I have adapted the following list from Robert Halli's suggestions in his essay "'Proportion Due Giv'n and Receiv'd': Tailoring Paradise Lost to the Survey Course" from the first edition of the MLA's Approaches to Teaching Milton's Paradise Lost. It works beautifully in the classroom, both in a sophomore-level survey and in an advanced high school classroom.
Selected passages to excerpt
- Book 1.1-330 (Satan and the devils wake up in a lake of fire after losing the battle against God and his angels. They discuss the “tyranny” of heaven)
- Book 2.299-485 and 629-1055 (Beëlzebub names the motivation and the strategy for their continuing war against God; Satan journeys out of hell)
- Book 3.1-302 (God and the Son discuss what is about to happen in paradise, and the Son offers himself as a sacrifice)
- Book 4.1-408 and 440-491 (Satan arrives in Paradise and sees Adam and Eve for the first time; Eve recounts her earliest memories to Adam)
- Book 9.192-794 (First half of the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve)
- Book 9.795-1189 (Second half of the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve)
- Book 10.452-577 and 706-1104 (Satan arrives back in Hell to tell the demons of his triumph; Eve tries to comfort Adam in his despair, and they both repent)
- Book 12.466-649 (Adam responds to Michaël’s prophecy about the Son and then leaves Paradise with Eve)
At Halli's suggestion, I have structured the excerpts around the theme of justice and mercy, really only adding Eve's recollection of her creation in Book 4 (this topic is pertinent because it contributes to the discussion that develops in the class about whether Eve's creation sets her up for a fall, and whether that is "just" or not.)
Both at UC Davis and at the OHS, I have found that many students are so intrigued by the theme and the poem that they read beyond the minimum requirements. I think that these excerpts allow for students to "see the forest" without having to read more, but those who wish to wander further into that forest have lots of accessible entry points. (I sound so Spenserian all of a sudden! -- I promise I am not leading you into Error's Den.)
In addition, I have several pieces of canonical Milton criticism that I assign for the students' homework presentation assignment. All of these are excerpted in Gordon Teskey's Norton Critical Edition of the poem, but I would recommend that you provide students with scans of fuller passages than what Teskey excerpts in his edition. Unlike most Norton Critical Editions, this book divides the same essay up into multiple parts and puts the different parts into sections related to either characters ("On Satan," "On God," "On Adam and Eve," etc.) or topics ("On Style," "On Feminism," etc.). The result is that the argument in a single book is disrupted and, therefore, hard to follow. Teskey's selection of texts is excellent but his choice of presentation is poor.
Here are the passages that I recommend:
- C.S. Lewis, "Satan," "The Fall," and "Conclusion" from A Preface to Paradise Lost (Oxford: Oxford University Press): 94-103, and 125-137.
- Northrop Frye, selections from "The Garden Within" and "Children of God and Nature" in The Return of Eden: Five Essays on Milton's Epics (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965): 60-72, 98-103.
- Stanley Fish, "Not so much a Teaching as an Intangling" and selections from "The Milk of the Pure Word" in Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost, 2nd. ed. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998): 1-12, 80-92.
- Barbara Lewalski, selections from "'Higher Arguments': Completing and Publishing Paradise Lost" in The Life of John Milton: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000): 479-88.
These critical passages certainly help to pique student interest. Part of the reason my students pushed beyond the minimum reading requirement is because they were encountering interesting passages in the critical reading, and they wanted to experience the poem own their own.
Coming up next: a writing assignment I use for Paradise Lost.