For the past year, I've been trying to understand Paradise Lost, by John Milton. My first attempt back in 4/4/2012 was mostly unsuccessful, since I got through the poem, but didn't really understand it. I plan on trying again, this time going through it very slowly and carefully with MUCH deliberation. I will also read some retellings, criticisms, and interpretations along the way. This will be a long an bumpy ride. I'm working from three different texts, and one narration:
The Barnes and Noble Edition, ed. David Hawkes
If you get this edition, be sure to buy a hard copy and not the ebook, because the end-of-page footnotes are very awkward on the Nook.
The Norton Critical Edition, ed. Gordon Teskey
The text of this book is easiest for reading. Teskey modernized the spelling and punctuation within the limits of Milton's syntax. Teskey says that the punctuation in the original printings shouldn't be assumed to be the poet's intention. At the time of publication, punctuation was the job of copyists and printers, not of poets. Therefore, modernized punctuation allows for greater clarity without losing Milton's original intent.
Helpful line-by-line footnotes are provided at the bottom of each page. These help with comprehension of Milton's language.
The Riverside Milton, ed. Roy Flannagan
This book includes all of Milton's major works. It has copious footnotes that are very helpful for understanding the background and context.
Paradise Lost & Paradise Regained, narrated by Charloton Griffon
Excellent narration! Highly recommended. Listening to this while reading helped immensely in my comprehension. It comes with a 2 hour biography of Milton at the beginning. I liked this extra info, but it can be skipped if you don't want to listen to it.
Additionally, I've got three lectures (or sets of lectures) from The Great Courses that I'm working with:
The Western Literary Canon, Lecture 22; Professor John M Bowers
Why Evil Exists, Lecture 18; Professor Charles Matthews
Life and Writings of John Milton; Professor Seth Lerer
Posts about Paradise Lost
Introduction to my quest to understand
Milton - Epic Evil
The Literary Background of Paradise Lost
Book 1, Lines 1-191
Supplementary Books on Paradise Lost, Milton, or Historical Background
A Preface to Paradise Lost, by C. S. Lewis
Mentions or Retellings of Paradise Lost
The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman
The Bells, by Edgar Allan Poe
The Philosophy of Composition, by Edgar Allan Poe
The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells