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Milton’s Comus, originally entitled A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, was published in 1637. This masque anticipates the themes of Milton’s great epics –temptation, virtue, and individual confrontation with a challenge of supernatural proportions–, but its subject is proportionally prosaic. A young woman, left alone in the woods by two brothers gone in search of succor, confronts and resists the temptations of a clever seducer, who argues (ll. 773-774):
List, lady, be not coy, and be not cozened
With that same vaunted name Virginity.
Comus retells, manipulatively, the parable of the talents and uses a cavalier carpe diem argument, but, finally, the Lady preserves her virginity by rejecting those sensual pleasures. By means of her ethical understanding and strong will, she is able to notice that the values espoused by Comus are irreconcilable with temperance and chastity.
It is worth noticing that, although Milton’s Lady does ultimately triumph over Comus, chastity requires before a whole staff of defenders. It takes the Lady’s own will power, the guidance of the Attendant Spirit, the partial intervention of the two Brothers, the assistance of the mysterious herb haemony, and finally the mythological figure Sabrina to free the lady from her “ensnared” state in Comus’ court. This could be said to symbolize Humanity’s dependence upon Providence.
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