In order to better understand Milton I read several articles dedicated to his privileged life. I now have more information about Milton’s life than I ever wanted. He was born into hella privilege which allowed him to study under private tutors until his admittance into a private school. He had so much privilege, in fact, that after he graduated from that school in his early twenties, he took a tour of Europe on his family’s dime and only returned because of the looming threat of the English civil war. He allegedly met Galileo during this tour which he references in some of his work and married three separate times, all to women much younger than himself that birthed several of his children. Eventually, he went totally blind and then later died. I can’t say his life was particularly challenging although it was, without a doubt, full of its own challenges, I’m sure.
The thing about being an English major is that a majority of the respected writers we, as a department, are meant to cherish are anglo* men. I think the only time I’ve ever taken classes that aren’t centered on anglo male writers have been when the classes are specifically not about anglo men (i.e. ENGL353 women writers, AFAM491 black feminist thought). Those classes have been extremely rewarding, even if they weren’t specifically applicable to my own experience. I want to be in those classes, I want to know how people who have historically been disenfranchised used this colonizer language to write their own experiences. Yet, the requirements for English majors reflect an overwhelmingly anglo array of writers from “literature prior to 1700” to “literature from 1700-1945”. Those classes bore me, and maybe it’s because a lot of those writers would have hated to even look upon my non-white skin, or maybe it’s because the language is difficult to understand and fully appreciate in this 21st century (I’m looking directly into your eyes, Mark Twain), either way, they kind of really suck.
And this class is no exception: it continues to champion the anglo man whose poetic efforts were made while many PoCs were squished under the comfortability Milton and his likeness experienced, even if not directly under his knowledge. Cause that is part of the problem, too, it’s a privilege to be able to live your life under a spell of ignorance because these issues aren’t societal issues you ever have to contemplate. That isn’t to say Milton wasn’t an activist or whatever because he was extremely anti-King Chalres I, but he was an activist for only the issues that directly affected his life without taking into consideration the hardships others might be facing.
Maybe this feels kind of tangental to Milton and his poetry we’re studying but it’s a part of the larger issue of colonialism. People like Milton are celebrated for both their linguistic talent and their ability to step forward as leaders as he was largely political, many even speculate he witnessed King Charles I’s beheading. He is apparently so special that we are studying his poetry at this institution over 400 years later. Yet, I have to ask, is his work really any better than anything else written in olde English? How many of us can really understand the language in its raw, unedited form? People who have studied that sh*t, that’s who, and I definitely have not and never wanted to. But here I am being forced to learn from/about this person who is less impressive than other writers and probably more racist, after all, England was one of the leading states in enslaving Africans and pillaging and raping in the name of mother England. Maybe this sounds weirdly critical, maybe it is, but it’s also important to consider the amount of privilege this person has been afforded that a working class brown girl would be writing about him 400 years later, and let me tell you, it’s not because of his talent.
Also, I wanna say this isn’t meant to specifically target this class, I’m sure it’s gonna be great. This is about the larger picture that a very large portion of the classes English majors are required to take are anglo centered, despite both an evolving, diverse population and personal interest.
*I’m using anglo here as a broad term to categorize all white people of European lineage without acknowledgment of differing terms among specific origin groups