The Idler Guide to Paradise Lost with Anna Beer

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The Idler Guide to Paradise Lost with Anna Beer

Of all the major English poets, John Milton (1608-1674) was by far the most deeply involved in the political and religious controversies of his time. In the Idler Academy’s online course, Milton expert Anna Beer pinpoints these political and religious revolutions, and shows how they forced a complete re-thinking of the nature and practice not only of government, but of human freedom itself.

In Paradise Lost, first published in 1667, Milton used his astounding learning to articulate and explore with passion and eloquence the great questions that trouble us even now, challenging us still to provide some answers of our own.

Often thought of as a difficult writer, reading Milton is in fact an absolute pleasure – once you plunge in. This course offers the interested reader a guide through the entirety of Paradise Lost, celebrating the beauty of Milton’s words, the power of his ideas, and offering ways in to thinking about the poem in its historical context – and its significance to us now.

You will receive course notes, a reading list, an interactive quiz and a lovely certificate on completion.

There will also be a special Idler Academy “Meet the Tutor” real-time Q&A session with Anna Beer.

About the Tutor

Anna Beer is a cultural historian, Renaissance literature scholar, and biographer. She is author of Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, and Patriot, published in 2008 to coincide with the 400th anniversary of John Milton’s birth, and described by Andrew Motion as the ‘anniversary present he deserves’. Milton built on her many years exploring the author’s poetry and prose with her students, many in public access courses, and seeing the pleasure and satisfaction derived from engaging closely with such remarkable, if challenging, literature. Amongst Anna’s other books are Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music and, most recently, Eve Bites Back: An Alternative History of English Literature. She is a Visiting Fellow at Kellogg College, University of Oxford and also a literary consultant for Oxford Writing Mentors.

What you Get

On-demand videos: six video lessons to watch any time

Live online session: “Meet the Tutor” Q&A with Anna Beer

Weekly online reading group: Wednesday 2 August 23 – Wednesday 18 October 23

Audio: the option to download and listen to the lessons in podcast form

Downloadable notes: in your printable notes you’ll find a course introduction, lesson summaries, a reading list, and a timeline of Milton’s life

Exclusive course forum: here you can chat and swap tips with fellow students from the Idler community

Quiz: test what you’ve learned with our fun multiple choice quiz

Certificate: when you pass the quiz you will be sent a personalised Idler Academy Certificate of Completion


Course Outline

Lesson One: In the Beginning (and in the End) (49 minutes)

We learn about Milton’s republican beliefs and the unstable social context into which Paradise Lost was published. Anna guides us through Books 1 and 2 of Paradise Lost, paying particular attention to Milton’s representation of Satan and his fiendish politics.

Lesson Two: Adam and Eve (and Satan) (27 minutes)

What is the role of God in Milton’s epic poem and why is it so controversial? Anna talks us through Books 3 and 4, and explores the theme of free will that is central to Paradise Lost. We enter the Garden of Eden where we first meet Adam and Eve.

Lesson Three: War and Why Milton Can Be Tough Going (28 minutes)

Anna takes us through Books 5, 6 and into 7, and discusses the drawbacks presented by later editions of Paradise Lost.

Lesson Four: Back to Adam and Eve (and Satan) (26 minutes)

In this lesson, Anna focuses on Book 8, in which Adam talks to archangel Raphael. We read from the poem, finding out how Adam remembers the moment Eve was created from his rib, and what this reveals about Milton’s views on sex and marriage.

Lesson Five: The Fall (33 minutes)

We reach Book 9, which Anna describes as the “centre of the action” in Paradise Lost. We learn about how Milton constructs Satan’s interiority, giving the reader insight into the motives of the epic poem’s great villain. Anna reads from the moment that Eve takes the forbidden fruit and eats it.

Lesson Six: The Fall-Out (24 minutes)

We analyse the consequences following Adam and Eve’s decision to eat from the Tree of Life in the remaining Books 10, 11 and 12 of Paradise Lost. Anna finishes with Eve’s final words, and the striking image of the couple “hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow” walking away from the Garden of Eden.

Meet the Tutor: This is your chance to meet Anna Beer and ask questions. 26th July 2023 at 6pm (45 minutes)

Everyone enrolled on this course by 24th July 2023 plus all Idler Academy members will receive an invitation to this exclusive event. You will find more information and a booking link on the course page.