New Milton Course at the Osher Institute U.C. Berkeley

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute : 26 January - 1 March 2016: Mondays 1-3 p.m. in room 41B University Hall, U.C. Berkeley

Instructor: Hugh Macrae Richmond, Professor of English Emeritus UCB, D.Phil (Oxford U.) B.A. (Cambridge U.). Author of The Christian Revolutionary: John Milton; and John Milton’s Drama of Paradise Lost. Producer of performances of Comus, Paradise Lost and of the video documentary Milton by Himself.


John Milton is a hero to Millennials: C. S. Lewis based Perelandra on Paradise Lost; Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy mirrors the epic; Mark Morris’s best ballet is L’Allegro and Il Penseroso; digital artist Terrance Lindall created virtual images of Paradise Lost for the Oxford U. Press; Comus is the originator and lead Krewe for the New Orleans Carnival, and the name of an acoustic-art rock band. Paradise Lost provides the basis for one of the most successful recent video games, The Talos Principle, in which Milton plays a major character. His autobiographical recoveries from failed ambition provide therapy for modern trauma. We cover, audio-visually, the relevance of Sonnets, Lycidas, Comus, Paradise Lost (Books 1 & 2, 9 & 10), Paradise Regained (Book IV), and Samson Agonistes.


The purpose of the course is to illustrate and explain John Milton’s great modern popularity by showing his unique relevance to our own current culture, its resources, and its challenges. There will be two phases to each session: presentation about the texts (and audiovisuals of their modern analogues, where available), followed by open discussion, after a ten-minute break.


1. Modern Autobiography: Sonnets 1, 7, 9, 13, 18, 19, 23; L’Allegro & Il Penseroso (videos: Milton by Himself, Handel & Morris) Preparation: read the seven sonnets and two poems. If you have access to the internet explore (via YouTube, etc.) Handel’s setting for; L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, e Il Moderato, and any clips of the Mark Morris ballet set to it. Clips are also available on the UCB website to be found at (and some will be presented in class). Discussion: Why is Milton’s self-awareness still significant?

2. Failures Transcended: Lycidas, Comus (videos: music & staging) Read the poem and playlet. Audiovisuals are available on the website Milton Revealed. Discussion will center on the causes of Milton’s continual failures and how his remarkable recoveries and transcendence remain rewarding.

3. Milton, Satan, Pullman: Paradise Lost (Books I & 2: images & video) Read the first two Books of Paradise Lost These are available as performance on the Milton Revealed site as Paradise Lost Part 1. Illustrations from The Talos Principle. Discussion: Why do many modern readers from Blake, Shelley, to Empson and Pullman, feel Satan is heroic?

4. Eve as Heroine: Paradise Lost (Books 9 & 10: images & video), These Books are staged on Milton Revealed as Parts 7, 8, and 9. Discussion centers on Milton’s surprisingly modern view of marital and sexual parity, and how Milton’s Eve emerges as the dynamic key to human evolution, despite some feminists’ view of her.

5. Beyond Rome & Athens: Paradise Regained (Bk IV: performed) The last book of Paradise Regained reorganizes humanistic perspective about the role of the classics in modern awareness, focused on MiIton’s vivid evocation (and censure) of ancient Greece and Rome.

6. Motives for Action: Samson Agonistes. (Handel opera, etc.) Read the play and explore, on YouTube and Milton Revealed, Handel’s magnificent Samson, derived from Milton’s tragedy, an opera which is a key part of Handel’s remarkable modern celebrity in concerts and opera houses world-wide. Discussion: What are the motives and validations sought by terrorists in the modern world?


All texts are available on the internet at various sites under the search title of John Milton: The Complete Poems, one of the more accessible being the Guttenberg to be found at Alternatively there are many reliable very inexpensive paperback editions. available from Amazon, ebay, and most bookshops. Our web-site survey of some relevant audio-visual materials is accessible at

5. ACCESS: the Instructor may be reached at