Rubbing off a little Miltonic rust this Saturday evening and diving deep into Comus again.

On my second read-through, I couldn’t help but feel like it is a really poor example of a moral play. If the characters didn’t explicitly mention temperance in the dialogue, I might not have guessed that it was the virtue at the center of the conflict.  Instead of articulating the themes of temperance, chastity, and willpower through the action of the play, or through subtext, these ideas are dealt with straight-on in a way that feels unnatural. The concept of restraint is meditated on in a way that is indubitably not realistic and overly abstract. For example, the Lady begins pondering before Comus even arrives:

A thousand fantasies [ 205 ]
Begin to throng into my memory
Of calling shapes and beckoning shadows dire,
And airy tongues, that syllable mens names
On Sands, and Shoars, and desert Wildernesses.
These thoughts may startle well, but not astound [ 210 ]
The vertuous mind, that ever walks attended
By a strong siding champion Conscience.——
welcom pure-ey’d Faith, white-handed Hope,
Thou hov’ring Angel girt with golden wings,
And thou unblemish’t form of Chastity, [ 215 ]
I see ye visibly

Of course, there are many many playwrights who wrote characters that meditated on moral issues in this way; some of Shakespeare’s characters come to mind… However, these kinds of revealing monologues should be in the voice of the character speaking them; there should be some sort of impression of personality, something like a stream of consciousness. Nobody thinks in such abstract terms.

There are some cool couplets  in this poem though:

Tis onely day-light that makes Sin,
Which these dun shades will ne’re report.
Hail Goddesse of Nocturnal sport

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1 Comment

  1. This is very interesting! I’m not sure that I agree with your perspective (I’m not sure of my opinion yet) but nonetheless I find it really cool that you’ve found flaw in Milton’s work. That said, I definitely find Comus to be my least favorite work of Milton that we’ve read so far, though I cannot really attribute it to a fault with Milton- I think maybe I just don’t like the characters quite as much as Paradise Lost or the writing as much as something like Lycidas.

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