Cours de Jacques Sys, Professeur à l'Université d'Artois
Il est expressément demandé aux étudiants et aux lecteurs de ne citer ces notes qu'en faisant référence à leur auteur
1608: birth of JM; his father a Scrivener; tutored at home
1620: sent to St Paul’s School, London
1625-32: admitted at Christ’s College, Cambridge where he took his BA in 29 and his MA in 32.
1632-1638: the Horton period. Reading and preparing himself for a life devoted to poetry.
1638-39: trip to Italy.
1625-1639: JM writes the Poems to be published in 1645. Among these: “ On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity ”, “ Epitaphium Damonis ”, Elegies, “ The Passion ”, “ L’Allegro and Il Penseroso ”, Sonnets, “ At a Solemn Music ”, “ On Time ”. In 1634 was performed “ Comus. A Maske at Ludlow ” which offers many parallels with Paradise Lost. In the late thirties was written Milton’s most famous poem, “ Lycidas ”.
1640-47: teaches his nephews and other members of the household
1641: his first controversial work: Of Reformation touching Church discipline in England and the Causes that hitherto have hindered it. It is a study of the development of the English Church since Henry VIII. Therein he explains the reasons for the elizabethan via media or compromise with Catholicism. He also attacks episcopacy represented as a corruption of primitive Christianity. Against episcopacy defends a Presbyterian polity based on synodical government.
1642: The Reason of Church Government urg’d against Prelaty. A defence of the presbyterian system thought to be prescribed in the gospel: prelacy is foreign to the spirit of Christianity. He advocates the separation of Church and State and is opposed to the enforcement of uniformity of belief to which he prefers diversity of doctrine (and even the multiplication of sects). In Book II there is a long autobiographical digression justifying his fight against the corruptions of the church and his devotion to a life a learning and writing.
1643: The pamphlets on the subjectof divorce: The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (enlarged second edition in 44).
1644: Of Education. A programme of humanistic education corresponding to the ideals of the early Renaissance; it was destined to the “ scholarly gentleman ” not only as a secluded scholar but also as taking part in the public life of his country, his aim being a liberal education based on the study of the classics “ which fits a man to performe justly, skilfully, and magnanimously all the duties, public and private, of peace and war. ”
1644: Areopagitica. A defence of the freedom of the press; it was addressed to Parliament in the hope of forcing it to repeal the 1643 decree which required that all books should be licenced before publication by an official censor. Against it JM advocates the principle of toleration.
1645: first volume of poems.
1649: by reason of his services to the cause of the Commonwealth, was appointed Latin Secretary to the Council of State. His blindness is increasing but continued to serve throughout the Protectorate.
1649: Of the Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. In this book JM adheres to the Republic; it was composed before and during the King’s trial and his execution on Jan 31 1649. For Milton, man being by nature free is linked to his governors by contract.
1649: Eikonoclastes, which is an answer to the book published immediately after the King’s execution: the Eikon, The True Portraiture of his Sacred Majesty in his Solitudes and Sufferings.
1651: Defence of the English People Against Salmasius. A Latin pamphlet which was widely circulated in Europe and in which Milton justifies the action of the Regicides.
1654: The Second Defence of the English People by John Milton, Englishman, in reply to an Infamous Book entitled ‘Cry of the King’s Blood’.
1655-1660: The History of Britain, unfinished, but published in 1670; Of Christian Doctrine, never published, the Ms was rediscovered in 1823 and published in 25. Authorship doubted. Yet theologically important: Milton defends man’s free will and rejects the calvinist doctrine of predestination. Both Christ and the Holy Spirit are inferior to God which shows Milton’s Unitarian and Arian sympathies.
1660: The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Commonwealth and the Excellence thereof with the Inconveniences and Dangers of Readmitting Kingship in this Nation.
1660: Restoration. Milton arrested and imprisoned in the Tower for a short spell and released.
1667: Paradise Lost published
1671: Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes.
1673: second edition of his early poems.
1674, Nov 8: death of JM.
The two aspects of Milton's conception of poetry: the social and the existential, both being constantly interrelated and producing a somewhat puzzling if not ambiguous doctrine of poetry.
Milton prepared himself from the earliest age to be a poet. A great poet.
He wanted to become the epic genius of the English language and of the nation's
spirit, and his conception of poetry was "lofty". As it is said in the Apology
The function of the poet is evoked in the preface to the second book of The Reason of Church Government. The passage is an autobiographical disquisition which states the aims and methods of Milton's poetic art, and I would like to quote it at length:
"Time serves not now, and perhaps I might seem too profuse to give any certain account of what the mind at home, in the spacious circuits of her musing, hath liberty to propose to herself, though of highest hope and hardest attempting; whether that epic form whereof the two poems of Homer, and those other two of Virgil and Tasso, are a diffuse, and the book of Job a brief model: or whether the rules of Aristotle herein are strictly to be kept, or nature to be followed, which in them that know art, and use judgement, is no transgression, but an enriching of art: and lastly, what king or knight, before the conquest, might be chosen in whom to lay the pattern of a Christian hero. Ans as Tasso gave to a prince of Italy his choice whether he would command him to write of Godfrey's expedition against the Infidels, or Belasarius against the Goths, or Charlemain against the Lombards; if to the instinct of nature and the emboldening of art aught may be trusted, and that there be nothing adverse in our climate, or the fate of this age, it haply would be no rashness, from an equal diligence or inclination, to present the like offer in our own ancient stories; or whether those dramatic constitutions, wherein Sophocles and Euripides reign, shall be found more doctrinal and exemplary to a nation. The Scripture also affords us a divine pastoral drama in the Song of Solomon, consisting of two persons, and a double chorus, as Origen rightly judges. And the Apocalypse of St. John is the majestic image of a high and stately tragedy, shutting up and intemingling her solemn scenes and acts with a sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies: and this my opinion the grave authority of Pareus, commenting on that book, is sufficient to confirm. Or if occasion shall lead, to imitate those magnific odes and hymns, wherein Pindarus and Callimachus are in most things worthy, some others in their frame judicious, in their matter most an end faulty. But those frequent songs throughout the law and prophets beyond all these, not in their divine argument alone, but in the very critical art of composition, may be easily made appear over all the kinds of lyric poesy to be incomparable. These abilities, wheresoever they be found, are the inspired gift of God, rarely bestowed, but yet to some (though most abuse) in every nation; and are of power, beside the office of a pulpit, to imbreed and cherish in a great people the seeds of virtue and of public civility, to allay the perturbations of the mind, and set the affections in right tune; to celebrate in glorious and lofty hymns the throne and equipage of God's almightiness, and what He works, and what he suffers to be wrought with high providence in His church; to sing victorious agonies of martyrs and saints, the deeds and triumphs of just and pious nations, doing valiantly through faith against the enemies of Christ; to deplore the general relapses of kingdoms and states from justice and God's true worship. Lastly, whatsoever in religion is holy and sublime, in virtue amiable and grave, whatsoever hath passion or admiration in all the changes of that which is called fortune from without, or the wily subtleties and reflexes of man's thoughts from within; all these things with a solid and treatable smoothness to paint out and describe. Teaching over the whole book of sanctity and virtue, through all the instances of example, with such delight to these especially of soft and delicious temper, who will not so much as look upon truth herself, unless they see her elegantly dressed; that whereas the paths of honesty and good life appear now rugged and difficult, though they be indeed easy and pleasant, they will then appear to all men both easy and pleasant, though they were rugged and difficult indeed."
In this passage the prophetic and public dimension of poetry is obvious, and the doctrine of inspiration which is here developed is related both to individual perfection and public righteousness. The conception is characteristic of the Renaissance picture of the poet-statesman whose field of action covers the realms of politics, prophecy, poetics, and (also) the pulpit. The aim is to produce, through the educational virtues of poetry, a "nation of prophets", such as Sidney himself imagined in his Defence of Poetry.
Chapter II. A chronology of political events
1559: The Elizabethan settlement. The via media between roman catholicism
and "calvinism". The latter strongly represented in Parliament especially
after 1572. Insatisfaction: the desire for a genuine reform and a more complete
separation from all forms of popery. Parliament asks also in foreign policy
for a support of other Protestant countries (Netherlands and Germany).
Religious situation of Britain after the Elizabethan Settlement and up to the Protectorate: episcopalian church (Church of England) and Dissenters, Non-Conformists representing the "radicals" of the day among these we may distinguish between the Presbyterians and those who were to become the Independents: congregationalists, ranters, quakers, seekers, baptists (general and particular), levellers, diggers, Fifth Monarchy Men, etc.
1603-25: James I. Brought up in Scotland along strict Presbyterian lines which he came to abhor. Millenary Petition, Parliament dominated by Presbyterian element. Grows restless and more and more demanding.
1625-4O: Personal rule of Charles I. Danger of Catholicism. Charles governs without Parliaments.
April-May 1640: the Short Pärliament is summoned for financial reasons; it immediately demands the control of taxes. As a result the Parliament is cancelled. Revolt broke out in the realm and especially in Scotland when Charles tried to impose the Book of Common Prayer.
1642-45: The Civil War, brought to an end by the Parliamentary victory at Naseby.
1646: episcopacy abolished.
1647-8: second cicil war following upon mutinies in the army which occupies London.
30 January 1649: trial and execution of Charles I. In march and may the Republic is established, the House of Lords abolished. The army mutiny is crushed and the Levellers suppressed.
1650: Diggers suppressed. and compulsory attendance at parish church abolished. Later in the year the ranters are suppressed.
1653: Cromwell, the hero of the New Model Army which brought the victory to the parliamentary army, dissolves the rump of the Long Parliament and establishes a protectorate.
1653-8: Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. The first Parliament in 54 is followed by the rule of the Major-Generals (55-6). In 57 Cromwell is offered the crown but refuses. A second protectorate is established in 57.
1658: Death of Cromwell, his son Richar succeeds him but abdicates in 59. Long Parliament and Republic are restored.
In March 1660 the Long Parliament is dissolved; in April the Convention Parliament restores the House of Lords and in May Charles II becomes King of England. Episcopacy is immediately restored and the regicides are tried and executed.
1660-62: persecution of non-conformist ministers who refuse to conform to the restored episcopal church. Persecution goes on apace with the Cavalier Parliament appointed in april (it was then that Bunyan was imprisoned). The persecution was enforced by the Clarendon Code, name given to the Restoration religious settlement enacted by the Cavalier Parliament. The first of these Acts was the Act of Uniformity which required the use of the Book of Common Prayer in churches throughout England.
1662: first declaration of indulgence (an abortive attempt at suspending penal legislation against religious nonconformity).
1664: the triennal Act and the first conventicle act (prohibiting the meeting of 5 or more persons not members of the same household, "uneder colour or pretence of any exercise of religion".
1665: The Five Mile Act (prohibits ministers ejected after the 1662 Act of Uniformity from coming within five miles of their original parishes or of any town or city).
1670: second conventicle Act (a milder version of the first). Was repealed by the Toleration Act of 1689.
1672: second declaration of indulgence. It allowed Protestant Dissenters to worship in licensed meeting-houses but also Roman Catholics to worship in private. The Bedford congregation was thus licenced as congregational.
1673: Parliament forces the withdrawal of the declaration of indulgence. Test Act (Act requiring civil and military officers to be communicants of the Church of England, to take the oaths of supremacy and allegiance and to subscribe a declaration against transubstantiation. Designed to detect Catholics the Act also excluded Protestant Dissenters. It was repealed in 1828. Succession problem: James (then Duke of York) declares himself a Catholic.
After the Popish Plot in 78 the Cavalier Parliament is dissolved in 79. Followed by three short Parliaments between 79 and 81 all dealing with the succession question.
1681-85: Charles rules without Parliament.
1685: James II. Révocation de l'Edit de Nantes. Huguenot emigration.
1687-8: James's two declarations of Indulgence. Glorious Revolution.
1) The three texts we are going to study were written
in what is called the Horton period, between 1632 and 1638 when, after having
taken his MA at Cambridge and decided against a carreer in the Church, Milton
spent 6 years in retirement and solitary study at his father's residence
* The first text, l'ALLEGRO AND IL PENSEROSO, was written at the beginning of the Horton period, 1632 (nb it was for a long time thought to have been written at the end of the Cambridge years, as a vacation exercise in 1629), and the last LYCIDAS, at the end of that period, in 1637. In between we find COMUS, written and performed in 1634.
* The three poems were published with M.'s juvenilia in 1645 and (in 1672) a second edition of the early poems was brought forth, with more or less important modifications. It is important to notice that Milton never disavowed these early products of his imagination, the latin elegies and various ovidian amusements all finding their way in both editions. (yet some of these were reprinted with comments which suggest that for Milton these texts were considered as the necessary steps towards artistic, intellectual and spiritual maturity). [but of this more later].
* Note that the order of the poems in the 1645 and 1672 editions does not correspond to the order of composition.
2) Puritanism and Humanism : St Paul's and Cambridge.
Biographical studies ought not to replace the analysis of the texts proper, yet some knowledge of the development of Milton's mind during our period is necessary so as to avoid misunderstandings (not to say sheer mistakes). It is our luck that Milton, in the second phase of his career, gave us some interesting autobiographical relections on his early years. the key texts are in this respect the APOLOGY FOR SMECTYMNUUS, a polemical pamphlet on religious liberty written in 1642, THE SECOND DEFENCE OF THE ENGLISH PEOPLE, published in 1654 and lastly THE REASON OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT, also in 1642.
