John Milton (1608 – 1674) is one of those poets who seem to be largely ignored today. Shakespeare we still read and study; Milton, who was just as brilliant a writer as Shakespeare, comes with baggage, from a contemporary cultural perspective.
For one thing, he was religious. For another thing, he was one of those Puritan-types, having even written a poem condoning the execution of Charles I. And a third thing was that he served in the British government under Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector. Cromwell was so hated by the royalists that, upon the Restoration in 1660, his body was removed from its tomb in Westminster Abbey, hung, beheaded, and thrown into the Thames.
|The young John Milton|
Milton was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower. (Why does this sound so vaguely like current American politics?) And yet he had written some of the most beautiful poetry in the English language that Charles II relented and freed the blind poet after a few months. Ours was the benefit: Milton’s epics, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, still lay ahead, published in 1667 and 1671, respectively.
Joe Moshenska, professor of English literature at University College, Oxford, loves the works of Milton. His study, research, and teaching center in the 1500 to 1700 period in English literature. He received his Ph.D. degree from Princeton University. He’s published Feeling Pleasures: The Sense of Touch in Renaissance England (2014), The Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby (2016), and Iconoclasm at Child’s Play (2019).
And now Moshenska turns his full attention to Milton. Making Darkness Light: The Lives and Times of John Milton is a biography, of sorts.