He puts out a column like this one and makes me like him again.
He really puts his finger on why I remain a Miltonist first and a Shakespearean second when he gets to what people want to talk about after experiencing each:
Nigel Smith’s most recent book is entitled “Is Milton Better Than Shakespeare?” The title is a publisher’s teaser and the answer to the question (as Smith knows) is, No, he’s different. And the difference is that after reading or seeing a Shakespeare play you want to sit down and discuss the glories of Shakespeare, whereas after reading a Milton poem you want to sit down and discuss the ideas and imperatives he has thrust at you.
Indeed. As folks who know me know, I’m no Oscar-Wilde-style aestheticist by any stretch; my classes are occasions to take on the big questions of God, morality, sex, money, murder, and loyalty, and I leave the nitpicky formalist stuff to teachers who lack the stomach for a good fight. That’s not to say that a discussion of such things will ignore form; on the contrary, as Aristotle teaches us, poetry is helpful for such explorations precisely because it’s an imitation: it stylizes and highlights and does all those great artistic things precisely so that human beings’ powers of analogical cognition can kick in.
Ah, Milton. I think I might start my summer reading of PL and PR soon.
Happy 400th, John.