Milton was issued from a Puritan background of a rather liberal and humanistic turn of mind. His father, John Milton, was a public scrivener who had been disinherited by his own father for having repudiated Catholicism in favour of Protestantism. Yet his Puritanism had nothing of the traditional rigidity associated with the term. On the contrary, the elder Milton was a Humanist of the Renaissance type, greatly interested in poetry and mainly in music. He was a musician of some repute (at least it is believed so) ans saw to it that his children received a truly liberal education in the original sense of the word. Thus the young Milton not only discovered the joys of psalm-singing in a Puritan home, but also those distilled by the poetry of Homer, Virgil, and Ovid.
* Milton was first educated at St Paul's School where he studied, in the spirit of the 16th century Renaissance, that of Colet, Christianity, the Classics, Hebrew, and also English poetry, mainly that of Spenser. As Hanford says, Milton's spiritual father was less Luther than Erasmus. As Woodhouse says, the education received at St Paul's was grounded on the cultural inheritance of Sidney & Spenser, that is to say, the tradition of Christian Humanism.
* In 1625 Milton was sent to Christ's College, Cambridge where he remained until his M.A. in 1632. Milton was bitterly disappointed with the Cambridge curriculum which was still based on the medieval course of studies and largely dominated by the spirit of scholasticism. His disappointment and rebellion appear in several texts of that period, latin prolusions (or academic exercises) and latin poetry on various scholarly subjetcs. cf for instance "de spherarum con- centu", "de idea platonica" or the interesting Naturam Non Pati Senium. (on the undecayed vigour of nature). In this last poem Milton argues against traditional views of a universe necessarily moving towards chaos and death by reason of the original sin, and sides with a more baconian (and optimistic) view of the world. Yet one must not be mistaken in this : Milton was not in favour of progress in the contemporary sense of the word : his reaction against scholasticism was motivated by a strong desire to go back to an original purity of thought and feeling which had been lost after centuries of barbarous and "gothic" teaching; and that purity was that of what Leishman calls "the old and elegant humanity of Greece". Once again, Milton's cast of mind was that of the XVIth century Renaissance in which Puritanism and humanism were closely associated : he belongs to a european tradition that to some extent was becoming outmoded in the XVIIth century, a european tradition (which was also that of Sidney and Spenser) which combined Pagan and Christian thought, Plato with Saint Paul, the Bible with the classics. In other words, Milton's turn of mind was old-fashioned, and deliberately so. (nb : what I mean is that for Milton "progress" or what we would now call "modernity" cannot be severed from ancient roots : if one is to look forward, one must first look […] xercise in which the author "hails" his "native" language and cherishes hopes of literary fame wishing to be no less than Homer, Virgil and Ovid.
The Horton period was then, as Milton himself expressed it, "a quest for inward ripeness" a period of silence (broken by the three poems we are studying) which was to open on new poetic territories. This period initiated a change over from the tone and subject-matter of his previous production. Before dealing further with the Horton period let us consider briefly Milton's juvenila with respect to the development of Milton's "mind".
His first poems (apart from the translation of the two psalms) were chiefly imitative ( we shall come back later on the imitative strain in Milton's poetry); such were for instance the Elegies; Elegy I and Elegy VII (1626-28) being an imitation of the love poetry of the roman elegists, an ovidian exercise pagan in tone and the diction of which is mildly erotic. If we now consider the italian sonnets written somewhere in 1629, we may notice that the influence is no longer ovidian but petrarchan (Milton had been reading Dante as well), with a movement towards a more spiritualized eroticism akin to Dante's Vita Nuova or the higher mood of Petrarch. Around 1629 amatory experiences were given up and courtly love abandoned, a change which triggered off what Daiches calls the "high protestant" period of Milton, a mood already perceptible in the Fifth Elegy (spring 29) in which the author praises the ascetic life of the genuine poet who is both poet and priest. The movement towards a more serious and spiritual conception of poetry reached its acme with the Nativity Ode written in December 29. In this work which sings the praises of Christ the hero dispelling the shadows of the pagan twilight Milton clearly dedicates himself to God's service, an idea taken up in Elegy VI which insists on the dedication of the poet to God and on the image of the bard as priest (to Diodati, his close and perhaps only friend at Cambridge). As Hanford pointed out in his "youth of Mil- ton", his progress was "strikingly parallel with that of Virgil, whose poetry passes through various stages from the atmosphere of Alexandria to that of Augustan Rome."(p.38).
Other early poems are to be noted : the elegy on the Death of a Fair Infant, (winter 25-6) elizabethan in style with echoes of Spenser and Fletcher, whose influence appears also in the abortive Epic In Quintum Novembris (cf The Purple Island). But the most interesting aspect is the progressive appearance of a double theme in his poetry : chastity and music, and particularly the idea that only those who keep themselves pure can hear the music of the spheres which once was heard by man until his intelligence and his spiritual acumen was adumbrated by the original sin; and now, in this fallen world, a faint reflection of that heavenly music can be heard by those who are truly convinced that the "body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body". We have already come across this idea in the passage from the Apology quoted earlier;and it is also to be found in the second Prolusion (on the music of the spheres), in the Nativity Ode, in the beautiful At a Solemn Music (1633). And this brings us to the Horton period proper.
For six years Milton prepared himself to be a great poet, and his solitary quest was both for widom and fame, individual perfection and universal applause. This secret desire lies at the core of his doctrine of chastity and self-discipline. Through chastity only can the poet be drawn into divine life, into the music of the spheres and the fellowship of "liveried angels". In fact, and this is the net result of the six years spent in seclusion at Horton, Milton wanted to become a poem : it is only as a poem that the poet can conciliate fame, heroism and wisdom. : "He who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well herafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem, that is, a composition of the best and honourables things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men or famous cities unless he have in himself the experience and practice of all that which is praiseworthy."
All these elements appear clearly in HOW SOON HATH TIME, a poem of central importance for Milton's dedication to poetry. It is the first poem to appear in the Trinity Manuscript (written in dec 1631); Christ appears in this poem as the "task master", an expression to be understood in its medieval sense, Xt being the feudal overlord sending his vassal on a quest; Spenser's influence here is obvious, both Milton and Spenser sharing a strong platonic idealism, a militant protestantism, and a high conception of the poet's place in society.
* The word : comes from the French Masque and Spanish Mascarada, i.e. a
masquerade or assembly of masquers, or mummery. A genre which triumphed in
the Italian pantomime. (nb : linked to the medieval mystery-plays).
* In England : the genre began to flourish under the early Tudors in the form of dumb-shows or "tableaux vivants" associating splendid costumes and machinery.
After Henry VIII poets began to write masques for courtly entertainments involving singing, dancing and sophisticated stage effects. The genre reached its acme under James I and Charles I.
* The masque was originally both a popular and aristocratic form of entertain- ment performed (or more accurately "presented" since a masque was the affair of a single night and was not supposed to be repeated) on definite state occasions such as marriage, accession to power, joyeuse entrées or triumphs. The political aspect of masques cannot be evaded : the Elizabethan and Jacobean masques were dramatizations of royal power (cf. A. Fletcher : THE TRANSCENDENTAL MASQUE). This was further emphasized by the fact that the parts were played not by professional actors but by the court itself. As far as COMUS is concerned, the actors were the bridgewater children, Alice, John (elder brother) and Thomas(as younger brother); the Attendant Spirit was played by the musician Henry Lawes who also wrote the songs of the masque.
* Politically and sociologically speaking, the masque is the representation of the real court through an ideal court : it is a game in which the court plays at being itself. It has sometimes been said that the masque performed a ritual function by which society and the political order acquired both stability and continuity : as a "compliment" to those wielding power, the masque idealized the political world.
* The masque was a political occasion, but it was above all a revel and as such it involved not only poetry but music, dancing and sophisticated stage settings. It was then a "festive occasion", and some critics have insisted on the ethnolo- gical aspect of masques which were designed to be a ritual holiday (cf the holiday world of AS YOU LIKE IT or A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM), i.e. they were originally popular forms of entertainment of a dionysian nature. Yet, this hypo- thetical origin soon evolved towards more artificial and courtly forms, mainly under the influuence of Fletcher or Ben Jonson. It is interesting to note that Fletcher tried to mix the ritual element of the masque with the more sophitica- ted pastoral drama thus creating what he thought to be a new genre : "a pastoral tragi-comedy" (cf leçon sur Milton et la tradition pastorale). => a movement towards abstraction and allegory, involving emblems and symbols; and also a movement towards drama or more exactly, because of the part played by music and machinery, towards the operatic form. (nb : the opera as a genre began with Monteverdi).
* Structurally, the masque in its jacobean and caroline form represents a subtle harmony between rule and misrule, order and disorder, a dialectic which appears in the jonsonian division between masque and anti-masque. The general theme is that of the containment of misrule, reason controlling the passions. In many masques pleasure comes to be reconciled to virtue or wisdom, and COMUS belongs to that category. Of course, the battle between vice and virtue is a fake strug- gle because ofthe social and political occasion on which the masque is present- ed. As Northrop Frye puts it in his ANATOMY, "the masque is designed to emphasi- ze, not the ideals to be achieved by discipline or faith, but the ideals which are desired or considered to be already possessed"; to some extent it may be said that this genre belongs to the Renaissance theme of the education of princes.
* The masque is based on a fundamental DEVICE or "poetic conceit" also called an EMBLEM or a HINGE; traditionally (and it is not the case of COMUS) a masque starts (after the emblem) with a burlesque scene of misrule and antimasque followed by antimasque dances. Then the main masque or masque proper follows (speeches and dramatic action) which leads to revels and lastly to an epilogue. * Masques do not have plots stricto sensu, but "designs" and devices around which they are built ; they are thus often allegorical, and their outlook is often that of a "moral allegory" which is a development of an original myth such as the Golden Age, the Isles of the Blessed, the golden apples of the Hesperides with such characters as Eros, Venus, Diana etc. As Rosamund Tuve says, "they start out as great images or speaking pictures". => importance of the visual aspect of the masque as something "understood through the eye", everything being an echo or amplification of the original vision, of the original emblematic device. As Lewis said about Spenser, what we obtain is "a verbalization of pageant".
* Vision thus comes first, and with it wonder (cf A. Fletcher whom I follow here) : what is expected is surprise and discovery, especially the miraculous conveyed by machinery. The aim of the masque as it satrts from its device is to surprise and delight the audience, to steal away the spectators from themselves. And indeed, manipulation is at the core of the masque, the "glorious vision" being attained by the use of theatrical astonishment, which implies glorious scenery and setting, rich costumes, music and dance, movable scenery and all the art of the stage designer. Vision, wonder and magic are then keywords (for Comuus as well which represents a battle between two magicians).
* With COMUS, the masque as a genre reaches its end : with this work device and pageant become dramatized and not merelly verbalized; this is partly marked by the passage from enchanted vision to sound : with COMUS theatrical magic becomes poetical magic, and if manipulation there must be, it is a manipulation of the ear.
* Leishman in MILTON'S MINOR POEMS (pp.160-73) differentiates ENTERTAINMENT and MASQUE : the first being not a diminutive masque, but a form of outdoor PAGEANT. For Leishman the core of the masque is what he calls "the opening of the easter egg", the ingenious and surprising discovery of the concealed masquers who first dance among themselves and then with the spectators; whereas the core of the entertainment is the address of welcome or complimentary speech. In this respect ARCADES is a conventional piece of work, the lines being written for a pageantry which had already been designed; it is near Jonson's THE SATYR and close to the average manner of the elizabethan pastoral, Milton limiting himself to the devising of courtly and hyperbolical compliments.
* E.K. Chambers : THE ELIZABETHAN STAGE on the Court Masque : the court masque was not primarily a drama, but an episode in an indoor revel of dancing : masquers come unexpectedly into the hall as a compliment to the host; they dance and invite them to join in the dance; for Chambers the core of the masque is not dramatic illusion but choregraphic compliment.
* nb : the masques of Ben Jonson (30 between 1605 and 1625) : the texts look like "a programme note" : cf the prose descriptions of scenes, costumes, etc. The text consisted in a few songs and a few lines of dialogue of no great literary value. What was important was the spectacular element (cf Inigo Jones).
Comus has often been considered as a dramatic failure; unconvincing in its debates, though poetically beautiful, the masque is often seen merely as a delightfully "dramatized" platonic dialogue yet as a rather unsuccessful masque. Such was the opinion of S. Johnson or even of Warton who appreciated the beauty of the particular parts of the poem and their exquisite diction, but who regretted the lack of architectural unity of the work. More recent critics such as Tillyard tend to see the work as an "experiment in drama", others again, such as Adams consider Comus as a perfectly enjoyable and successful masque, provided it be read on this level only, without the traditional "overreadings" of the work.
The linear development of dramatic action. The argument is simple as is proper for a masque, and dramatic action is reduced to its bare essentials.The masque opens up with a Prologue (which originally comprised the epilogue as well) delivered by the Attendant Spirit (Henry Lawes) dressed up as Thyrsis, one of the shepherds of the place and well known to the protagonists.
