Every time that English 303 is offered – a course that focuses on John Milton and his epic poem, Paradise Lost – U of R English Professor Jeanne Shami organizes the live Paradise Lost readings. The poem describes the temptation of Adam and Eve, the fall of Satan and the rebel angels, and the exile from the Garden of Eden. Paradise Lost is divided into twelve separate books, each of them representing a chapter of verse.
Since English 303 was not offered last year, it has been two years since Paradise Lost was last read in public at the U of R, and three years before that. On average it’s performed every two years. The readings are free for the public to attend, and students and teachers alike are encouraged to participate in the readings themselves.
I spoke with organizer and staging director Professor Jeanne Shami in order to find out more about the readings and what is involved in the process.
The Carillon: How long has the reading of the poem been going on?
Jeanne Shami: I’ve been doing them for about fifteen years.
TC: How can people get involved in the readings?
JS: My students get first priority, and then a call is sent out to the other professors. Right now, most of the parts are filled except for a few minor rolls – the demons, which have a few lines in the books. There will probably be another call if they’re not filled up.
TC: How many people are usually involved in this?
JS: There are usually around 22 readers.
TC: Where does the poem take place?
JS: The three settings we use are Heaven, Hell, and Eden.
TC: What is the main focus of the poem?
JS: It shows the revenge attempt of Satan against God, and how he tries to make Adam and Eve break away from God. The twist of it all is that it shows opportunities for reconciliation and how Adam and Even use hard work to restore themselves.
Even people who aren’t religious will like Paradise Lost. It focuses on the big questions such as: what is good and what is evil? What is liberty and what is freedom?
TC: How are the readings put on?
JS: The readers will be sitting on the stage on chairs, and when it is there turn to read they will get up and recite their part. There is also going to be a projector that will be showing pictures by Gustave Dore, a French artist who created pictures for Paradise Lost.
TC: Have there ever been any problems with putting on the reading?
JS: One year we split the readings into 4 hours on three days. People didn’t really become engaged with the play, but apart from that we’ve never had any difficulties. The only problem that we could expect would be someone’s voice giving out.
TC: Is there anyone who is usually involved in Paradise Lost? What’s it like working with them?
JS: Nick Ruddick has played Satan in almost every reading of the play. He’s English, so he knows how to speak the language, meaning when you tell him to read he just goes, and he knows what he’s doing. He’s an actor himself, and he’s wonderful to work with.
The Paradise Lost readings take about an hour for each book, so those who want to stay for the whole reading will be in for twelve epic hours of Miltonic verse. It will be taking place from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 in the Shubox Theatre in the Riddell Center.