But we can hardly regard Milton as having expressed any new decision in Comus: the decision is already made when "vain deluding Joys" are banished in Il Penseroso, and "loathed Melancholy" in L'Allegro. The mask is an expansion and exaltation of the delights of the contemplative man, but there is still a place for the "unreproved pleasures" of the cheerful man. Unless it were so, Comus could not have been written; there would have been no "sunshine holiday" for the rustics and no "victorious dance" for the gentle lady and her brothers.
But in Comus we realise the mutual relation of L'Allegro and Il Penseroso; we see their application to the joys and sorrows of the actual life of individuals; we observe human nature in contact with the "hard assays" of life. And, subsequently, in Lycidas we are made to realise that this human nature is Milton's own, and to understand how it was that his Puritanism which, three years before, had permitted him to write a cavalier mask, should, three years after, lead him from the fresh fields of poetry into the barren plains of controversial prose.
But they seem to have found their way into England, in a crude form, even earlier; and we read of court disguisings in the reign of Edward III. It is usually said that the Mask derives its name from the fact that the actors wore masks, and in Hall's Chronicle we read that, in , "on the day of Epiphany at night, the king, with eleven others, was disguised after the manner of Italy, called a Mask, a thing not seen before in England; they were appareled in garments long and broad, wrought all with gold, with visors and caps of gold.
The word has come to us, through the French form masque, cognate with Spanish mascarada, a masquerade or assembly of maskers, otherwise called a mummery.
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They were frequently combined with other forms of amusement, all of which were, in the case of the Court, placed under the management of a Master of Revels, whose official title was Magister Jocorum, Revellorum et Mascorum; in the first printed English tragedy, Gorboduc , each act opens with what is called a dumb-show or mask.
But the more elaborate form of the Mask soon grew to be an entertainment complete in itself, and the demand for such became so great in the time of James I.
Ben Jonson, who thoroughly established the Mask in English literature, wrote many Court Masks, and made them a vehicle less for the display of 'painting and carpentry' than for the expression of the intellectual and social life of his time. His masks are excelled only by Comus, and possess in a high degree that 'Doric delicacy' in their songs and odes which Sir Henry Wotton found so ravishing in Milton's mask.
Jonson, in his lifetime, declared that, next himself, only Fletcher and Chapman could write a mask; and apart from the compositions of these writers and of William Browne Inner Temple Masque , there are few specimens worthy to be named along with Jonson's until we come to Milton's Arcades. Other mask-writers were Middleton, Dekker, Shirley, Carew, and Davenant; and it is interesting to note that in Carew's Coelum Brittanicum , for which Lawes composed the music, the two boys who afterwards acted in Comus had juvenile parts.
It has been pointed out that the popularity of the Mask in Milton's youth received a stimulus from the Puritan hatred of the theatre which found expression at that time, and drove non-Puritans to welcome the Mask as a protest against that spirit which saw nothing but evil in every form of dramatic entertainment.
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Milton, who enjoyed the theatre--both "Jonson's learned sock" and what "ennobled hath the buskined stage"--was led, through his friendship with the musician Lawes, to compose a mask to celebrate the entry of the Earl of Bridgewater upon his office of "Lord President of the Council in the Principality of Wales and the Marches of the same. The result was Comus, in which the Mask reached its highest level, and after which it practically faded out of our literature. Milton's two masks, Arcades and Comus, were written for members of the same noble family, the former in honour of the Countess Dowager of Derby, and the latter in honour of John, first Earl of Bridgewater, who was both her stepson and son-in-law.
This two-fold relation arose from the fact that the Earl was the son of Viscount Brackley, the Countess's second husband, and had himself married Lady Frances Stanley, a daughter of the Countess by her first husband, the fifth Earl of Derby. Amongst the children of the Earl of Bridgewater were three who took important parts in the representation of Comus--Alice, the youngest daughter, then about fourteen years of age, who appeared as The Lady; John, Viscount Brackley, who took the part of the Elder Brother, and Thomas Egerton, who appeared as the Second Brother.