Lines 1-17 : a progressive descent from eternal and immutable supernature down to a world of change and corruption, the AS's role being apparently that of a guardian angel helping those who "by due steps" aspire to the crown that virtue gives, i.e. to those who in a truly platonic way renounce the "sin-worn mould" of the sublunary world. This is part and parcel of the trad subject-matter of the masque, temperance and the apology of virtue being one of the stock subjects of the genre. Yet in this passage the tone is definitely platonic and christian, and already the reader is taken within a dialectic which transcends mere "moralism". its vision being already resolutely eschatological.
lines 18-33 : the traditional political compliments to the family in whose honour the masque is performed. We have seen that these are not numerous in Comus and that the masque situation is taken by Milton as a pretext for dwelling on other and more important subjects.
lines 34-45 : a transition which allows the introduction of the main characters and a sort of focusing of action : if the AS is a guardian angel, he has been sent on a particular errand which was to guide the Bridgewater children through the mazes of this drear and dangerous wood.
lines 46-77 : the peculiar danger of the "adventurous glade".= introduction of Comus. First his imaginary genealogy (l.46-59). Bacchus/Dionysius is hiq father : he taught men how to make wine, and also transformed the Tuscan mariners into dolphins. Milton makes him meet Circe (note that all this occurs on the horizontal or natural level) the daughter of Helios, and a sorceress; scatter-brained beauty is on the side of Bacchus whereas cunning craft is on the side of Circe; and of course Comus is more like his mother than his father : it is as a magician and a sorcerer that Comus is here considered, and not merely, as in Ben Jonson's Pleasure reconciled to Virtue, as a merry belly-god. Milton thus makes free with his sources and uses mythology to bring home his point : it is as Circe's son that Comus is going to try and spoil the Lady. The Circe myth was a common place of Renaissance entertainments and poetry; cf Browne's Inner Temple masque, Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar (August), and FQ VI x 16. Homer (Od X) and Ovid (Met III) are the original sources. Note that at the root of Circe's magic we have the idea of transformation or metamorphosis : the danger, for the potential victim, is to lose his or her status as a human being, "the express resemblance of the gods" and (cf PL) "walking erect". From Bacchus to Comus we may notice a progression towards darkness and evil; if Bacchus' powers were playfully used, Circe's and Comus' use of magic is more sinister and devilish. The genealogy is followed by an exposition of Comus' art by the all-knowing AS (lines 59-77). The son of Circe immediately finds the place which corresponds to his character and nature : the ominous wood, the thick shelter and the black shades; in the same way as the angels are "enshpeared" Comus, the magician, finds himself "imbowered" : in this opposition the reader feels the antagonism between good and evil, and he also feels that Comus is in fact aping the gods, as any black magician does by his subversive practice. He is the devilish counterpart of the beneficent Intelligences to whose order the AS belongs. From the outstart we know that the dramatic gist of the masque is the opposition between two magicians, or at least a good magician and a sorcerer. The word "imbowered" also reminds us of Spenser's opposition between the bower of bliss and the garden of Adonis, the former representing "a spurious nature" (cf FQ II, 12). Note also that the Bower is the locale of Comus' art; and this raises a further antithesis between what is natural and what is artificial. The "mighty art" of which Milton speaks clearly means magic, and magic of a sort which perverts the natural order and subverts the chain of being : everything is artificial about Comus, and his art is a parody of the order of the universe. nb: Comus' references to nature always work as "trompe l'oeil" (cf his speech to the Lady). In this way the wood becomes (and this is one of the dramatic aspects of the masque) the antithesis of the court, whether the mansion of the AS or that of the Lord President : the world of the wood becomes artificial and that of the court "natural".
Lines 93-144 and (after the measure) lines 145-68: the Prologue is followed by an antimasque dance and the opening soliloquy of Comus. A world of night and darkness, far from the sun which Comus and his rout of monsters avoid. Secrecy and obscene rites in contradiction with jollity, merry-making and merely tipsy dance : the innocence of the nocturnal disport is belied by the references to Hecate and Cotytto and to the thickest gloom of stygian darkness. The soliloquy displays a first series of contradictions centred round mutually exclusive terms : the innocence of natural processes and ritual secrecy, dramatically culminating in the quasi oxymoron "concealed solemnity" (142). Youthful innocence and harmless enjoyment of nature's gifts do not need concealment, and if it does, then it is sheer hypocrisy. Note the subversive element of the speech, subversive but anti-heroic since there is no direct opposition to the sun but only concealed misdemeanour and self-conscious misbehaviour. We already guess that Comus' philosophy is based on false premises and on a basic misunderstanding of order and movement; there is some form of perversion in his ratiocinations. a perversion brought home by Comus' desire to "make one blot of all the air". The dramatic point here made is the self-delusive nature of evil which surrounds or emcompasses itself with the false rhetoric of "blear illusion"(155). The passage further warns us that what darkness conceals is the imitation, parody of something that is good, namely love, love understood not as agape, but as "nocturnal sport"; and disport becomes a rite, Comus becoming a priest of licentious love, Venus appearing subversively (or in the form of a demonic reversal) in the guise of "dark-veiled Cotytto". The other parodying element is that of the cosmic order : Comus and the antimasquers imitate "the starry quire": they devilishly counterfeit the music of the sphere; and in this there is also something of self-delusion : just as the victims of Circe think they are comely, Comus imagines that the "unruly noise" of the antimasque is in harmony with the chaste and pure concent of the celestial intelligences.
Lines 169-228 : the Lady's soliloquy. First appearance of the Lady benighted in the woods. She has been cut off from her brothers and night is coming, blotting out her vision; as a result she is now guided by her ear. Note the overall structure of the passage : noise - absence of vision - the return of vision - enlivened noise : music. = a chiastic distribution of the twofold sensory theme. Progression of the passage : l.169-180 : the Lady's dilemma : the loose hinds and her unacquainted feet = a first level of fear caused by the sound of riot and wanton peasant dances in praise of bounteous Pan. The ritual idea is here maintained with what the Lady thinks to be celebration and fertility rites performed by "loose, unlettered hinds". Possibly here an indirect attack against popular forms of recreation in the context of the reissue of the Book of Sports (cf AS Marcus : The Politics of Mirth), the idea is conveyed by the reference to "ill-managed merriment" and the expression "thanking the gods amiss". (meanwhile, we may wonder what is the right way of thanking the great Pan...) The Puritan Lady is then presented on the side of virtue and other-worldliness. But there is another aspect. What the Lady is hearing is of course echoes or reverberations of the anti-masque revel, wherein music is akin to disorder and riot, and she immediately thinks of popular rites celebrating Pan, the god of plenty and of pastoral life. In fact, the Lady (in despite of her recreational interpretation) is suddenly plunged within a pagan world in which music is the sign of misbehaviour and lust; this also is the popular, strange and frightening aspect of life, wholly alien to the Lady's aristocratic world, the peasants being thought to be mysteriously and frighteningly near nature's elemental forces. And this reminds us that she is treading enchanted grounds and, certainly thanks to Comus' magic powder, already taken within the dionysian atmosphere of the rioters. Dramatically, what is of interest is that this world of unruly enjoyment is a sort of passage obligé : "where else shall I inform my unacquainted feet" : she will have to cross this obviously unchaste world and be acquainted with its rudeness and "swilled insolence".
Lines 181 to 199 are devoted first to an exposition of the situation (up to 194) and second to a rather beautiful expostulation to the night. This is the usual fairy-tale situation, that of estrangement and isolation on unknown and certainly enchanted ground (of the sort, cf Spenser, on which one had better not stop, and over which one must surely not be weary as the Lady is; the theme was later to be taken up by Bunyan in his Pilgrim's Progress). A new level of fear is now reached in which the Lady is suddenly aware or conscious of something which is not clearly and explicitely present to her mind ("the labour of my thoughts"); she is in fact striving for a representation of the world : the maze is blind, and pieces are lacking to the puzzle. This is obvious in the expostulation to the "thievish" night and her dark lantern which is a lamp without light, or a light without light. It is that instrument which allows you to see and not to be seen; and we have here a dramatic echo of the attitude of Comus : if you do not wish to be seen, it is because of possible evil, "felonious" intentions. Thus is the prevailing darkness reinforced.
A further level of fear is reached in lines 200 to 211. The stranger and more disquieting level of memory and imagination : the enchantment is operating and is now literally infecting the Lady who is still striving for a representation of the world; fear is now accompanied by a certain obscure fascination, and this explains the later references to conscience; but for the time being the Lady is in the power of the tumult of loud mirth which rouses "calling shapes" and "beckining shadows dire". She then discovers that not only her life is at stake, but also her honour, her virtue, her virginity. And danger is coming not only from the outer world, but also from the inner world of the Lady's own phantasies. This is a turning-point in the masque : the wood suddenly becomes the scene of temptation, and the twin idea of temptation/fascination is suggested by the reference to "the virtuous mind that ever walks attended by a strong siding champion, Conscience".
Lines 211-218 : the famous expostulation to the Lady's own particular theological virtues : faith, hope, and chastity, thanks to the uncorruptible light of which vision will be partly recovered in lines 219-228. The so to speak slip of the tongue on the word chastity/charity is of dramatic interest, not only of theoretical or philosophical importance - or at least conveys the sense of a dramatic philosophy. If charity or agapè is love, then chastity partakes of love, and such was the traditional Christian understanding of the function of chastity in this world. From this we may infer that if love is light and music, then Milton wishes to build the dramatic logic of the masque on the drama of light and darkness, the drama of love, and follows in that the programme set up in the Nativity Ode.
The Lady's soliloquy ends with the pure music of her song, and the effects produced by its harmonies on Comus : lines 229-264. We pass on from unruly noise to the "pure concent" reminiscent of the Nativity Ode and of the At a Solemn Music, and also of Il Penseroso. Yet this again is a common place of elizabethan and jacobean entertainments which often had "echo scenes"; cf Browne's Inner Temple Masque or Jonson's Cynthia's Revels. Fowler also mentions Webster's Duchess of Malfi (V, 3). But here, echo does not answer, and the Lady's loneliness is thereby strongly emphasized. The song contains a number of archetypal dramatic situations embedded within the Echo/Narcissus myth, among which that of Philomela, raped by her brother in law Tereus. nb: on the translation of echo from the present airy shell to the skies = from random and meaningless echo to response to the music of the spheres. The reference to music as personal drama is also present in the reference to the myth of Meander (itself reminiscent of Orpheus in Lycidas). (nb : note the number of references to people thrown into the sea or rivers in Milton's early poetry : Orpheus, Sabrina, Charybdis, Marsyas and Meander). The movement is then from dramatic love to genuine agapè. nb: echo as queen of parley (cf mercury); and as such she receives universal lament : that of Philomela and that of the Lady severed from the object of her love. All the references (cf Meander) reinforce the idea of loneliness and also that of an unresponding heaven.
Lines 243-264 : The effect of the song on Comus. Diabolical reversal of themes : the devilish side of rapture : the bird is now the raven; the song is no longer that of love-lorn Philomel, but the "flowery-kirtled" naiades at the service of Circe, the witch. (nb: note the conflation of diverse episodes of the Odyssey : Circe and the Sirens, and Charybdis and Scilla). Reversal and confusion : drugged bliss, dionysian madness confused with resounding grace. Comus misunderstands the nature of the Lady's song to echo (or at least it remains an incimprehensible mystery to him) : other enchantments are alluded to which are the antithesis of the Lady's song : the black magic of a song which is a ritual linked to the preparation of devilish philters and enchantments which lull the sense and emprison the soul in a sweet madness; this is the other and demonic side of "mystery" : the intoxication of the maenads in opposition to the wakeful soul and clearsighted delight. The power of their song is to lure men to their own destruction in the false ecstasy of pagan rites. Dramatically we have here one of the hinges of the masque : the opposition between enchantments or charms (imposed from the exterior) and genuine delight springing from the innermost recesses of the heart : Circe manipulates men and robs the soul off itself whereas Revelation, and the true knowledge of the mystery "enlivens" the heart. Yet, for one moment, as a shakespearian villain, Comus is aware of something beyond his reach, a "something holy" lodging in that breast, a "sober certainty of waking bliss" which stands in opposition to the "pleasing slumber" that "lulls the sense", the product not of charms but of "home-felt delight" and virtue.
Lines 264-329 : the first encounter between the Lady and Comus. It contains a dialogue in alternate lines in imitation of Greek drama and known as Stichomythia, (l.276-289) a device which tends to confirm Daiches's thesis that Comus is "a private experiment in dramatic style". Note the elizabethan lushness of the exquisite descriptions given by Comus, a beauty which reinforces the image of Comus as the magician subverting (and reversing) the natural order of things; he is also the cynical liar : cf the passge on his being awe-struck by the supernatural or eery beauty of the brothers who are compared to elves or inhabitants of that elfin wood. Dramatically the Lady is deluded and her vision is that of the graces of a pastoral setting, the place of the natural courtesy of the savage man (cf Spenser's FQ, VI, v). But the words of glozing courtesy are only the first stage of the temptation and are only for the time being on the surface of language.
Lines 330-488 : the first part of the brothers' debate. cf the medieval practise of debate; cp with the Prolusions, and also with A & P. The debate proper brings nothing to the action, and the masque does not move one inch from the previous situation; this is then the truly platonic debate already alluded to previously. The younger brother is more realistic in his insistence on the physical dangers encountered in a wild wood, and especially the danger of rape. The more idealistic elder brother gives us a rather delightful medley of platonic philosophy, bombastic language, and folklore of the spenserian or shakespearian (cf MND) type. His main idea is that chastity (or virginity, both words seemingly alluding to the same reality) has something magical in it, something which may of itself counteract any felonious attempt backed by black magic. The dramatic opposition is then between black and white magic. Note that the younger brother is nearer the truth in stressing the danger of physical assault against the hapless virgin, a view that will be confirmed son by the AS himself. Yet, there is some truth (or at least some aspect of truth) in the elder brother's conception : chastity is that noble grace or disposition of the will which silences the forces of hell and compels adoration and blank awe, and this reminds us of the effect of the Lady's song upon Comus; this stresses the triumphant nature of chastity which keeps off and subdues what saint Paul calls "the elements of this world", the demons alluded to here in the form of hags, fairies of the mine, ghosts, and all such forces of night and obscurity. Various mythologies and folklore are here brought together in order to stress the universal magical power of chastity. But chastity of its own virtue only freezes or congeals (cf Minerva) the forces of obscurity; it merely stops time or stops history (defined as the remaining power of the elements); and indeed the Lady herself will stop time (dramatic time) and be herself congealed in Comus' chair. Such is the "sun-clad power of chastity". NB: notice at the beginning of the passage the dramatic importance of orientation, the poet stressing the dialectical plight of the protagonists whor are utterly lost : they lack not only the "vertical" light of the stars, but also the horizontal light of this-world counsel and consolation : they are within the realm of chaos presented as the king of the wild wood (disinherit chaos) that dungeon protected by "dark usurping mists" : the quest of the brothers is of some light amidst chaos, alight which, if it does not come from heaven could visit them from within chaos; and that light, symbolically enough, is said to come from "a clay habitation", a metaphor perhaps of the body; cf the Nativity Ode : "a darksome house of mortal clay". If such were the meaning of this passage, it would reinforce the incarnationist element in Milton's dialectic.
