Page 916, note 73: Milton's use of geometrical structures and their symbolic meanings in Reason of Church-Government and his memorial poem to Shakespeare (page 60). If you could make a connection to the architecture mentioned M's depiction of Pandemonium, so much the better. This topic gets you into the realm of "sacred geometry." See "the divine square and compasse thereof" on page 907, left bottom. See also page 916, note 73.

M’s disability + Samson’s blindness. Personal adjustment. Sonnets on blindness. It could be a paper that brings our own contemporary literature on blindness to bear upon S’s experience of it. How is what M says about his blindness in sync with what is said about blindness in present-day research on that subject?

C2’s court + dueling + Duke of Buckingham killed Earl of Shrewsbury + Harapha. C&C 361: “Milton fashions a depiction of a would-be duelist in the swaggering Harapha.” Plus divergence from account in Judges. Cf. the Riverside, page 323.

I would be happy to receive a paper on the stages of Satan's transformation. This topic requires research into the symbolism of various creatures that Satan occupies or whose shapes he assumes. See Blessington, page 36, re. Satan:  "His many disguises--cherub, cormorant, tiger, serpent, mist--reveal his chameleon nature," not to mention other things.  Do not forget that he and his buddies are compared to herd animals at 6.856. See also C. S. Lewis's comment at the bottom of page 99 in A Preface to Paradise Lost:  "From here to general," etc.

A theoretical perspective could be applied to most of the above topics. You could also start with such a perspective and apply it to something in M's works. An obvious example would be Eve's view of herself in a stream in terms of Lacan's mirror stage.

In Of Reformation, Milton mentions Becket and King Henry II. There is a connection to the reference to Paphnutius on page 885. That connection is the "one good man" motif that we find in Abdiel in PL. You could write a paper about Abdiel, that motif, and a historical example of solo heroic behavior. Do you think that M considers "Lord Sudley" (page 878, top right) as an example of the motif?

Echoes in PL of Quintus of Smyrna (see Riverside, page 298, top right).

Blake's illustrations of Milton's work could provide an excellent topic for someone with a bit of background (or a sturdy interest) in visual art.

Architecture—puritan attitudes + depiction of buildings in hell + the Vatican and other edifices in Rome that M saw as a young man.

The slaughter of Catholics at Drogheda or Wexford or in the Black Vespers of 1623 (C&C 362) as a gloss on SA.

How does PR comment on the third Anglo-Dutch war?

C&C 357: discuss C1’s “effeminacy,” M’s misogyny in his History, and Adam’s uxoriousness.

Dryden’s State of Innocence, a rhyming version of PL. Find some of the places where D cut the epic and discuss how interpretation is changed thereby. See Riverside, pages 310-11, which map out Milton's original plan for a five-act tragedy. How does D's version measure up to M's original intentions? Note that M intended book 4, 32-113, to be the opening of his drama. This passage might provide a good focus or at least a good starting point for your inquiry.

If you have some background in music, pages 314-16 in the Riverside might inspire an interesting paper topic.

Satan's address to the sun was originally going to open Milton's drama. See Riverside 1098, n. 2.

During the fall of 2009, my students pursued the following term paper topics:

Comments in Blessington's book suggest numerous areas that you could focus down into paper topics:

Comments in Lewalski's biography of Milton also suggest suitable points of entry:


Other topics: