BMS 57

Saturday 10 March 2018

Venue: **PLEASE NOTE** University of Birmingham, Edgbaston campus (Peter Gelling Library: Room 315, Arts Building) – please below for directions. There will be two sessions, from 11.00 am to 12.30 pm and from 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm

This special session of the BMS is the first in a series of events in 2018 co-organised by Hannah Crawforth (KCL) and Sarah Knight (Leicester) around the subject of difficulty in early modern literature. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of George Steiner’s influential essay ‘On Difficulty’ (1978), an attempt to provide a taxonomy of difficulty and to argue for its central importance in literature and philosophy. Steiner’s essay discusses several early modern authors and their classical and continental models, including Dante, Horace, Spenser, Chaucer, Ovid, Shakespeare and Milton.

The term is variously used in early modern English, as we might expect. Thomas More suggests that the ‘dyffyculte’ of St Paul’s ‘wrytyng’ leads readers to find ‘sumtyme some mater of contencyon’ (Supplication of Souls; 1529), while in The art or crafte of rhetoryke (1532), Leonard Cox states that ‘all excellent & commendable thyng be hard & of difficulty’. In Of Education (1644), to choose just one example, Milton writes of learning other tongues that ‘if the language be difficult, so much the better’, and of the riches available to students once they have mastered Greek and Latin, ‘the difficulties of grammar being soon overcome’.

We hope to stimulate discussion of the topic of Milton and difficulty in a broad and varied sense.

Our aim is to try to deepen understanding and discussion of ‘difficulty’ as an aesthetic, critical and ideological category in early modern literature and thought. We encourage all participants to read Steiner’s essay beforehand: it was published in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 36.3 (Spring, 1978): 263-276. We also encourage participants to consider their own examples of difficulty in Milton, and to bring those along to the seminar to discuss with the group.


Sarah Knight (Leicester)

Peter Auger (Birmingham)


Hannah Crawforth (KCL)

Joe Moshenka (Cambridge)

Paul Hammond (Leeds)


The Peter Gelling Library (Room 315) is on the third floor of the Arts Building on the Edgbaston campus of the University of Birmingham.

For directions to the Edgbaston campus, please see:

For a map of the Edgbaston campus (the Arts Building is marked as R16), please see:

For further information about the British Milton Seminar, please contact either:

Dr Hugh Adlington ( or Professor Sarah Knight (