Comus "Beauty Is Nature's Coin"

John Milton

"Beauty Is Nature's Coin"

Context: Milton wrote this masque to celebrate the installation of the Earl of Bridgewater as President of Wales. The parts were taken by the Earl's daughter and two sons, and the fanciful plot revolves around their efforts to reach the Earl's castle of Ludlow. The daughter, called in the masque, the Lady, is separated from her brothers, and encounters the enchanter Comus, son of Bacchus and Ceres and the symbol of license. He tries to move her from the path of virtue and makes several plausible speeches in his efforts to do so, but to no avail. Continuing, however, he says that she should not be coy, that is, show an arch and insincere reluctance to make a definite commitment. Nor should she be deceived into putting an exaggerated value on virginity. Beauty, he says, is like money; it is good only when it is used, that is, when it is current or being passed about in return for something. What he is saying is that virginity is a waste of beauty, just as hoarding is a waste of money, and his inference is that the proper employment of beauty is in engaging in sexual license. Love between two people is bliss, but when the possessor retains his beauty–and his love–to himself, he is as unhealthy as was the self-loving Narcissus. His speech is in part as follows:

List, Lady, be not coy, and be not cosened
With that same vaunted name virginity;
Beauty is nature's coin, must not be hoarded,
But must be current, and the good thereof
Consists in mutual and partaken bliss,
Unsavory in the enjoyment of itself.