Since 1667, John Milton’s Paradise Lost has awed, angered, and inspired readers. It’s a poem of enormous ambition and profound beauty, one that novelists, classical composers, punk rock bands, political radicals, and contemporary filmmakers have engaged with in creative and generative ways. Written by one of the most educated men of the English Renaissance, this epic poem probes both the sweetness of romantic love and the corruption of the church and the political state — all the while demanding that its readers make active choices.
“Give me liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties,” Milton writes in Aeropagetica. This semester English 389R will center on knowing, communicating, and arguing freely about Milton’s poetry, prose, and all that it enkindles.
“Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rule of law finally replaces warfare, humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination”
Seven years after William Shakespeare died, one of the world’s most important books was published: a collection of thirty-six plays that we now call the “First Folio.” Without the First Folio, we would not have Julius Caesar,Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, or two plays that have profoundly changed the way that I think , Measure for Measure and Twelfth Night. We also wouldn’t have the iconic stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear” (The Winter’s Tale). As Georgia Tech phases out its physical library, and as the world celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a First Folio tour, this course will investigate what the First Folio affords us in the twenty-first century.
Shakespeare’s lines reverberate not only on stages, movie screens, and in classrooms, but also in courtrooms: he has been cited in more than 800 judicial opinions. This course will explore three of Shakespeare’s plays through the lens of the law, examining the ways in which justice, punishment, and litigation are a cultural practice often rooted in our shared stories. More specifically, all three of our plays this semester − King Lear, Measure for Measure, and Merchant of Venice − center around themes of the law’s violence. How violent does the law need to be to control violence? That’s the question that Shakespeare investigates, and one that we will consider in the context of our own legally violent society.
(The Chandos Portrait of William Shakespeare, c. 1600-1610, attributed to John Taylor. National Portrait Gallery, London.)