William Shakespeare and John Milton
Welcome to my page on the two most influential English writers of the late sixteenth-seventeenth centuries and, arguably, two of the most important writers in the history of the English language. The purpose of the pages that follow is to explore some of their works in my characteristic fashion--by clear and full expositions of some of their most noteworthy writings. I will not give extensive biographies of either here, leaving that to easily-accessible pages on the Net, though I will mention their course of life to the extent that it might help clarify ideas and words.
The goal of these expositions is that you might not only appreciate their literary vision and rhetorical power, but also might be challenged to develop your own literary tyle by either building upon, or reacting against, these giants. Despite the current emphasis on minimizing the legacy of some significant figures who shaped many minds of the West, I think it best to give them their due, internalize what is useful, discard what isn't, and then plunge into our own efforts to define and tame the world in which we live. All of this is in quest of the vision suggested to us in the Biblical book of Proverbs, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver" (Proverbs 25:11). I hope that this page will contribute not only to your appreciation of these masters of English poetry and drama, but to the way that language can help shape your own and others' worlds.
On the following pages, you will find a detailed exposition of Book I of Paradise Lost (written in the late 1650s-mid 1660s), with twenty additional essays on Paradise Lost, as well as expositions of the language of several of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets [The latter is still under construction]. Other essays will probe aspects of their writing or lives that might only be tangentially related to their "great works." My hope is that you will increasingly look at your lives as one of mastery--through understanding, even memorizing, some of the memorable ways of framing classic stories (Paradise Lost) or human interactions (Shakespeare's plays). Your quest for mastery, perhaps initiated in your native language, can then take on new depth and insight as you, especially like Milton, immerse yourselves in other language traditions, literatures, modes of expression and histories.
But mastery goes far beyond what might be suggested here. You can use the method of close attention to important things or texts to initiate your own quest for mastery, whatever your chosen field. Time spent with Shakespeare and Milton might very well make you more aware of the importance of calling things by their right names (such as parts of the body for a doctor or names of plants for a botanist) or inventing new names for the things that you see. But if you launch out on your quest for mastery by having one template in your mind and being rooted in one tradition, you will the more easily be open to mastery of other information, familiar or not, that comes your way.
Click here for my Shakespeare page.