*Ludlow Castle. Norman fortress built on the Welsh border to maintain English imperial power in the eleventh century. The castle served as the residence of the fifteenth century king Edward IV, who was the first prince of Wales. During John Milton’s youth, the castle was home to the lieutenant general (also known as president) of Wales. When the earl of Bridgewater was appointed to that office in 1634, Milton wrote “A Masque [to be] Presented at Ludlow Castle” at the time of his formal installation. Readers have given the masque the name of its most eloquent character, the handsome tempter Comus.
Wild Wood. Forest that is home to Comus. As the drama begins, a guardian spirit descends into a forest where travelers are always in peril. He has been sent by Jove. (The mythology is classical, but the theology is Christian.) He explains that Jove takes special interest in Great Britain, and in the nobleman sent “to guide” the Welsh. The spirit has come to protect the nobleman’s children as they travel to their new home. He is especially watchful because the forest is home to Comus, the son of Circe. Just as Circe turned men into swine in Homer’s Odyssey (c. 800 b.c.e.; Eng. trans., 1616), Comus has gathered a “rout of monsters.”
There are three siblings, a lady and her two brothers. When they become separated, Comus moves in, disguised as a shepherd offering the lady food and shelter. But his home develops into a place of misrule, where he entices the lady to drink from his magic cup. She resists until the spirit leads her brothers to the rescue.
*Severn River. Longest river in Wales, flowing from England to the Atlantic. After the brothers chase off Comus, the spirit needs further assistance and summons a river nymph named Sabrina, whose home is the Severn (which is also known as the Sabrina River). Attended by water-nymphs, she rises and sings a song that releases the lady.
*Ludlow. Market town in Herefordshire. The play’s final scene shows Ludlow and its castle, which the children approach. The country folk welcome them in dance, and the children greet their parents. After an evening of festivities, the spirit bids farewell, urging everyone to “love virtue.”