MILTON AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO N.Z. - TWO EVENTS:
1. Celebrating Paradise Lost: 15-16 October 2004
Three important things were being celebrated: (a) the Library's purchase of another important illustrated edition of Paradise Lost, that of the Richter family (1796); (b) our tenth all-day 'marathon' performance of the poem' bigger and more competitive than before; and (c) my imminent retirement from full-time teaching and research at the University of Otago.
To celebrate the first of these we held a symposium for the morning of Friday 16 October, involving the University Library's special collections and their librarian, Donald Kerr. Invited visitors joined staff and research students from Otago to speak about the Richter and other editions, at a jointly-curated display. The volumes and the contributions about their value and use have been recorded on video, to be edited for future teaching and other use.
That afternoon a research seminar was held to prepare us for the marathon the next day. Two of the invited judges of the competition spoke on "Performing Epic", after I had presented a paper on its history, rationale and educative purposes. On Saturday, the marathon itself took place at the Hocken Library, by kind permission of the Hocken Librarian. Teams of readers were responsible for individual books of the poem's twelve, competing for a team prize. Individual readers competed for individual prizes. the prizes were provided by the Department of English, and were awarded at a closing ceremony by our local Member of Parliament, the Hon. Pete Hodgson. Some of the books were not performed competitively but by individuals who felt so moved. The opportunity was provided to engage anyone who came to listen during the day. The event was open to the public, and entry was free.
By general consent we suceeded in our intention, to elicit teams and individual readers from the University and city communities, and from alumni and the School of Language, Literature and Performing Arts, whilst guaranteeing study and other benefits to students from the English Department currently working on Milton. In that connection, our visitors formed a panel to address the class of ENGL 311: Renaissance Verse on "Epic in Englsih: Spenser and Milton".
Thus the programme for the two days was:
Friday 15 October
9.00 am — Panel: "Epic in English" (Sherry, Houlahan, Tribble, Hale)
11.00 am — Symposium: "Rare Milton Editions in Dunedin (Wohlers, Sherry, Maslen, Houlahan)
3.00 pm — Research Seminar (Hale, Sherry, Houlahan)
Saturday 16 October
9.30 am—9.00 pm approx — Tenth Paradise Lost reading, at the Hocken Library, Anzac Avenue, Dunedin
The organiser Dr John Hale M.A. (Oxon), Ph.D. (Edin), Dip.Ed. (Durh), Litt.D. (Otago)
gives his own reasons for doing the all-day deed:
Good question! It is long, if you stay for the whole day (but you can dip in or out). We do it because:
• It is the acknowledged greatest poem in our language, and to be understood and enjoyed to the full it needs to be heard, aloud.
• Students of the poem learn exponentially more by hearing it and speaking it.
• It is great fun. What will the teams get up to this time?
• It ends up being a kaleidoscopic community event, with teams and individuals from all over the city and university community. teachers and students do it, actors and theologians do it, Councillors and Chancellors have done it.
• A certain amount of type-casting goes on, willy-nilly, which can be amusing.
• We do it because we have done it before, ten times.
• We do it because this is my last time doing it, before retiring.
• We do it because all over the world Milton buffs do something like it.
• We do it because we do it differently from the others. The team aspect, and the competing and prizes, are unique.
People. Bring a copy of the poem if you have one, but there will be plenty around at the venue.
• Because it's unique.
• Because there's no need to bother.
• Because it's free. Because the poem is about freedom, human freedom, how it got lost, how it was regained, what our freedom needs if we are to keep it.
• Because it's the story of Adam and Eve.
• Because it's full of 'firsts'. First innocence, first lie, first quarrel, first debate about whether life would be better or not if it was perfect...
2. MILTON RENEWED AT OTAGO: MAY 16 2014 – from John Hale
I'd like to share a good recent experience. The English Department here has a weekly seminar, at which staff and students strut their research, usually in the form of trying out conference papers, book chapters, or thesis-proposals. So for several years now I have been presenting aspects or conundrums arising from my editing of De Doctrina, This time, I thought my long-suffering colleagues had heard enough about Milton's theology and its Latin or its MS. Instead, as a day-after sequel to an alumni reunion which featured a performance of Paradise Lost Book IX, we invited the alumni to meet the usual auditory to hear an easygoing talk about "The People of Paradise Lost." It was a slide-show, using the riches of Google Image, to tell the story of PL.
The first four "people" were subjects of Milton's allusions there: Galileo, Moses, Homer, and Charlemagne. the next four people had to do with the poem's publication: Ellwood, Simmons, L'Estrange, and Marvell. The third foursome comprised Bentley, Masson, Darbishire, and Empson. Four contemporaries completed the 4 x 4. It was well received, what with calculated beverages afterwards.
I'm sharing it in this medium because it was enjoyable and useful, to me at my place. Much of the story of the poem has to do with its people. My sixteen embraced people within the poem who are less important than its characters or personages. Or ones who helped or hindered its first appearances. Or stood out for some reason in its reception. It's all the sort of thing we all know, but don't find occasion to teach, nor to write about except in a specialist way. The human story, strung together by images and power-point.
