Is Milton Better Than Shakespeare? So asks Nigel Smith in his new book of the same name. The title of this post comes directly from the article, in describing Milton:
Ever since "Paradise Lost" was published in 1667, Milton has been acclaimed as a supreme English poet, Shakespeare's only rival in linguistic mastery. Yet even at the height of his prestige, in the 18th century, Milton never inspired the kind of ardent intimacy that readers bring to Shakesepare. Nor is it simply our lazy generation, unused to reading long poems and deaf to the majesty of Milton's artifice, that has relegated "Paradise Lost" to the seminar room. Even Samuel Johnson, in his "Life of Milton," wrote that "Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harassed and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation; we desert our master, and seek for companions."
The article goes on to point out that apparently no, Milton is not better than Shakespeare, as the book really ends up being more of an introductory piece on the current issues in Milton scholarship.