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In John Milton's masque titled Comus, what does the lady mean in lines 760-770 of her...

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liliw | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted January 24, 2012 at 7:47 AM via web

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In John Milton's masque titled Comus, what does the lady mean in lines 760-770 of her speech ?



I hate when vice can bolt her arguments, [ 760 ]
And vertue has no tongue to check her pride:
Impostor do not charge most innocent nature,
As if she would her children should be riotous
With her abundance, she good cateress
Means her provision onely to the good [ 765 ]
That live according to her sober laws,
And holy dictate of spare Temperance:
If every just man that now pines with want
Had but a moderate and beseeming share
Of that which lewdly-pamper'd Luxury . . . [ 770 ]

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 24, 2012 at 11:18 AM (Answer #1)

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In lines 760-770 of John Milton’s masque titled Comus, the lady celebrates virtue and condemns vice. In other words, she extols goodness and condemns evil. In particular, she shows disdain for luxury and excess and praises moderation.

The lady begins by saying that she dislikes it when “vice can bolt her arguments.”  Although “bolt” has been glossed in the quotation reproduced above as meaning “to sift,” a more likely contemporary meaning was "to “utter hastily,” to “blurt out” or “blurt forth” (see The Oxford English Dictionary). Thus, the lady expressed distaste for the fact that a personified evil can quickly make hasty arguments in favor of evil without facing opposition from a personified virtue. The bad, in other words, are often more talkative and apparently persuasive than the good:

I hate when vice can bolt her arguments,
And vertue has no tongue to check her pride . . .  (760-61)

It seems significant that the lady refers to the “pride” of vice, since all sin, during Milton’s time, was believed to result from the prior sin of pride or self-centeredness and from turning away from God.

By condemning Comus as an “Imposter,” the lady implies that he himself is both evil and false. She defends “nature” (in other words, the world as God created it, including both the material universe and human impulses), asserting that nature (which she again personifies) does not intend that creatures should use her provisions in excessive and self-indulgent ways. Nature is a “good cateress” in the double sense that she provides good things and that she exists to serve good persons, not evil people. Good people follow “sober laws”: they do not give into their passions or indulge in excesses.  They are moderate and reasonable; they demonstrate self-control. They do not yield to the temptations of the flesh or seek merely material pleasures; they are restrained and try to obey God’s “holy” laws.

The lady moves toward the conclusion of her sentence by saying that if every good person who now seems to suffer (“pine”) from a lack or a desire (a “want”) were simply willing to settle for a limited or modest (“moderate”) and appropriate (“beseeming”) share of the goods which overly prosperous Luxury (symbol of over-indulgence) now grants to a few, the recipients of gifts and favors would be more thankful and there would be less gluttony in the world.

Please note that the Dartmouth College web site that is the source of your quotation provides an inaccurate and flawed version of Milton’s text.  There should, for instance, be an exclamation mark after the word “Impostor,” and other errors will be evident if you compare and contrast this text with other, more reliable texts, such as this one: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19819/19819-h/19819-h.htm

 

 

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