We do not know who acted the parts of Comus and Sabrina, but the part of the Attendant Spirit was taken by Henry Lawes, "gentleman of the Chapel Royal, and one of His Majesty's private musicians. Milton's friendship with Lawes is shown by the sonnet which the poet addressed to the musician:. Harry, whose tuneful and well measur'd song First taught our English music how to span Words with just note and accent, not to scan With Midas' ears, committing short and long; Thy worth and skill exempts thee from the throng, With praise enough for Envy to look wan; To after age thou shalt be writ the man, That with smooth air could'st humour best our tongue.
Thou honour'st Verse, and Verse must lend her wing To honour thee, the priest of Phoebus' quire, That tun'st their happiest lines in hymn, or story. Dante shall give Fame leave to set thee higher Than his Casella, who he woo'd to sing, Met in the milder shades of Purgatory.
We must remember also that it was to Lawes that Milton's Comus owed its first publication, and, as we see from the dedication prefixed to the text, that he was justly proud of his share in its first representation. Such were the persons who appeared in Milton's mask; they are few in number, and the plan of the piece is correspondingly simple. There are three scenes which may be briefly characterised thus:.vatican24.de/includes
In the first scene, after a kind of prologue lines , the interest rises as we are introduced first to Comus and his rout, then to the Lady alone and "night-foundered," and finally to Comus and the Lady in company. At the same time the nature of the Lady's trial and her subsequent victory are foreshadowed in a conversation between the brothers and the attendant Spirit. This is one of the more Miltonic parts of the mask: in the philosophical reasoning of the elder brother, as opposed to the matter-of-fact arguments of the younger, we trace the young poet fresh from the study of the divine volume of Plato, and filled with a noble trust in God.
In the second scene we breathe the unhallowed air of the abode of the wily tempter, who endeavours, "under fair pretence of friendly ends," to wind himself into the pure heart of the Lady.
But his "gay rhetoric" is futile against the "sun-clad power of chastity"; and he is driven off the scene by the two brothers, who are led and instructed by the Spirit disguised as the shepherd Thyrsis. But the Lady, having been lured into the haunt of impurity, is left spell-bound, and appeal is made to the pure nymph Sabrina, who is "swift to aid a virgin, such as was herself, in hard-besetting need.
In the third scene the Lady Alice and her brothers are presented by the Spirit to their noble father and mother as triumphing "in victorious dance o'er sensual folly and intemperance.
Love Virtue; she alone is free. She can teach ye how to climb Higher than the sphery chime; Or, if Virtue feeble were, Heaven itself would stoop to her. The last couplet Milton afterwards, on his Italian journey, entered in an album belonging to an Italian named Cerdogni, and underneath it the words, Coelum non animum muto dum trans mare curro, and his signature, Joannes Miltonius, Anglus.
The juxtaposition of these verses is significant: though he had left his own land Milton had not become what, fifty or sixty years before, Roger Ascham had condemned as an "Italianated Englishman. And one might almost infer that Milton, in his account of the sovereign plant Haemony which was to foil the wiles of Comus, had remembered not only Homer's description of the root Moly "that Hermes once to wise Ulysses gave,"[A] but also Ascham's remarks thereupon: "The true medicine against the enchantments of Circe, the vanity of licentious pleasure, the enticements of all sin, is, in Homer, the herb Moly, with the black root and white flower, sour at first, but sweet in the end; which Hesiod termeth the study of Virtue, hard and irksome in the beginning, but in the end easy and pleasant.
And that which is most to be marvelled at, the divine poet Homer saith plainly that this medicine against sin and vanity is not found out by man, but given and taught by God. Search all titles Search all collections. Your Account Logout. Milton's Minor Poems.
Comus (John Milton) - Wikiquote
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