Lines 479-657. Lines which bring us to the close of what might be called the first Act of the masque. We are still in the company of the two brothers, but with one more character, the Attendant Spirit as Thyrsis the shepherd (the good shepherd). Thyrsis first point out in spenserian tones the dangerous or adventurous character of the place (lines 506-538) and repeats in different terms the passage of the Prologue dealing with Comus' art. cf function of repetition and echo in the masque: the Circe myth is then reiterated. Note also the importance of the descriptive element in the masque : not much happens directly on the stage, but many aspects of dramatic action are indirectly referred to or merely reported or repeated. Another aspect of repetition is made us of in the evocation of the almost universal or cosmic effect of the Lady's song. The AS is presented again as the musician well versed in rural minstrelsy, and from the outstart the musical theme is taken up with a reference to the Lady's song : as a counterpoint to the effect of that song on Comus we have now its effect on AS. Note the dramatic use made of music : the various layers of sound in the passage from line 539 to 579. cf the "rural minstrelsy" born of a pleasing fit of melancholy (cf l'Allegro), opposed first to the "barbarous dissonance" of the devilish herd, followed by a sudden silence during which all the world stands still in listening adoration to the Lady's song said to be "solemn-breathing" and of such spiritual intensity that it could "create a soul under the ribs of death". In this we have still another aspect of Milton's musical dialectic, the degrees of which correspond to the platonic or neoplatonic (and pythagorean) degrees of being. nb : it is interesting to note that the last musical reference is to the ear : "till guided by mine ear" which is also an echo of the Lady's "if mine ear be true"; this is to my mind a reference to the fides ex auditu theme which plays so important a part in Milton's poetry (and prose). It is also to be noted that the AS does not stop at the this-worldly aesthetic aspect of music, and contrary to Comus goes immediately to its dramatic and excruciating core, i.e. to its meaning or idea (just as the Lady had told Comus in l.272 sq that "not any boast of skill but extreme shift how to regain my severed company Compelled me to awake the courteous echo). As a result, and in perfect echo to the song of the Lady, the AS calls her "poor hapless nightingale" (565) thereby stressing again the main dramatic point of the masque. The lament of Philomel is one of the stock themes of Renaissance poetry but in Milton's masque it takes up another level of meaning and is to be read as one of the many counterpoints to the metamorphosis theme. When the elder brother answers the doubts of the younger one (l.584-608) a new level of intensity is reached, already attained by the AS with his proleptical (though an unconfirmed prolepsis) reference to the fate of Philomel. The protagonists now know that the Lady is now in the power of the sorcerer. The dramatic interest (or non dramatic?) of these lines is the boy's stubborn adherence to his doctrine of virginity/chastity to which he now gives not only a cosmological resonance but also an eschatological meaning : the present difficulty is to be understood as tribulation, and if the revealed order of the universe is not mere rhetoric, then "evil on itself shall back recoil" (although he still makes use of the vocabulary and the arguments of magic). And after what is after all no more than a great oath, he without any transition thinks of resorting to sheer force, dreaming of taking Comus' stronghold by storm.
His attempt is checked by the AS who, in the famous haemony speech, proposes to fight black magic with white magic. (l.616- 655). Structurally what we have here is a sort of story within the story : for obvious reasons of veresimilitude the AS must go on pretending he is Thyrsis, and he on the spur of the moment invents the fable of the "shepherd lad" who gave him the mysterious plant (note all the realistic details : I pursed it up, but little reckinong made till now; but now I find it true): mediation is extended or transferred on the natural plane and the messenger of the gods becomes the medecine man. Yet, the dramatic interest of Haemony is slight, and the plant will be of almost no avail in the onslaught upon Comus; a further level of magic will be needed in the shape of the Sabrina myth : haemony only dispels the magic dust scattered about by Comus and does nothing more; its virtue is only negative (nb: correspondingly, Comus never makes use of his instruments : the cup remains untasted, and the wand is never made use of). (cf cours sur le chaste et l'"inchaste").
With the new "scene", the "stately palace" of Comus, opens the second "Act" of the masque (lines 658 to 956). It opens with a new and lively debate between the Lady and Comus (l.658-812) and closes with Comus being put to flight (l.813-956).
The Lady is now chained in Comus' enchanted chair, surrounded with all sorts of delicacies among which Comus' circean cup which she is invited to taste. The situation is rather undramatic as the Lady is fixed and motionless, immanacled or glued to the seat of nature, her only power being stubborn resistance to temptation. For this is the great temptation scene of the masque, and it is experienced first as absence of movement : time and space are suspended as the Lady is let for a time in the power of the devil (idea of trial and tribulation or test of faith...). Metaphorically (though perhaps undramatically) the Lady is now chained to the seat of nature, to her own corporality, and the body in this world in enchanted and it is the slave of passions, yet the expression of passions does not here go beyond the "gay rhetoric" and the "vizor'd falsehood" of Comus. In lines 664-689 Comus attacks temperance as a breach of contract with nature in a series of typically Renaissance metaphors based on money and exchange (cf Shakespeare's Sonnets or even Donne): "covenant", "trust", "harshly deal", "ill-borrower", "unexempt condition" : the order of nature becomes the natural contract : the body is borrowed on terms and the usage one is compelled to is "gentle usage and soft delicacy"; then, if pleasure is not pursued, the contract is violated. This part of the debate is again reminiscent of medieval debates which Milton cultivated in his early Prolusions, and it is based on a double inversion : Comus subverts Christian temperance or asceticism by "demonstrating" that it is the world-renouncing (or at least chaste) people who perturb the natural order. Note that Comus' arguments are crowned with platitudes or common-places such as "refreshment after toil, ease after pain". A new series of arguments are resorted to in 706 to 754; the passage begins with an attack on stoic abstinence and temperance as being in contradiction with nature's fertility : nature was made for man, "to please and sate the curious taste" etc., consumption being a duty and even a necessity because surfeit would end in a reversal of the natural order. Again, the arguments of Comus are subtly vitiated by the poet : his "mistake" is to lay the emphasis exclusively on natura naturans, nature naturing or creative, leaving aside natura naturata, nature "natured" or created. The intersting point here is that Comus stresses only the reproductive/fertile power of nature, a movement which is left uncntrolled but by man who regulates this self-development of nature : without consumption as regulation life would be its own grave-digger and become an unchecked machine or an ungoverned reproductive principle. But Comus is a liar(unless he is an ass...) and the core of the now wholly undramatic debate lies in his "forgetting" to mention that nature (and human nature) does incorporate a moral law which is immediately perceptible and proceeding from the eternal law. The image Comus gives us is that of a lawless nature tamed only by man's appetites. (nb: stylistically all the verbs and adjectives evoke rank plenty, a festering nature, life over-flooding in riotous confusion and threatening richness, or suffocating abundance; his description of fertility (unused fertility) is reminiscent of feverish illnesses and festering wounds). It is strange (structurally speaking) that Comus should abruptly pass from mere temperance/abstinence to beauty and virginity (unless he had that at the back of his mind from the outstart); from line 736 he then passes on to the sexual plane : "there was another meaning in these gifts; think what and be advised"; pursuing the same line of thought, he voices a negative conception of virginity as something anti-natural and mistakes it for mere abstinence, and again he makes use of monetary metaphors based on the circulation of currency; beauty is nature's brag and has essentially an exchange-value (marked by mutual and partaken bliss) which decreases with time; beauty thus means "hoarded money". Again, the reader cannot fail to note the platitudinous nature of the argument, the commonplace conclusions, and the proverbs and maxims brought to the level of philosophy. In fact, and this is the only dramatic interest of the whole passage, Comus is trying to teach the Lady pride which is the first of sins and a form of greed. It is based on a perversion (inversion or reversal) of a natural thhing : you cannot live by yourself, but only in a relation of exchange, in other words in "self-giving", which means that for Milton beauty is not your own : the Lady is being flattered into a sense of her own individuality, and that is the demonic side of beauty. Indeed, beauty is to be shown "in courts, at feasts, and high solemnities", it is to be paraded. By whom? by the beautiful self. Thus do we obtain a parody of relationship : the more beauty is shown, the more self-conscious it becomes, and in seeking praise appetites triumph and the ego succumbs to greed... And greed is precisely the sin of the niggard. Again, Comus' rhetoric is self-defeating. For Milton, as we shall see, intemperance is greed, and greed turns inward and affects the soul. We can then understand that the passage from appetites such as drinking or eating to sexuality points to the same evil in human nature.
The first part of Comus' argument causes an enraged outbreak on the part of the Lady (689-704) in which she emphasizes the two aspects of temptation : its rhetoric and its instruments. cf false traitor, foul deceiver, vizored falsehood, base forgery and brewed enchantments, liquorish baits. Her powers of resistance are amazing and one may wonder if she really comes to be tempted. More interesting is the Lady's second answer (lines 755 to 798); it has often been noted that it is divided into two parts : first an answer (rather well conducted) on the level of nature and temperance (up to l.779) and second an abrupt shift to the level of "the sage and serious doctrine of virginity" in which the Lady piles up undemonstrated arguments which do not properly answer Comus' speech which remains unrefuted. Various interpretations have been given of this discrepancy within the Lady's answer, from the theory of grace of the Woodhouse school, to the marxist studies of Fletcher; but to my mind the interesting aspect is the Lady's silence per se : "shall I go on? or have I said enough?"... and she does not go on : "yet to what end"; "thou art not fit to hear thyself convinced" (note the passage from the you to the thou). One may imagine that, dramatically this time, the Lady is tempted, and then silence is the only possibility (for fear that your own arguments may fall upon your head). On the whole this is highly unsatisfactory, and the critic cannot fall back on the Lady's own argument that Comus, not belonging to the same world, cannot understand the difference between temperance and virginity. Besides, her own undefined conception of virginity does not have the positive quality of paulinian theology but a rather negative or at least restrictive fragrance, and she does not reach the level which was (nonetheless) that of the nativity ode in which virginity is a positive and mystical idea combined with chivalric and neo-platonic doctrines which point to the mystical and spiritual powers to be attained on the level of grace. But in Comus the positive aspect is disregarded and what we are explained is not what virginity is but what it is not : the positive end of the mystical union with the lamb appearing only (as an echo) in the AS's epilogue. (nb: I follow here Barker's MILTON AND THE PURITAN DILEMMA).
The debate is followed by the triumph of the children: first Comus is put to flight, but they could not manage to snatch his wand and the AS has to resort to another stratagem = the Sabrina episode. The AS first tells the story of Sabrina (813-857), once told by Meliboeus (i.e. Spenser). Dramatically the situation is as follows : the lady is still enchanted (I do not believe that she is really being tempted, and the word temptation does not appear in Comus); her senses, then, are enchanted, but her reason is not : she is still clear-sighted and against the rhetoric of passions she has lately chosen the right course : stubborn silence. Now she is both motionless (as a result of the enchantment) and voiceless (as a result of a free exercise of her will). Note that the situation is different from that of Eve in PL : in this work the words enchanter and enchantments do not occur : the devil is presented as the Tempter (in the same way, the words magic and magician do not occur in PL). Yet, the word trial is to be found in both texts. nb: difference between magic and temptation : temptation is a direct sollicitation of the will through reason and the senses. Magic is more passive : by magic the senses are lulled (it is also linked to ritual and instruments).
Since Comus has escaped with his wand, a counter-magic or white magic is necessary : "without his rod reversed / and the backward mutters of dissevering power / we cannot free the Lady." Evil does not automatically back recoil upon itself, but must be made so by the instrumentality of a deeper magic through which dis-enchantment is performed. The brothers' failure is an easy way of bringing in the story of Sabrina, but it also teaches the lesson that nothing can be achieved (and no virtue may be practised) apart from mediation : thus evil will on itself back recoil, a) not with the brothers' sword, but with haemony b) the words of dissevering power cannot be uttered by the brothers themselves but through the mediatory power of Sabrina. (nb: Sabrina is presented as an alternative to white magic or counter-magic : "some other means I have which may be used").
The story of Sabrina (825-58 and 889-99) is a masque theme (and also an indirect compliment to the Lord President with the reference to the river Severn). Its sources : FQ II, 10 and Geoffrey of Monmouth (pp77seq); it is also taken up in Milton's History of Britain. The mythological (and dramatic) theme is that of the healing power of virgins centered on the magic of the sacrificed virgin = a christianised Pagan element. cf what looks like a baptism of the senses : "and through the porch and inlet of each sense/ dropt in ambrosial oils, till she revived, / and underwent a quick immortal change, / made goddess of the river; in the same way Sabrina is going to anoint or "baptise" the senses of the Lady. Besides, this healing or regeneration is taken up as an echo in the passage on Adonis in the Epilogue. But I think it would be wrong to equate Sabrina with grace : she remains a mythological numen locale, the goddess of the river (cf Lycidas) protecting herds and able to unlock charms and spells; as such she is the protector of cattle and virgins. Neither is she a spirit in the way the AS is : Thyrsis is a "ministering angel" appearing under the features of a man whereas Sabrina is a woman who has become a spirit : she has achieved immortality (the quick change), she was metamorphosed - and this brings us back to the nightingale theme; Sabrina then belongs to the order of nature (although she is too - for obvious political reasons - the spirit or genius of Britain).
