English 9183

Marlowe and Milton

Instructor: Professor J. Leonard
Full Year Course.

The course will examine the plays, poems, and translations of Christopher Marlowe in conjunction with the complete poems of John Milton. Marlowe has long been recognized as exercising a stylistic influence on Milton’s blank verse, but numerous allusions and verbal echoes of Marlowe in Milton (often unnoted by editors) suggest that the influence goes much deeper than that. Marlowe’s Hero and Leander and Milton’s Paradise Lost are perhaps the only two major works of English literature where the main characters are naked for most of the action (though Hero and Leander are never naked at the same time). Milton even lifted the phrase “naked glory” straight (or maybe not so straight) from Marlowe’s (homo)erotic epyllion. The extent of Marlowe’s importance to Milton has been obscured for one simple reason. Milton is usually seen as a poet of high seriousness and Christian morality; Marlowe, by contrast, is seen as a “bad boy,” an atheist champion of same-sex love, Machiavellian politics, and overreaching. Milton’s Satan has sometimes been likened to Faustus and Tamburlaine, but this course will explore the sustained presence of Marlowe throughout Milton’s poetic career, from early works like A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle (which repeatedly echoes Hero and Leander) through to Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. We shall also look at Areopagitica for Milton’s theory about the good use to which bad books can be put. Miltonists have presented Spenser as the Elizabethan poet who mattered most to Milton, but a case can be made that Marlowe was even more important to him—the devil’s poet who spoke to Milton’s dark side, and the poet he could not have written without.