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Comus: The Charming Bad Boy

Don't take him home to mother

By Miss RuizPublished 10 months ago 8 min read
Comus: The Charming Bad Boy
Photo by Rosie Sun on Unsplash

The character of Comus acts as a tempter, descended from Pagan gods and figures attributed to his mischievous and luring characteristics. He is the antagonist to Stoicism and Virtue within the Masque, attempting to lead The Lady astray from her journey with her brothers to her father's castle. He also leads her astray from her moral understandings. Comus is a Masque performed at Ludlow Castle and follows a set of characters as they prevail in their Virtue despite the lure of Comus. Milton uses Greco-Roman figures and philosophies to reconcile the practical perspectives of Stoicism with his religious beliefs of Protestant Christianity, pulling them together to perform a cautionary tale of self-sufficiency and Virtue.

The philosophy of Stoicism originated by Panaetius and was shared among the Romans, later translated and spread among the Greeks by Cicero, according to chapter four of Isabell Rivers' Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance. Stoicism essentially became the study of ethics within everyday life. Rivers explains, "The object of the study of ethics is that man should learn to live well" (Rivers, 45). Christians often attribute morality to the Bible and the set of laws put forth through that religion. In contrast, morals and laws exist outside of Christian teachings that can still be useful to anyone, not just non-Protestants. Milton combines the ethics and teachings he has gathered from formal education and study of philosophy with his religious beliefs and teachings. Milton subscribes more to Christian Neostoicism, allowing his Christian beliefs to suppress certain teachings like "the glorification of suicide and the belief in fate" (Rivers 47).

Just as Stoicism was appropriated and altered by the Christians to create Christian Neostoicism, Milton uses pagan mythology as a Christian allegory in his works. Comus is the child of pagan gods, setting himself apart from Milton's Christian theology and canon while connecting partially to the Greco-Roman Stoicism being relayed through the piece. Comus being a divine or supernatural being, the child of Bacchus and Circe, still gives him power within the story without being the all-powerful God that Milton worships and alludes to frequently. Now, his villain is free from being within the confines of a Bible story.

While Comus is the main villain or antagonist in the literature, he is not the one who displays Virtue but embodies Vice. Comus offers a drink to weary travelers who are desperate, which would ultimately betray them. Milton writes, "Soon as the potion works, their human count'nance,/Th' express resemblance of the gods, is changed/ Into some brutish form of wolf, or bear," (Milton, Lines 68-70). Comus takes after his mother in this bit as Circe famously turns sailors into pigs in The Odyssey. His drink is a demonstration of Vice; travelers cannot resist him or the drink and pay the price of ultimate misery for it. Comus tries to lure and charm willing victims as the Lady gets lost in the woods. Comus enters the scene and says, "Meanwhile welcome joy, and feast,/ Midnight shout, and revelry, Tipsy dance, and jollity" (Milton, Lines 102-104).

The Lady, representing the Virtue that Stoicism demonstrates, enters that chaotic scene of Comus and his beastly guests. She immediately condemns their revelry, making her position on the matter known with "I should loath/ To meet the rudeness and swilled insolence/ Of such late wassailers" (Milton, Lines 177-179). Rivers explains,

"Theoretically Virtue can be attained by any man who follows nature, which means, since reason is natural and peculiar to man, being ruled by reason. Reason teaches man to distinguish good and evil from things that are indifferent, what is in his power from what is not in his power" (Rivers, 46).

The Lady uses reason to assess that she is in unwelcome company that should not be around the night and making so much disrespectful noise. Most women know not to go out at night because the people who are out and enjoying themselves only at night are typically not the type of people that can be trusted. Comus says himself in line, "' Tis only daylight that makes sin,/ Which these dun shades will ne'er report" (Milton, Lines 125-126). His sins and open disregard for morals are celebrated at night, for he knows he will get away with his shenanigans.

The Lady resists Comus's trickery, attempting to swoon her into joining his revelry and adding another person to his band of beasts. She remarks,

The virtuous mind that ever walks attended

By a strong siding champion Conscience.---

O welcome pure-eyed Faith, white-handed Hope,

Thou hovering angel girt with golden wings,

And thou unblemished form of Chasitity, (Milton, Lines 211-215).