Lines 859-888. Song or invocation characteristic of the masque tradition and operating the same function as the Lady's song. Here all the sea deities appear with all their traditional attributes; it is followed by the appearance of Sabrina rising from the waters and the healing or rescuing of the Lady (889-920). The whole passage is in the form of a ritual based on the curative power of water, Sabrina's intervention being given a sacramental value inasmuch as it includes baptism, exorcism, and magic. Her priestly function seems obvious (it is my office; I touch thrice; she also sprinkles drops from her fountain pure). (nb.Note the stage directions : Sabrina descends, and the Lady rises...). The whole masque then turns to music and heptasyllabic couplets while the AS safely conveys the children to their parents (921-956) and towards the last scene of the masque containing a song (957-964), the presentation of the children to their parents (965-974), and the entertainment ends with the much discussed Epilogue.Retour
There are three "scenes" in Comus : the "wild wood", Comus' "stately palace" at the very core of the wood, and lastly "Ludlow Castle", the residence of the Lord President of Wales. To this must be added the cosmic backworld or "backcloth" of the Attendant Spirit; it is poetically described but does not play any role from the point of view of stage-setting. Another world ought to be mentionned, the mysterious world of water which is that of Sabrina. These various places correspond to a not always clearcut division between natural and supernatural reality : the Attendant Spirit obviously belongs to supernature (though he appears to the children as the well-known Thyrsis), and so does Comus, the son (according to Milton's own reading of mythology) of Bacchus and Circe. But Comus does not come directly from without nature : he has for a certain time been roving the earth (from spain to England) and seems to be one with nature. The children are obviously of this world and remain so to the end; they encounter different forms of supernatural reality (in the form of trial and help), but they have to remain on the natural plane. What is interesting is that there is a constant and subtle gradation from one level (or degree) to the other : a certain blurring of the outline of the picture which I would like to call a principle of continuity. For instance, the children partake of spiritual or supernatural reality in their various (and sometimes contradictory) references to virtue and the pagan/christian scale of perfection; there is also some sort of essential relationship between the two palaces or two cities, the castle at Ludlow and the stately palace in the wood; the same may be said of the magic plant Haemony the root of which grows in this world, but the flower elsewhere. Lastly, the same unbroken continuity may be seen in the interweaving of Pagan and Christian elements. But let us first study each one of these worlds as it presents itself to the audience.
It has sometimes been said (ASP Woodhouse, for instance)that Ludlow Castle represents a Heavenly Jerusalem to be deserved as a crown of glory after long and perilous tribulations in the penumbra, in the twilight of the wood symbolically representing the low worlds of chance, mutability, temptation and sin.
Yet, the translation of the children to the castle at Ludlow must not to my mind be mistaken with the celestial abode of the Attendant Spirit, and neither is it to be confused with the sunlit world of Cupid and Psyche; in the gradation or chain of love Ludlow Castle remains on the natural plane or what I would like to call the "horizontal" level or this-world level, whereas the Attendant Spirit belongs, not to the horizontal world of Ludlow (and the wood) but to the "vertical" world of the masque's supernatural background. If I may go on with my neoplatonic simile I should say thatthe castle at Ludlow is the further stage (holier ground, l. 943) on the way to the celestial regions of Adonis and Cupid and the crown of glory mentioned at the beginning of the masque; a further stage which involves perils of its own, not dealt with in the masque, but nonetheless alluded to in several parts of the entertainment (cf the Lady's attack on the lack of courtesy and charity at Court). Besides, Ludlow castle stands in the vicinity of the wood : "not many furlongs thence/Is your father's residence" (946-7) which remains real : it stands as a sort of dubious or ambiguous sanctuary in this "low world". Ambiguous or ambivalent is the castle at Ludlow : it belongs, as we have seen, to the "low world" or horizontal world; it is steeped in, rooted in the world of nature, in the fallen world of which the Attendant Spirit says in the Overture : that it is "a dim spot", a place of "smoke and stir" in which men are "confined and pestered in this pinfold here", and where they "strive to keep up a frail and feverish being,/Unmindful of the crown that vertue gives"; Ludlow then belongs to that fallen world, and its fallen nature is clearly alluded to when the Lady (with some irreverence) denounces the manners of courtly life, courtesy being found rather in lowly sheds than in "tapestry halls/And courts of princes, where it first was named,/and yet is most pretended"(323-26). This cannot be on the part of Milton an attack on hierarchy, this would indeed be improper within the context of the masque; this reflection is all the more interesting as there is a strong element of dramatic irony in it : while stating this truth and castigating the Court, the Lady is in fact being deluded by Comus disguised as one of these courteous swains; this could mean that as she is mistaken in respect of this particular shepherd, then she is mistaken in her appraisal of courtly life and in her judgement passed on the seat of power, and thus no offence is made to the Court of Wales. This introduces a sotto voce disquisition on the dialectics of high and low within what we call the horizontal level on which I would like to dwell at some length. What Milton reproaches the "court" with is not the fact that it is the court but the fact that it does not always behave as it ought to (and this sort of mild reproach is part and parcel of the masque tradition); the hierarchical principle comes thus to be emphasized by what looks like (as some critics would have it) a republican or democratic attack on hierarchy. The problem may be stated in this way : if one may be deluded in one's appraisal of social structures it is because in this fallen world our perception and intellection of "genuine" hierarchy is somewhat adumbrated, and such is the case of the Lady; this does not mean that hierarchy as such is a spurious principle, on the contrary, it is a real and universal one, and it lies at the very core of the miltonic masque structure (cf Arcades) In this, as we shall see, Milton follows the neoplatonic doctrine such as it is for instance to be found in Spenser's Four Hymns (and especially in the Hymn to Heavenly Love).
Politically speaking Milton is neither a sycophant praising through Bridgewater the caroline political structure, nor a "great contemptor" of monarchical systems. In Comus he is defending hierarchy on the metaphysical and religious level, and not on the temporal or this-worldly one. It would for instance be a mistake to read lines 18-45 as sheer hypocrisy : Milton is there paying the usual compliment which was expected in any masque, and as we have seen this compliment goes far beyond political adulation in that it constantly draws the attention of the audience to a higher and more authentic level of authority corresponding to the platonic degrees of being. One must also be aware of the humorous nature of such compliments which are part and parcel of a worldly entertainment. It is also to be remembered that these compliments are not numerous in Comus : after lines 18-45 we leave the mundane world of the Court and the masque turns to pure poetry and keeps up this pace until the close of the entertainement when the children are brought back to their parents. Yet, even within these few lines, Milton's cosmic conception of hierarchy is constantly present : the reference to Neptune dividing his realm between his sons and giving them free use of their power in their own spheres is clearly a reference to the dynamic conception of devolution ofpower so dear to Milton's heart; the devolution of power image used here is akin to the older and medieval conception of society, the expression "by course" meaning regular distribution, as the kings of old gave lands to their vassals, a situation which recalls that of the "tributary gods", i.e. deriving their power and social status from the king. That is why they are given leave to wear their crowns and their little tridents. The latter image is of some importance because it is an implicit reference to Neptune's greater trident which was commonly said to be stretching up to the sky. Moreover, the image suggests a continuity between the higher and lower orders of nature and supernature, everything being taken up in the logic of devolution within the overall order of the chain of being. Lastly, this image also conveys the idea that from Neptune down to gods and spirits and further down to man (by metonymy) we have a continuous image, man being (cf line 69) the "express resemblance of the gods". We may then safely infer that the political world is ideally and not really akin to the cosmological order. Once again this was a commonplace of Renaissance ways of seeing the universe.
The masque is then to some extent a tale of two cities, the earthly city on the horizontal plane, and the heavenly city related to the vertical plane of reference.
(yet : beware of "overerreadings" of Comus; cf Adams : "Milton and the critics"). nb : the theory of the progressive translation towards a heavenly Jerusalem through the mediation of grace is defended by A.S.P. Woodhouse in "the argument of Comus" and in his Heavenly Muse ; this, according to Adams is the typical case of overreading.
Let us now come back to the wood, not many furlongs from the castle. cf lines 36-42. Woods always suggest places of peril, such as in Spenser's Faierie Queene , I, 7. and this particular wood is full of the dangers proper to fairy tales : it is "an adventurous place" (l. 79), and the words (note the pathetic fallacy) "nodding horror", "shady brows", "threats" suggest an impersonation of evil. In other words this both romantic (in the medieval sense) and fairy place is or represents a negation of space : it is a somewhere in which you can easily get lost both physically and spiritually. To lose one's way means in the present case to be swallowed as it were by a giant or a demon (if we are willing to play the game of pathetic fallacy) within which or whom night reigns supreme, and we know that obscurity is the abode of evil. We are here, I repeat, in the world of fairy tales and the context of the drear woods immediately suggests the possibility of enchantment, of succumbing to the demonic lore of sorcerers or witches. A world of "fairy lands forlorn" which meant much to Milton and to his audience who were familiar with the "demons of the middle air" whose intercourse with the human race had always a hellish aim. And indeed Milton perfectly answers our expectations for this wood is inhabited by Comus and his rout. We do not for the moment discuss the wood as part of nature or as the symbol of one aspect of nature, but as a place, and more particularly as an ambiguous or ambivalent place. Ambiguous because its good, evil, or neutral nature depends on the opinion of the characters. For Comus it is, when he addresses the Lady, "a prosperous growth" (269); in the same way, but for different and even opposite reasons, it is (and one may perceive the dramatic irony of it) "a kind hospitable wood" (187) offering the "spreading favour" of its pines and its refreshing berries and "cooling fruit" (183-5). Even when she knows that she is lost, she speaks of the place not as a hellish dungeon, but as a "leafy labyrinth" (278), and the worst she says about it is that it is a "blind maze" (181). It is only in her own self that she discovers disquieting things, the "thousand fantasies", the "calling shapes" and "beckoning shadows dire" which "throng" into her memory (205-10) : as we shall see later she constantly sees nature as something good, evil being only the product of ignorance or perturbed minds. Yet, the longest passages deal with the more sinister aspects of the wood; the Attendant Spirit speaks of the "nodding horror" of "shady brows" threatening the benighted wayfarer (36ff); he even rather indecorously alludes to the "navel of this hideous world" (520), but what is above all to be feared are the evil practices of the inhabitants of this world, their "abhored rites" and insists on the existence (though unseen) of "rifted rocks whose entrance lead to hell" (518), as older poets were well aware of (and certainly Spenser: cf FQ, opening of Book II). These notions are both anticipated and taken up by the younger brother who explicitely refers to the sexual nature of the evil things to be encountered in this wood, "savage hunger or savage heat" (358). For him as for the elder brother this wood is not hospitable, it is cold (perhaps some cold bank is her bolster now), and rough (the rugged bark of some broad elm), full of "rude burs and thistles" (350 sq). It is also a cold and close dungeon, and idea expressed by the younger brother and translated by the elder brother (as an echo of the thousand fantasies thronging in the mind of Alice) into a form of platonic pneumatology, the impure man being "himself his own dungeon" (385). A place of desolation, then, which can be safely crossed only by those clad in the complete steel of chastity, and the pure radiance of virginal Diana. We can see that the wood takes up a different meaning according to the various ways of looking at it, according, shall we say, to the various moods or states of mind of the individual. But this brings us to Milton's conception of nature which will be dealt with later on. One last remark about the wood : it is a place of utter darkness, and the only guide of the benighted traveller is hearing, sounds, music, echoes either of enthralling song or of riotous merry-making. Light is always expected, but never (except in Comus' Palace) goes beyond a dubious twilight; the wood is then the ideal setting for the "lush warmth" of a Midummer Night's Dream.
This is mainly the world of the Attendant Spirit and not that of Comus or Sabrina. Structurally speaking, the Prologue and Epilogue (though not in the Bridgewater Ms or the 1637 edition) so to speak enclose or cover the dram […] ision between high and low involves a certain number of cosmological presuppositions. Supernature is seen and presented as a place, a locus, and the words "threshold", "court", "mansion", "regions" or "the palace of eternity" (opened by a famous "golden key") denotes a cosmological hierarchy of supernatural life. The first level is that of the Court or Palace of Jupiter/Jove who is the god of light, situated at the apex of the godly pyramid. (it is to be noted that for the Romans Jupiter was the protector of social and political stability). Jove is thus the High King (to take up a medieaval term), and symbolically he is both at the same time the supreme reference, the god and the king, and from this is derived the harmony between the metaphysical, religious and political aspects of the masque. Thus, by the use of the words court and palace we have a mirror image of the Bridgewater family : a welsh court within the higher court of England within the higher court of eternal supernature. The second level is that of the "aerial spirits insphear'd/In regions mild of calm and serene air". The word insphered is an allusion to the current cosmological framework. Jupiter is here the equivalent of Aristotle's Primum Mobile communicating his movement to the rest of the universe in a perfectly circular movement which is that of the spheres whose realm (sphere of influence!) is situated beyond the orbit of the moon; according to the "discarded image" of the universe (cf C.S. Lewis), the spheres were inhabited by intelligences, a complex relationship between matter and intelligence described by Plato in the Timaeus as celestial animals; a soul or "intelligence" is then located "in" the sphere. Note also the use of the word "shapes" which seems to be implying that the intelligences are related to the spheres as the body is to the soul, that they are, in aristotelian language, the "entelechy" of the body. Poetically this also gives them some form of life or presence and even of personality, a personality which was well known to the audience and suggested by the use of the demonstrative "those". The union between body and soul here implied is also reminiscent of Il Penseroso, l. 85 seq. These aerial spirits (who are concrete entities) are those to whom Comus refers in l. 112-14 : "the starry quire/who, in their nightly watchful spheres,/Lead in swift round the months and years". Again in l. 1021 they are described as the "sphery chime" which makes us remember that there is a music of the spheres, and that music is one of the essential aspects not only of the masque in its representation of harmony, but also of Milton's own particular conception of the relationship between music and chastity. If we come back to the passage from Il Penseroso quoted above, the dialectics between "the immortal mind" and "this fleshly nook" brings us to a third cosmological level which is the dynamic one of mediation. The Attendant Spirit is not one of the inspheared, but a mediator between Jupiter and the Earth. In fact, he is a sort of Hermes, a messenger of the gods, and that is why he does not inhabit a sphere but lives in a mansion. Several critics have insisted on this word which must not be understood as a permanent dwelling place but as a stage in a journey, just as the body is the transient mansion of the soul. What is then characteristic of the Att Sp is his movement which is not circular but downwards and upwards. (note on the platonic scale of being and theory of mediation : the tertium quid).