Once upon a time, it might have made a radio talk. Now, if outsiders or generalists like to watch and listen, in a relaxed way, who knows whether it might humanise a poem which (alas) many folk find remote, or forbidding, or indefinitely postponable. The portrait-gallery, like performances, might make such folk think again and give the poem a try. John Hale
MILTON’S PARADISE LOST BOOK IX
The opportunity came up to take Paradise Lost to an unusual general audience this week — a reunion of alumni who had majored in English. I'm passing on some impressions, in case they interest other people or might help their outreach. The reunion met to hear Book IX. Rehearsed stalwarts took the story up to Satan's opening gambit. Then volunteers did the rest unrehearsed. I was hoping the stalwarts would generate enough momentum to encourage all and sundry to pitch in, living again their participation as undergraduates in my Milton marathons. I was expecting a genial shambles after half time, as rusty readers murmured or muttered. Instead, an opposite result. The standard of the rehearsed readers deterred the inexperienced, and it was the smaller number of the theatre buffs or teachers who volunteered. They had the best passages and excelled. It became one of the best performances ever. A silence followed, like the one which acclaims a worthy performance of music.
I concluded that (1) was mistaken to mix the two kinds of reading (2)I wish we had recorded the whole event for podcast to alumni globally, not just the first half and (30the kind of reading where novices learn on the job belongs with an all-day reading of the whole poem, and with students who benefit most directly from having no option but to read, and so (4)being retired, I miss the regular teaching which enables me to go the whole hog, and yet (5)there is such extraordinary power, even by Milton's stellar standard, in Book IX that no amount of re-ceding dulls or stales it, rather (6)I found many new things or things made new, not to mention (7)that some participants' responses gave me more new leads afterwards.
Here's part of one such response, from a former research student, Sarah Entwistle:
"Wasn't last night a wonderfully successful evening? Congratulations to you, your loyal family, Alison, the readers and the backstage crew and everyone else who helped make it such an enjoyable event. I thought the unrehearsed reading in the second half went extremely well - the seating, ordering, staging, and marked script all made for a smoothly run and coherent performance. It was lovely watching the way the readers entered into the spirit of it all. I think that this style of performance is well worth repeating - it lets you potentially point or emphasise particular themes or episodes in the poem and it's a less demanding way of being introduced to Paradise Lost. It can't or shouldn't replace the Marathon event - I don't think anything compares to that experience - but focusing closely on one book or a very few means that the audience have the opportunity to to really absorb more of the poem - the vocabulary, the imagery, and the characters. Book 9 is an excellent choice - I know it can be humorous in part but I actually find it excruciating listening to two people decimate each other and I thought the delivery of the very final lines, in particular, last night captured that.
"It's hard when we know the story and there is so much overlay about the whole male/female cliches in style of argument (and I think the cliches are the point - that's one of the consequences - genuine and deep thought, genuine recognition each of the other, has been damaged) - but it seems to me as much as Adam and Eve are accusing one another they're also dealing with the mind numbingly catastrophic implications of what they've done. Those lines about Adam dropping the garland are awful. To me, they're working things out - as much as Eve might be indignant about being a rib stuck to Adam's side she's also asking a genuine question - was that how she was to live? The way in which they move further and further away from logic and reason and compassion is very real and very powerful - human beings do that when they're defensive, angry or frightened."
"All a bit of a rave - but see - that's what an evening like last night generates!" John Hale
3. TWO SHORT CUTS TO PARADISE LOST
Paradise Lost, after Edward Lear
Limericks by Carol Wyvill.
Beelzebub said: 'Let's give in.
We'll suffer the less for our sin.'
But Satan would rather
Strike back at the Father
With cunning, still hoping to win.
Satan rallied his troops with a shout,
And explained what revenge is about.
They concocted a plan
For the ruin of man,
Then he hastened to carry it out.
Man will fall. Could it be that God blew it?
No. It's predicted. God knew it.
Man's salvation to buy,
Someone else has to die.
The Son of God offers to do it.
Into Eden the enemy crept,
Almost turned sentimental, and wept,
But hardened his heart
And soon made a start
By tempting poor Eve while she slept.
Raphael soon dropped in for a visit.
His warnings were stern and explicit.
A sinister stranger
Would place them in danger.
They wondered: 'This ‘danger’ . . . what is it?'
Raphael tells of two days of war
Between matched angels — a draw.
On the third day God's Son
Came to join in the fun,
And the rebels were dropped in Hell's maw.
Still more of the angel's oration:
He described (at great length) the Creation.
It's a tale to amaze:
It took only six days.
Adam listened in rapt admiration.
Then Adam spoke, thrilled to the core.
He said, 'Eve's the one I adore!'
'But make sure it's god you love more.'
To the serpent's wiles Eve did succumb.
She ate, and she gave Adam some.
His head said, 'You'll rue it,'
His heart urged him, 'Do it.'
He ate. Satan's mission was done.
The couple were covered with shame.
They fought about who was to blame.
By love still beguiled
They were soon reconciled.
But they'd fallen from grace, all the same.
The Archangel Michael, in verse
Which was long-winded rather than terse,
Related to Adam
Things which would happen.
So Adam felt better — and worse.
They were kicked out of Eden, it's true.
No wonder they felt a bit blue.
But the changed world was wide,
And they walked side by side,
Setting off to begin life anew.
Limericks by Carol Wyvill.
Even Briefer: Paradise Lost in sonnet form
When Satan fell, defeated in the fray,
He vowed revenge, with viciousness and guile.
And graciously God let him go his way,
To make of Man's obedience a trial.
When Satan spoke seductively to Eve,
That fragile female ate the fruit, and fell,
And Adam, agonised, began to grieve,
So much in love that he was lost as well.
God, growing grumpy, drove them from the garden,
They bickered over who deserved the blame,
But soon repented, praying God for pardon,
He gave them garb to gown their naked shame.
Thus Adam, too besotted to say 'No,'
Brought death into the world and all our woe.
Sonnet by Carol Wyvill.