After discussing the ending of Paradise Lost in class on Thursday I was interested in taking a look at the concluding lines of Milton’s other works. What stuck out to me about the Paradise Lost ending was the sense of hope despite a great loss and the sense of openness towards the future of mankind. This felt like a perfect ending to a piece of literature of epic scope, and I was curious to see if Milton ended one of his other works with such force.
Comus ends with a long monologue from the Attendant Spirit, the narrator of this piece. The final image of Comus is similar to Paradise Lost insofar that both end with a character departing to some unknown place. Adam and Eve, of course, walk hand in hand out of paradise and the Attendant Spirit flys away to the “earth’s end” and to the “corner of the moon.” Again, both endings include a sense of openness and adventure.
One major difference between the two (of course they are entirely different in many ways) is that Comus, in line with the rest of the play, takes a didactic approach to the ending while there is a lot of ambiguity in the ending of Paradise Lost. As if the repetitive references to temperance weren’t enough to convince readers, the Attendant Spirit implores its audience to “Love vertue, she alone is free,/She can teach ye how to clime/ Higher then the Speary chime;/Or if Vertue feeble were,/Heav’n it self would stoop to her.” It is a clear message about maintaining moral fortitude.
Paradise Lost, on the other hand, can be interpreted a number of ways. Are we supposed to feel hopeful that the world is all before them and they can choose where to go? Their first experience with free-will didn’t work out so well. Why if Adam and Eve are hand and hand are they also described as going on their “solitarie way.” Is this a statement about man’s unchangeable individuality? Are we supposed to distinguish between future outcomes for Adam and Eve? Is one headed for a better future than the other? What is with all the dreadful faces in the Gate?