The upward and downward movement (especially the latter) is not without the flavour of an incarnationist view of the world : and this is implied by the use of the word "errand" and by the reference to the unsullied divinity of A.S. which must be given up so as to be able to appear to human eyes; this passage (the pure ambrosial weeds) reminds us of these lines in the Nativity Ode : That glorious form, that light insufferable,/And that far-beaming blaze of majesty,/Wherewith he wont at Heaven's high Councel-table/ to sit in the midst of trinal unity,/ he laid aside; and here with us to be,/Forsook the courts of everlasting day, / And chose with us a darksom house of mortal clay" (1.8 ff). Yet the Att Sp is not Christ but is only one of those who in their way imitate the primeval trinitary relationship. In this he is like the arch-angel Uriel in Paradise Lost Bk III, 648 : "Th'Arch-Angel Uriel, one of the sev'n who in Gods presence, nearest to his throne / Stands ready at command, and are his eyes / That run through all the Heavens, or down to th'earth / Bear his swift errands over moist and dry."
The fourth and last cosmological level is that of the earth, and it also corresponds to the longest passage in the introduction; this level is brought into sharp relief by the opposition between "in regions mild of calm and serene air" and the "dim spot", the smoke and the stir of the earth. Below the moon there is indeed a lack of light and the imperium of time and mutability, a world of unstability and strife governed by chance and fortune (cf Dante : L'Inferno, VII, 73-96). In this low world men are said to "strive to keep up a frail and feverish being"; note the alliterations and the idea of resistance to movement on the part of a world situated on the brink of chaos.
There are two sorts of men on the earth : those who mind virtue and those who are unmindful of it. Virtue ought to be defined here : it is that disposition of the man who by an act of will endeavours to go back to God; and this movement is not a natural movement : by virtue man (as a microcosm) strives to find back his place in the "starry quire", another way of saying that man's desire on this earth is to go back home, so as to find back the proper level of his (now lost) humanity. (cf N. Frye, Five Essays on Milton's Epics). A virtuous life is that which transforms man into God's servant after death. Below the moon it is hard (because of weight and gravity, we shall come back later to that) to turn to God, a difficulty implied by the expression "due steps", due, that is to say "appointed", linked to duty and ascesis. The moral aspect of the masque is thus definitely and firmly set : it is to these people that Milton is speaking, those whose desire is to belong after "this mortal chage" to the world of "gods" and "enthroned saints", an image which is strongly reminiscent of Revelation (1-4).
One word now ought to be said about the intermingling of Pagan and Christian elements in Comus. As we have seen, this was a common practice in the Renaissance which typologically read back Pagan stories into the Christian frame of reference; this was for instance the case of Spenser, of Browne or Fletcher whose references are constantly to a christianised Pantheon.As Fraser says about Lycidas, this fusion of Pagan and Christian elements allows Milton to see nature as sacramental , that sacred view of nature being characteristic of the baroque style and of counter-Reformation art. This aspect of Milton's art stops with Lycidas, and in Paradise Lost pagan images and figures tend to become distorted echoes of the truth; besides, in the late 18th century Pagan images began to shrink away from Christianity..Retour
(Article publié dans les Cahiers du GRETES, Pouvoir et Musique ,
J.P. Teissedou, ed., Lille, 1990, p. 301-324)
L'humanisme chrétien de Milton s'appuie sur une ontologie de type néo-platonicien au sens le plus large du terme et sur un certain nombre de concepts hérités du platonisme diffus de la Renaissance au centre desquels nous trouvons celui de conver-sion dans son double sens philosophique et religieux. Dans la pensée et la poésie d'inspiration platoni-cienne la conversion philosophique (ou religieuse) part de la constatation ou de la prise de conscience d'une situation dia-lectique, d'une aporie ou d'une apparente contradiction; et c'est à partir de la conscience de cette tension que le sujet s'élève pour parvenir à la vision contemplative, à la theoria, anmamnèse concep-tuelle par laquelle le philosophe épouse le réellement réel, communie avec le vrai absolument en une pure effusion. Tel est par exemple le programme de L'Allegro and Il Penseroso et nous partageons l'opinion de Don Cameron Allen pour qui la dyna-mique ascendante de ce poème est tout entière contenue dans l'image de la tour : "By a continued mounting of the slopes of the intellect from common experience, to intellectual expe-rience, to religious inspiration, the poet trusts to arrive at the supreme poetic gratification." (1). Cette ascèse, ou plu-tôt cette remontée vers le vrai ne peut s'effectuer qu'à la manière d'un retour ou d'un regres-sus vers le principe au sein duquel est comme retrouvée, redé-couverte, l'intégrité perdue. Le mouvement dialectique est re-tour aux sources et en tant que tel il implique une démarche difficile et pénible, mais égale-ment méthodique en ce qu'elle exige une dialectique de l'arrachement et de la rupture, en d'autres termes une conver-sion ou metanoia, un bouleversement de l'être de l'individu, autant de "backward mutters of disseve-ring power", qui vont défaire ou dénouer la malédiction qui de-puis la faute tient le genre humain sous le pouvoir de son charme. Platonisme et pu-ritanisme se rejoignent dans cette thématique du voyage "à re-bours" dont les diverses et néces-saires étapes libèrent pro-gressivement de l'envoûtement et de l'asservissement dans les-quels nous tient le péché et confèrent à la personne l'intégrité jadis perdue en la métamorphosant ou plutôt en la transposant dans la figure de révélation, c'est-à-dire dans le corps du Christ; mais cette translation n'est pas vécue par Milton comme elle l'est par Bunyan dans Grace Abounding, elle est avant tout esthétique et musicale, et l'élu se trouve au terme de sa purification transformé en pure célébration de la gloire divine, plus haut que le "sphery chime" au sein de la grande liturgie cosmique. Il nous est donné de suivre dans la poésie du jeune Milton, répétées de poème en poème, les di-verses étapes des pérégrinations de l'âme en quête de sa na-ture et de sa fonction dans la grande chaîne de l'être ainsi que dans l'économie du salut, sous la forme d'un pélerinage de l'âme vers elle-même, d'une reconstitution patiente du corps démembré d'Orphée, "Orpheus re-membered" pourrions nous dire en paraphrasant le titre d'un livre récent (2); le corps d'Orphée se reconstituant, tel un mystère pascal, autour du principe universel qu'est l'ordre de l'amour, ce que saint Augustin ap-pelait l'ordo amoris; c'est en effet en fonction de cet axe cosmique et liturgique qu'il faut constamment s'orienter ou se réorienter, qu'il faut en un mot s'ordonner. Il est donc ques-tion d'apprentissage de cet "englobant" ou plutôt de réappren-tissage car, nous le disions, cette découverte est un regres-sus, l'ascèse étant un retour ou une régression qui passe par le concept platonisant et protestant de renaissance. Comus n'est pas uniquement un dialogue platonicien dramatisé, il est aussi la mise en scène de la conception dramatique que le pu-ritanisme et même plus généralement le protestantisme se font de l'économie du salut. Tel est, pensons-nous, le double an-crage de la poésie du jeune milton : la philosophia perennis d'inspiration platonicienne et la démarche puritaine, conver-sion philosophique et conversion religieuse se rejoignant au sein d'une même dialectique. Le scénario ou l'intrigue que nous venons d'esquisser est celui du jeune Milton tel qu'à Horton il se préparait à entrer en poésie et à devenir, après une longue ascèse, lui-même un poème. Les éléments constitu-tifs de cette ascèse sont donnés et répétés, disions-nous, de poème en poème, dans leur aspect christique avec l'Ode On the Morning of Christ's Nativity qui demeure le manifeste miltonien par excellence, dans sa dimension existentielle avec l'Allegro and Il Pense-roso, dans sa dimension théorique et métaphysique avec Comus, et ils trouvent leur couronnement avec Lycidas. Mais c'est dans Comus que nous avons une tentative dramatique de "mise en intrigue" (pour reprendre un concept de Paul Ricoeur) de ce processus de conversion selon ce qui nous paraît être les normes d'un humanisme et d'un idéalisme chrétiens . Comus est une tentative de représentation du passage dramatique de la discorance à l'harmonie, d'un monde humain qui est, pour reprendre les termes de Donne "all in pieces, all coherence gone, All just supply, and all relation" (3), à la renaissance à un ordre nouveau. Et tout le problème est celui du commence-ment, de la conversion au sens où Platon l'entend, ou de la crise morale et spirituelle qui dans le puritanisme prélude à la certitude de l'élection et du salut dans le Christ. Il est certain qu'il n'y a pas chez Milton, à l'opposé d'un Vaughan ou d'un Bunyan, de crise brutale comme dans Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners, mais au contraire une montée progressive vers la certitude sinon du salut, du moins de l'appel et de l'élection sous la forme miltonienne du poète-prophète.
On n'a toujours pas bien compris ce qu'est Comus, et la cri-tique s'est ingéniée à multiplier ce que Adams appelle les "over-readings"(4). La raison en est que l'on a trop souvent cherché à lire Comus à partir d'un unique point de vue, rédui-sant ainsi la richesse de ce texte qui demande simultanément plusieurs niveaux de lecture. Aussi proposerai-je (au moins à titre opératoire) quatre niveaux de lecture que j'appelerai les quatre sens de Comus, suivant en cela les critères (trop négligés aujourd'hui) de l'exégèse médiévale qui distingue le sens littéral, le sens allégorique, le sens tropologique ou moral, et le sens anagogique. Et nous allons tenter de voir comment les divers éléments de la problématique de la conver-sion dans Comus se distribuent selon la logique de ces quatre lectures.
Comus est un masque et, en dépit de Samuel Johnson, un masque tout à fait satisfaisant. Nous y trouvons, comme le fait re-marquer R.M. Adams dans Milton and the Modern Critics, tous les éléments de la tradition, la simplicité de l'intrigue, l'élégance du style, une architecture à la fois simple et raf-finée, une thématique classique où les éléments intertextuels sont aisément reconnaissables par le public, et enfin juste ce qu'il faut d'action et de surprise pour obtenir, comme le dit Leishman "an enjoyable performance" (5). A ceci j'ajouterai l'importance de la dimension collective du masque, divertisse-ment de cour dont le but ou l'idéal était l'intégration du corps social. Le théâtre du Moyen-Age obéissait déjà à cette logique et Comus doit beaucoup aux "morality plays" par sa concentration sur ce que j'appellerai une esthétique théolo-gico-politique. Et la dimesion politique n'est pas à négliger : Comus est une célébration de (ou du moins tel est son pré-texte) la vision hiérarchique de l'univers, thème que notre poète républicain a paradoxalement le mieux développé dans son oeuvre; mais le masque est aussi une célébration de la commu-nauté, de la communion et des retrouvailles après les durs instants de la séparation. Retrouvailles d'abord (et surtout) des trois enfants dont les chemins s'étaient un moment sépa-rés; retrouvailles ensuite de la famille enfin réunie au cha-teau de Ludlow qui est non seulement le terme du voyage, mais également l'axis mundi politique de ces contrées. Mais Milton va plus loin encore, et de proche en proche, de communion en communion, c'est l'ensemble de la création qui se trouve ré-unie harmonieusement et musicalement autour de son principe; en effet, le monde de Ludlow lui-même est entraîné dans ce grand jeu cosmique et se range sagement à sa place dans un ordre qui relève, on le devine, de l'économie du plan divin. Littéralement, la structure ou l'architectonique de Comus est centrée sur cette notion d'intégration du corps social, d'où l'importance de l'aspect collectif du masque à son degré zéro, celui des réjouissances à l'occasion de l'installation du Lord President of Wales et de la série des retrouvailles qu'elle implique. Ajoutons simplement que l'intrigue du masque est parfaitement traditionnelle par son enracinement dans le monde du conte de fée, et dans un environnement qui est celui de l'inquiétante étrangeté : le cheminement des enfants perdus est littéralement celui de la traversée d'un "wandering wood" et des tribulations qui la ponctuent et lui confèrent sa va-leur initiatique.
