In a refreshing raising of tone from Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, we have a John Milton Season on Radio 3. Overseas listeners should be able to catch some of it on BBC i-Player, or Listen Again (h/t) Alan:
BBC Radio 3 commemorates the 400th anniversary of the birth of poet John Milton (1608–74) with a host of programmes exploring his life and works during December 2008.
John Milton was also a polemicist and civil servant for the Commonwealth of England and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost, his treatise Areopagitica and his radical republican views and thoughts on divorce.
Sunday Feature: Adventurous Song, Sunday 7 December, 9.30–10.15pm
David Norbrook, Merton Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, explores the evolving views of Milton over the centuries and his importance to us today.
He searches for a sense of the man, on the streets – and Tube, where his poems are displayed – of the city of London, in the church where he is buried, and by looking at the Milton artefacts in the Bodleian Library.
It places his work in the context of the social and political turmoil of Milton's times.
Professor Norbrook responds personally to the life and the work of the man and how his prose moves him 400 years after it was written.
The Essay, Monday 8 to Friday 12 December, 11.00–11.15pm
As well as writing the great poems, Milton was engaged, embroiled even, in politics and he wrote essays, pamphlets and tracts. The Essay devotes a week to Milton as an essayist.
Martyn Crucefix, a poet who also teaches in a secondary school, responds to Milton's Of Education.
Sharon Achinstein, who is editing his tracts on divorce, will consider his controversial thoughts on the subject. In 1644 he seems to have called for no fault divorce on the ground of mutual incompatibility, which the law finally allowed in 1977.
Andreas Whittam Smith, as someone who has edited a newspaper and been a film censor, considers Areopagitica, a work described by Anna Beer in her recent biography of Milton as "one of the most powerful and inspirational works in the English language".
John Milton's extraordinary abilities as a linguist led to his appointment as Secretary for Foreign Tongues for the English Commonwealth, and his job was to answer attacks against it. In his essay Tom Paulin scrutinises Milton's republican thinking.
Annabel Patterson, Sterling Professor of English, Emeritus, at Yale University, and herself an émigré, considers the impact the English poet and pamphleteer had on figures such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams – and the influence he still exercises in America today.
Drama On 3: Samson Agonistes
Drama On 3 presents a new production of Samson Agonistes (Sunday 14 December, 8.00pm), the "dramatic poem" published in 1671, three years before the poet's death.
Written in the form of a Greek tragedy, with the Chorus commenting on the action, it follows the biblical story of the blind Samson wreaking his revenge on the Philistines who have imprisoned him.
A powerful subject, with a personal resonance for the blind Milton, it is a perfect work for the medium of radio where poetry and drama can be balanced equally.
This new production, directed by John Tydeman, features Iain Glen in the title role, with Samantha Bond as Dalila, Philip Madoc as Harapha and Michael Maloney as the Messenger.
Acclaimed actor Anton Lesser reads the complete Paradise Lost (12 books), Milton's best known work, every weekday at 5.00pm and at the weekend at 9.30pm, from Monday 22 December to Friday 2 January.
Every day from Sunday 7 to Sunday 14 December, actor Robert Glenister reads many of Milton's poems including Lycidas, On the Morning of Christ's Nativity and Sonnet X1X. The poems are dropped in three times a day at Breakfast, at 2.00pm and during In Tune at 6.00pm. Robert Glenister has appeared in BBC TV's Spooks and Hustle as well as with the RSC and at the National Theatre.
The Australian poet John Kinsella, who has written what he calls a Miltonic anti-masque, will be among Ian McMillan's guests on The Verb on Friday 12 December at 9.15pm.
The Early Music Show focuses on Milton's masque in honour of chastity, Comus, recorded at Ludlow Castle, where Milton's masque was first performed in 1634 (Saturday 13 December, 1.00–2.00pm).