Letter: Wherefore art thou, Milton?

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The Independent Online
Sir: I must confess to a vested interest in the reputation of an Old Pauline: the address probably speaks for itself. Gavin Griffiths's letter (16 December) is remarkable. The claims he advances for the ability 'to read Shakespeare well', an odd concept in itself, could all be made for Milton. His rejection of the necessity for a historical background to enable one to read Shakespeare is arguable at best, dangerous at worst.

One does not need to be a new historicist to see how much Shakespeare's plays are enriched by a knowledge of their context nor a Marxist to see that it is undesirable to attempt to divorce them from it. I understand why a Westminster beak should assume that Shakespeare is an Elizabethan, but it would be unwise to ignore his Jacobean plays.

One needs no more and no less knowledge of religion to understand both Measure for Measure and the Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity; Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes are deeply personal poems and Lycidas and Comus contain passages of lyrical delight accessible to most readers without the use of extensive footnotes.

If that Old Westminster John Marenbon wishes to strengthen the country's English syllabuses with the products of a Pauline, Cantabrigian and European educated mind he has my support.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN VENNING

Head of English

The Milton Building

St Paul's School

London, SW13

16 December

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