Sur cette base littérale viennent se greffer les trois niveaux allégoriques évoqués plus haut, et d'abord ce que nous pour-rions appeler l'être-comme de la conscience individuelle et collective. A ce niveau de lecture il est opportun de rappeler ce que doit l'oeuvre du jeune Milton à Spenser, non seulement quant à l'écriture et à l'imagerie, mais également du point de vue de la méthode allégorique, Milton lui-même reconnaissant que chez Spenser "more is meant that meets the ear". The Fairy Queene rassemble en un subtil contre-point divers ni-veaux allégoriques, Duessa, par exemple, représente à la fois la créature infernale, le mensonge, l'Eglise de Rome ou même Marie Stuart. Les mêmes procédés (quoique moins systématique-ment employés) sont usités dans Comus qui est, pensons-nous, une allégorie de l'âme pérégrinante, ou plus exactement une quête des conditions rendant possible la pérégrination. Ce qui nous est décrit dans la texture du masque, ce qui y est mis en intrigue ou en scène est "l'être-comme" de la conscience indivi-duelle et collective en quête du chemin qui ouvre sur la pos-sibilité du salut, en quête de la possibilité du commencement. Question de méthode, et la théologie de Milton étant avant tout une praxis, elle met en jeu une psychologie allégorique-ment représentée au sein de ce que nous appelions précédemment le masque des retrouvailles. Nous pouvons illustrer ce point en évoquant la situation dramatique de The Lady.
La première question que l'on peut en effet se poser à propos de Comus est celle de la représentation de la crise ou de la prise de conscience d'une nécessaire conversion, d'un néces-saire retournement ou metanoia. Nous pensons que cette étape du drame de la conversion est marquée par la perte des points de repère, la perte de l'orientation accompagnée ou manifestée par une série d'hypothèses (toutes erronées) quant à la nature de l'environnement. Et tout commence par l'idée de subversion de l'espace et, bien entendu, du regard porté sur le monde; avant que d'être pétrifiée, "immanacled", dans le "siège pé-rilleux" de Comus, la Dame est tout simplement, et comme en tout conte qui se respecte, perdue: le bois est un monde qui dans un premier moment est sans espace et sans temps. Il est un hiatus qui a quelque chose à la fois du chaos et du samedi saint, et c'est de cet hiatus que va procéder la structuration nouvelle du monde : chaos, dongeon, labyrinthe, ou bien encore "wandering wood", le bois est d'abord un non-temps au sens où il est un potentiel de temps, un temps possible qui va se des-siner à partir des éléments désordonnés qui le composent. Et c'est bien par le désordre que nous commençons, celui de l'anti-masque qui répond au Prologue de the Attendant Spirit, où Comus lance la nuit de sabbat et les rites en l'honneur d'Hécate ou de Cottyto; la noirceur stygienne de ce passage contraste violemment avec la fausse innocence de Comus invi-tant ses compagnons aux jeux de l'amour et de la danse : "welcome joy and feast... Tipsy dance and jollity" (102-104); le spectateur est doublement prévenu, par les poncifs moraux de l'esprit guardien et par Comus lui-même; mais tel n'est pas le cas des trois enfants et tout particulièrement de The Lady qui imagine dès son entrée en scène entendre le bruit détes-table et peu harmonieux de réjouissances populaires en l'honneur du dieu Pan. Si sens de la faute il y a, elle est du côté de la "righteousness" puritaine qu'incarne dès lors la jeune fille; mais bien vite elle passe du monde extérieur du mal au monde intérieur, celui de l'imagination ou "fancy", ce-lui des "thousand fantasies" qui se pressent en sa mémoire, les "calling shapes, and beckoning shadows dire, And airy tongues that syllable men's names On sands and shores and de-sert wildernesses"(204-208). Elle est déjà un peu la victime de Comus, plongée qu'elle est dans les ténèbres et les yeux de l'âme rendus aveugles par la poudre diabolique du fils de Circé. L'horreur extérieure est exactement proportionnelle à l'horreur intérieure et toutes deux relèvent de l'envoûtement, de la manipulation de cet autre Archimago. Elle songe alors à son honneur et à sa vertu qu'elle estime à juste titre en dan-ger et s'adresse à l'esprit des deux premières vertus théolo-gales et commet un lapsus sur la troisième:
These thoughts may startle well, but not astoundL'imagerie, la certitude et pour tout dire un certain phari-saïsme ne sont pas sans rappeler les Psaumes et particulière-ment ceux où le peuple Hébreux se décrit suivant fidèlement les voies du Seigneur et appelle la malédiction divine sur ses ennemis. Nous sommes loin de la crise existentielle et spiri-tuelle caractéristique du puritanisme et l'on pourrait être tenté de ne voir en ces vers qu'une navrante confusion théolo-gique; ce serait oublier l'ironie dramatique qui s'exerce à plusieurs reprises aux dépens de The Lady; en effet, la vision des réalités ultimes qu'elle croit avoir retrouvé ("I see ye visibly") ne fait que souligner sa cécité : lorsqu'elle s'exclame "was I deceived, or did a sable cloud Turn forth her silver lining on the night"(220-21), nous savons qu'elle est trompée, et que de nouveau elle commet une erreur d'appréciation souli-gnée bien davantage encore après le chant adressé à Echo qui n'aura pour seul effet (du moins pour l'instant) que d'attirer Comus et engager le processus de la tentation. Mieux encore, the Lady va suivre Comus en son palais et ce n'est que là qu'elle se rendra compte de ses erreurs de jugement. A cela on objectera que la jeune fille n'est pas directement responsable de cette catastrophique série de bévues (les siennes autant que celles de ses frères) qui ne sont que l'effet d'un charme ambiant; mais les choses ne sont pas si simples, et l'héroïne a bel et bien sa part de responsabilité dans ce qui lui ar-rive; l'envoûtement dont nous parlons n'est pas la cause pre-mière de l'errance et de l'erreur mais uniquement sa cause ef-ficiente ou instrumentale. En effet, la pétrification, l'incapacité de mouvement et le règne de ce que nous appelions plus haut le non-temps ne sont pas dus uniquement au charme mais aussi à la fatigue, au temps qui pèse et au besoin de re-pos. En ef-fet, cette pétrification n'est pas la première ab-sence de mou-vement dans le masque : le refus du mouvement ou de l'effort vient dès le début, dès l'entrée en scène de the Lady :
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 Chastity!
I see ye visibly... (209-215).
My brothers when they saw me wearied outCette lecture pastorale de l'environnement n'est que la pre-mière d'une longue série d'erreurs de jugement ou d'interprétation dont vont être victimes les trois enfants cou-pables de paresse et pour tout dire de "carnal sensuality". Il ne fallait donc pas s'arrêter en chemin, il fallait, pour re-prendre une comparaison paulinienne (1 Cor 9, 24-27) courir comme celui qui aux jeux veut obtenir la couronne de gloire et ne pas perdre de temps sur le chemin de la maison du père. Cette conscience de l'urgence de l'action aurait permis aux protagonistes de s'apercevoir qu'ils n'étaient pas en arcadie mais au contraire en terre magique entourés de "loups et de bêtes fauves" , et l'on sait bien, Bunyan nous le dira, qu'il ne faut jamais s'endormir au pays enchanté. La Dame a donc commis une faute dont il lui faudra assumer les conséquences; cette première tentation charnelle précède toutes les autres qui lui permettront, tant il est vrai que le mal est positif dans sa négativité, de se racheter. Mais revenons sur la nature de cette intempérance : elle combine fatigue et inattention, deux aspects de la nature humaine déchue qui s'unissent pour produire une illusion, une erreur d'interprétation quant à la nature de ces bois qui n'ont en fait rien de bien hospitalier. Telle est donc la chi-quenaude originelle qui déclenche le mouvement dramatique : de même que dans The Pilgrim's Progress Christian perd pendant son coupable sommeil le précieux parchemin sans lequel l'entrée dans la cité céleste lui est interdite, la Dame perd ses frères, ou plus précisément, en suspendant le temps de la pérégrination, elle met ses frères (c'est-à-dire, nous le ver-rons, son entendement) au service des appétits. Il s'agit là de la première subversion, du renversement démoniaque de l'ordre psychologique par lequel l'intégrité est perdue, sépa-ration et aliénation étant ici très proches. Tout est en place pour la série des catastrophes qui vont s'abattre sur la jeune fille : perte du sens de l'orientation, le chant à écho fait surgir Comus et non ses frères, sa confiance erronée en ce dernier pris pour un honnête rustique, transformation du re-gard par la vertu de la poudre magique jetée par Comus, seule arme dont le sorcier se servira, et ainsi de suite jusqu'à la scène centrale de la tentation où la Dame ne sera plus que pure résistance. Elle est perdue à tous les sens du terme, son monde est défait et tout peut lui arriver en ce "sin-worn mould" qu'est la région sublunaire toute entière concentrée en cette forêt obscure. La crise spirituelle devient compré-hensible dès lors que l'on veut bien lire typologiquement et allégoriquement ce masque (ou cette moralité) et partir de la faute originelle dont les conséquences sont inversement pro-portionnelles à l'apparente innocence. Mais cette lecture de-mande une autre analyse des personnages et de leurs rapports. Si nous considérons les catégories de la psychologie de la Re-naissance, nous remarquerons que la hiérarchie des facultés la plus communément acceptée était imaginatio, ratio et mens que l'on peut représenter comme des cercles concentriques, l'imagination (et fancy) étant à la périphérie et ratio proche du centre occupé par la volonté. (cf Burton I i 2 vii). Dans la mesure où la logique diabolique (qui est celle de Comus) induit toute une série de renversements, et subvertit l'ordre hiérarchique universel, le désordre s'installe dans l'esprit humain dont les facultés n'obéissent plus au principe fonctio-naliste qui gouverne la hiérarchie des facultés : l'un des ef-fets de la chute fut, comme le dit saint Augustin, d'amoindrir les facultés intellectuelles de l'homme, d'obscurcir son en-tendement qui s'en trouva moins apte (ou plus apte du tout) à gouverner ou informer la volonté; tout se passe après la chute comme si les facultés s'étaient séparées provoquant ainsi la perte de l'intégrité. Une autre façon de se représenter cette malédiction est suggérée par Northrop Frye dans Five Essays on Milton's Epics : on reconnaissait dans la hiérarchie des de-grés de l'être quatre niveaux ou ordres, celui de Dieu ou de la grâce, l'ordre humain peu différent de celui des anges et que l'homme a connu avant la chute, l'ordre physique auquel l'homme naît maintenant et qui est en fait celui des animaux et des plantes, et enfin l'ordre de la mort, du péché et de la corruption (6). Tout le travail consiste pour nous à retrouver le second niveau par l'éducation, la pratique de la vertu et la religion, Milton précisant lui-même dans son traité sur l'éducation que l'enseignement "aims to repair the ruin of our first parents by regaining to know God aright"(7). Les degrés de l'être et la structure de l'esprit humain obéissent (ou de-vraient obéir) à la même loi hiérarchique remise en cause par Satan et ses antéchrists, magiciens, rhétoriciens, et so-phistes de la superstition. De même que l'on a pu dire que dans Paradise Lost Eve est ratio et Adam intellectus ou mens, on peut dire que les trois enfants représentent allégorique-ment divers aspects de la structure mentale des individus, la Dame étant la raison qui soutient ou informe la volonté, et les deux frères représentant l'entendement; la séparation des facultés induit l'errance et l'erreur, et le drame symbolique ici mis en jeu est celui de la reconstitution de la personne intègre, d'où l'aspect dramatiquement central des retrou-vailles des facultés un instant séparées par la double médiation de l'esprit tutélaire et de Sabrina. La si-tuation originelle devient ainsi une illustration ou un em-blème de la condition humaine après la chute, et Comus peut être lu comme une représentation qui se voudrait dramatique des tribulations de voluntas dans sa traversée de la tempora-lité, avant que lui soit à nouveau donnée la couronne de gloire et l'étoile du matin. Un point cependant est à éclair-cir avant que d'étudier les diverses étapes de cette singu-lière conversion qu'est Comus : le monde qui nous y est pré-senté est résolument païen, peuplé de l'engeance de Bacchus et de Circé, d'un daïmon et d'un esprit des eaux; le dieu que vé-nèrent les paysans est Pan, et même si la Renaissance asso-ciait souvent Pan au Christ par qui tout fut fait, il n'en de-meure pas moins que l'atmosphère y est globalement païenne, et un critique comme Saurat nous rappelle fort à propos qu'il n'y a rien de particulièrement chrétien dans Comus. Si tel était le cas, Comus serait alors bien un masque ou une allégorie pu-ritaine mettant dramatiquement en jeu les divers concepts de la sotériologie puritaine mais dans un esprit qui demeure en-core très largement celui de la Renaissance élisabéthaine et de l'humanisme de Spenser.
With this long way, resolving here to lodge
Under the spreading favour of these pines,
Stepped as they said to the next thicket-side
To bring me berries, or such cooling fruit
As the kind hospitable woods provide. (181-186)
Mais le masque n'est pas tension vers l'absolument ailleurs ou l'absolument
autre; la quête de l'harmonie qui l'anime est re-cherche ici et maintenant
(et n'est ce pas la fonction essen-tielle de ce type de divertissement)
des conditions qui per-mettent de transformer la tribulation en pérégrination.
Il ne faut en effet pas oublier la dimension collective du masque qui met
en jeu une classe sociale, un corps social et non pas seulement des individualités;
aussi pouvons-nous dire qu'au-delà des aventures des enfants ce qui est
symboliquement ou allégoriquement représenté dans Comus est le mouvement
vers une Eglise qui soit authentiquement pérégrinante. Et ceci nous permet
également de comprendre pourquoi l'action dramatique se déroule en des temps
et en des lieux (une cosmologie) pré-chrétiens : nous sommes en fait en
route, en chemin vers l'origine, vers un commencement qui donnerait le monde
comme monde possible. Le thème psychologique de la hiérarchie des facultés
et le thème écclésial se joignent ici et viennent charpenter ou structurer
les aventures de voluntas au double sens individuel et collectif.