The Lady reassures herself of her Virtue and that she could learn from the situation and resist while falling into Christian Neostoicism. Rivers writes about a man who exemplifies the stoic philosophy, "He is characterised by his constancy, firmness and selfsufficiency; he alone is free and a king. He has complete tranquillity and peace of mind: whatever his circumstances he can retire into himself" (Rivers, 46). Of course, although Rivers and possibly the philosophers who originated the ideas mean man as a general term for all humanity or maybe only man as characteristic of a heavily patriarchal world, the sentiment still applies to The Lady.

The Lady is tricked and follows Comus to a palace, but quickly realizes that he is untrustworthy and says, "Fool, do not boast;/ Thou canst not touch the freedom of my mind" (Milton, Lines 662-663). This quote calls back to Stoicism's ability to use reason and withstand temptation that will cause you harm or is generally not good. He continues to attempt to seduce her with the lines "With that same vaunted name Virginity:/ Beauty is Nature's coin, must not be hoarded" that bring the Stoic aspect of Nature against her, attempting to appeal and reason that she should give up her chastity as a human being, appealing to a pagan or atheistic form of justification that it is natural rather than a defiance of her religion or morals.

She continues to resist Comus. She shoots back at Comus, destroying his argument with what she knows to be accurate within stoic philosophy, "I hate when Vice can bolt her arguments/ And Virtue has no tongue to check her pride:/ Impostor, do not charge most innocent Nature," (Milton, 760-762) accepting that she is not in the best position. The second line is that her Virtue is at a loss as to how to respond and save her in this situation. While she does not give in to Comus physically, he is winning the argument for her Virtue is now absent, and Vice, or Comus, has an answer to every single one of her questions, proving that he is right through the reason that the Stoa uses.

Even though her brothers step in, The Lady is still vexed with impure thoughts, and they have to seek the help of a nymph named Sabrina, that releases The Lady is regarded as a "virgin here distressed" (Milton, line 905). She kept her physical chastity in check, but Milton argues that it is not enough to get to break the spell and go to her father's house, which stands as an allegory for Heaven. She could not keep her Virtue, but there was a chance for redemption, as it is something to be learned and practiced according to the Stoicism philosophy.

The final lines of Comus are spoken by the Attending Spirit as a lesson to take after the Masque. Milton writes,

Love Virtue, she alone is free;

She can teach ye how to climb

Higher than the sphery chime;

Or if Virtue feeble were,

Heav'n itself would stoop to her.

Milton's ending lines prove that Stoicism is a primary aspect of the Masque, recalling what Rivers wrote about a person who is committed to Stoicism as self-sufficient and free. However, the way that Milton connects this to his Christian allegories, Heaven will stoop to guide a person when the strength is not within the person by themselves. Rivers writes, "Stoicism assumes that the individual can achieve perfect virtue without reference to anything outside himself, but the Christian cannot act unaided by divine grace" (Rivers, 48). The Attending Angel and the Nymph Sabrina act as Heaven's grace when the young Lady could not withstand the evils on her own.

Although John Milton is an avid Protestant Christian, his formal and philosophical education, combined with his religious beliefs, forms a Christian Neostoicism that promotes a better life; when one cannot withstand Vice on their own, God and Christianity are the only way to Heaven. Christians owe everything to their God and ould be unable to resist temptation as per the reason Jesus had to die on the cross. Humans are damaged and unworthy in the Christian lens but can aspire to Stoicism and Virtue to guide them to the best of their ability.

Works Cited

Milton, J., Kerrigan, W., Rumrich, J. P., & Fallon, S. M. (2007). A MASQUE PRESENTED AT LUDLOW CASTLE, 1634 [COMUS]. In The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton. essay, Modern Library.

Rivers, I. (1994). Classical and Christian ideas in English Renaissance Poetry: A Student's Guide (2nd ed.). Routledge.

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About the Creator

Miss Ruiz

Hello! I am one semester away from graduating with my English BA. I work as an informal STEM Educator and Writing Tutor. I like to write and get my thoughts out in my essays and short stories. Stay tuned :)

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