Cette hypothèse nous permet la relecture suivante de l'ouverture de Comus : le corps s'est arrêté en chemin sur les terres enchantées de l'esprit des ténèbres, menteur et séduc-teur qui va entraîner la communauté des saints en des voies erronées qui vont (par la magie de la superstition et des rites infernaux) donner à voir le "wild wood" comme lieu de délices; et la description du "stately palace" de Comus est à cet égard sans équivoque : "the scene changes to a stately pa-lace, set out with all manners of deliciousness : soft music, tables spread with all dainties etc." La nécessaire conversion prend ici une dimension eminemment collective et il n'est pas impossible de penser que tout se joue entre les deux lieux symboliques le palais des délices et l'harmonieuse "house beautiful" qu'est Ludlow castle; l'un représentant de pro-bables déviations papistes et l'autre la communion des saints en marche vers (puisque Ludlow est de ce monde) la cité cé-leste. Il n'est donc pas interdit d'imaginer avec Leah S. Marcus que Comus soit un masque "anti-laudien"(8), attaque déguisée contre la réédition en 1634 du Book of Sports, mais également attaque puritaine contre l'Eglise établie et les tendances "papistes" de Laud qu'un puritain modéré tel que Bridgewater qui de sur-croît était l'ennemi de l'archevêque de Cantorbury pouvait fort bien comprendre et encourager. Aussi la tentation est-elle collective autant qu'individuelle et le dialogue entre the Lady et Comus prend dès lors un sens différent que nous allons à présent étudier.
Cette hypothèse, ou plutôt cette série d'hypothèses nous permet de dire que Comus joue dans le masque le même rôle (stratégiquement) que Duessa dans The Fairy Queene et qu'il représente aux divers niveaux de cette allégorie complexe l'intempérance et la fornication, l'Eglise d'Angleterre telle que la voulait Laud, et le principe de la séduction de l'esprit du mal. De la même manière The Lady représente à la fois, selon le niveau de lecture, la vierge guerrière de la tradition épique, la constance, la tension vers l'autre monde et la pureté du poème/poète au sens platonicien du terme, et l'Eglise authentiquement pérégrinante, cette Eglise invisible tendant eschatologiquement vers le corpus mysticum évoqué en termes voilés par l'esprit tutélaire dans son épilogue. On comprend alors mieux la situation de la jeune fille face à Co-mus : sollicitée une nouvelle fois par la tentation de l'inaction mais cette fois de façon bien plus dangereuse dans la mesure où Comus, pour reprendre une expression fort juste de Frye à propos du Satan de Paradise Regained "is the power that moves towards the cessation of all activity, a kind of personal entropy that transforms all energy into a heat-death" (9) elle va se raidir dans l'expression d'une absolue résis-tance dont l'argumentation se résume, comme le dit Frye, en "an eloquent and closely reasoned paraphrase of 'No'"; et la résistance, positive dans sa négativité, est l'activité su-prême d'une communauté occupée par l'ennemi. Tous les niveaux allégoriques se combinent dans la défense de la damoiselle : le sens littéral du masque ici dramatiquement satisfaisant, le sens allégorique de l'échelle des vertus et de la dialectique de l'ordre de la nature et de la grâce, le sens tropologique ou moral qui est celui de la lutte de l'Eglise authentique dans sa quête des origines de la simplicité évangélique, le sens anagogique enfin conféré par la dimension verticale et eschatologique des interventions de the Attendant Spirit que nous allons à présent évoquer.
La pensée et la sensibilité de Milton, on ne s'en étonnera pas, sont résolument apocalyptiques et eschatologiques, et ce dernier niveau de lecture auquel nous sommes parvenus va mettre en jeu une récapitulation (au sens théologique) des niveaux précédents au sein d'une vision eschatologique de l'univers.
L'expérience ici décrite est celle d'une quête de l'intégration perdue, d'une cure ou d'une thérapie au sens individuel et collectif, l'objet du désir étant en l'occurence l'homme total engagé émotionnellement, intellectuellement et spirituellement. Et ceci nous permetde mieux comprendre l'enchaînement dramatique de Comus comme enchainement des vertus - tant au niveau individuel qu'au niveau collectif. aussi est-ce pourquoi le main masque s'ouvre sur une situation de déchirement, syndrome d'Orphée qui engage les protagonistes dans un processus de régression. Cette mimesis de l'histoire sotériologique se poursuit par une seconde articulation dramatique, l'erreur des deux frères (ou leur faute, car nous sommes dans le prolongement de la Felix culpa de the Lady. L'idéalisme optimiste de the elder brother (vers 376 sq) fait du processus de conversion quelquechose d'exclusivement humain, l'ascèse platonicienne ne dépendant que de la vertu et de la volonté individuelles:
Virtue could see to do what virtue wouldLa même chose étant dite de la sagesse qui, aidée par la contemplation solitaire purifie l'esprit et l'âme, la vertu étant par elle-même le rayonnement de la lumière intérieure:
By her own radiant light, though sun and moon
Were in the flat sea sunk. (373-9).
He that has light within his own clear breastCes erreurs/vérités puisqu'il y a une part de vérité dans ces paroles dénotent une immaturité spirituelle soulignée par le bon sens du petit frère qui sait très bien ce que les jeunes filles risquent de perdre dans les bois. Mais pour nous l'intérêt de tout ceci est que les deux situations et leur herméneutique par les personnages exigent un retour dramatique à la case départ, un retour sur l'expérience par sa mimesis. Tel est pensons-nous la portée dramatique de la grande scène de la tentation au palais de Comus. Ce débat dans le plus pur style du débat médiéval qui n'est pas sans rappeler les Prolusions de la période de Cambridge et dont on a souvent souligné les défauts et le caractère approximatif met en jeu la juxtaposition de deux économies, celle de Comus fondée sur l'échange, la circulation de l'argent et l'économie de marché et celle de la Dame qui est une tentative de définition de l'autre économie, celle du plan divin, la divine oikonomia dont le référent est sinon une théodicée, du moins une théologie de l'histoire. Les réflexions de Comus, pour superbes et fleuries qu'elles soient ne sont qu'une série de variations sur le carpe diem et toutes tendent vers ce que Macpherson appelle "the growth of possessive individualism" :
May sit i' the centre, and enjoy bright day :
But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts
Benighted walks under the mid-day sun;
Himself his own dungeon.(380-84)
Why should you be so cruel to yourself,Ces sophismes économiques et juridiques aux résonnances bien shakespeariennes ramènent le monde à la circulation de l'argent, à la valeur d'échange au détriment de la valeur d'usage. En réponse à cet individualisme marchand the Lady va opposer dans un premier temps une argumentation de type stoïcien pour ensuite passer à la négation suprême de la virginité. On a souvent dit avec raison que l'héroisme de The Lady est en-tièrement négatif et qu'elle ne parvient jamais à justifier théoriquement ou dogmatiquement ses prises de position; que si elle donne un exposé fort raisonnable et bien sec de la tempé-rance au niveau naturel, elle est incapable de dégager le sens mystique et positif de la chasteté et de la virginité. Ce n'est pas l'opinion de tout le monde, et un critique chrétien tel que A.S.P. Woodhouse a proposé une interprétation fort ingénieuse de cette situation dans "the argument of Milton's Comus", et dans The Heavenly Muse (10): la tempérance ou simple doctrine de la conti-nence au niveau naturel passe d'un niveau négatif à un niveau positif par la doctrine de la chasteté qui unit nature et grâce le tout en termes platoniciens, les vertus naturelles étant transferées sur un plan supérieur par l'effusion de la grâce; un dernier et sublime niveau est celui de la grâce elle-même représentée par la doctrine de la virginité. Comus représente-rait donc en termes platoniciens le passage tout johannique de l'ordre de la nature à l'ordre de la grâce en passant par toutes les étapes intermédiaires reliées dialectiquement au sein de la grande chaîne de l'amour. Cette interprétation est tout à fait cohérente et à bien des égards satisfaisante en ce qu'elle est en accord avec bien des textes autobiographiques ultérieurs, notam-ment The Apology for Smectymnuus ou The Reason of Church Go-vernment. Cette dimension mystique ne prend tout son sens que si le masque est considéré allégoriquement comme mise en intrigue de la situation dramatique de l'auteur lui-même qui écrit Comus sous la forme d'une dramatisation d'un processus qui mène d'une part à l'intégration du poète/poème dont la voix est engagée prophétiquement dans le siècle. Mais il y a autre chose : l'échelle des vertus et la montée vers la théologie négative de la virginité souligne la nécessité dramatique de la médiation, d'où le caractère opportun de l'intervention de Sabrina. Non qu'elle soit la grâce, puisqu'elle émerge du monde naturel, elle est au contraire la mise en scène, la représentation emblématique d'une part de la nécessité du baptême de la sensibilité et d'autre part d'un monde qui ne prend tout son sens que s'il est tension vers la relation sacramentaire. Sabrina a une fonction cultuelle, liturgique, chargée de mission au même titre que the Attendant Spirit, elle va baptiser les sensations par l'eau de sa "fountain pure" et les intégrer dans l'économie de la nouvelle création dans laquelle nous sommes toujours-déjà engagés par la médiation de "the dear might of him that walked the waves". Alors les protagonistes, Milton lui-même et ses spectateurs peuvent prétendre au commencement et ouvrir la première page du premier chapitre de cette histoire sans fin, Histoire qui elle-même est de l'ordre du commencement; mais il fallait pour cela, comme nous le rappelle the Attendant Spirit dans son épilogue que par retentissement l'ensemble de la création soit baptisé, que l'on passe d'Adonis à Cupidon dialectiquement pris dans le rayonnement de la figure christique.
And to those dainty limbs, which Nature lent
For gentle usage and soft delicacy?
But you invert the covenant of her trust,
And harshly deal, like an ill borrower,
With that which you received on other terms...
1) Allen, Don Cameron. The Harmonious vision : Studies in Milton's Poetry
. Baltimore, John Hopkins press, 1954, p.17.
2) Nyquist, M. & Ferguson, M.W. : Re-membering Milton : Essays on the Texts and Traditions. Methuen, 1989.
3) cité in Arthur Barker, "The Pattern of Milton's Nativity Ode in Alan Rudrum, ed., Milton (London : Macmillan, 1968), p.44.
4) R.M. Adams, Ikon : John Milton and the Modern Critics, Ithaca, New York, 1955.
5) J.B. Leishman, Milton's Minor Poems, ed. by G. Tillotson (London)
6) Northrop Frye, Five Essays on Milton's Epics (London : Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966), pp. 20, 40-41.
7) "Of Education", in J. Milton, Prose Writings (London : Everyman, 1970), p. 320.
8) Leah S. Marcus, The Politics of Mirth (Chicago, University of Chicago Press : 1986), pp.169-212.
9) Northrop Frye, op. cit., p. 22.
10) A.S.P. Woodhouse, "The Argument of Milton's Comus" in The University of Toronto Quarterly, XI (1941), pp. 46-71.
DATE. Much discussed : between 29 and 32. Tillyard sees it as a vacation exercise and so does Allen who notices the difference of tone and diction between the two companion pieces. Yet Tillyard's argument based on a rather superficial similarity between Allegro and Prolusion 1, an academic debate on the merits of night and day written at Cambridge in 1631.
subject-matter : melancholy. One obvious connection is with Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621. Three parts or "partitions" make up the book : the nature and causes of melancholy; its cure; and a third part on two kinds of melancholy : love-melancholy and religious melancholy. The third edition (28) presents a poem by Burton in octosyllabic couplets in which two degrees of melancholy are contrasted : a sweet melancholy cultivated in solitude amidst the joys of nature "by a brook side or wood so green" when the individual is "unheard, unsought for, or unseen"; or enjoyed when hearing "sweet music, wondrous melody,/Tows, palaces, and cities fine" or when seeing "rare beauties, gallant ladies shine,/Whate'er is lovely or divine". Echoes of this sweet melancholy are to be found in both the Allegro and Il Penseroso. But there is a second and bad melancholy in Burton's poem, that which causes "sighs and moanes" and heaviness of heart, a state of mind enjoyed in "dark groves or irksome dens", when "methinks I see, Ghosts, goblins, fiends; my phantasy Presents a thousand ugly shapes, Headless bears, black men, and apes, Doleful outcries, and fearful sights". The relationship with some aspects of both A & P is again obvious and reminds us of Johnson's opinion about the companion pieces : "I know not whether the characters are kept sufficiently apart. No mirth can, indeed, be found in his melancholy; but I am afraid that always meet some melancholy in his mirth." And I agree with W.J. Grace that what Milton is after is the meaning of true joy and true melancholy, both poems presenting two kinds of joy and two kinds of melancholy. Grace mentions the passage in Burton's second section called "mind rectified" in which he suggests curing melancholy by catharsis, driving out one passion with another or by some contrary passion. In Samson Milton himself said (cf preface) that "things of melancholic hue and quality are used against melancholy". In A and P Milton follows rather closely Burton's disports : tournament, walking, comedy, music being defences against the evil melancholy. cf for instance Burton's winter recreations : tales of knights errant, fairy tales etc. Parts of B that must have interested M : "Religious melancholy. Its object God; what his beauty is; how it allureth. The parts and parties affected." For B the good mel is assoc to the contemplation of beauty which leads to God ex: "other beauties are night itself, mere darkness, to this our inexplicable, incomprehensible, unspeakable, eternal, infinite, admirable and divine beauty." For M in P the good mel leads to ecstasy so beloved by baroque thinkers of the 17th cy; cf B : on the spiritual eyes of contemplation : "ecstasis is a taste of future happiness, by which we are united unto God, a divine mel, a spiritual wing". This is diff from th evil mel when rel mel is abused to dotage : the cimmerian night of A corr to B's ref to the "power of superstition to keep people blind in cimerian darkness". Theopening of A is full of echoes of B; cf his description of despair arising out of rel mel : "a most intolerable pain & grief of heart seizeth on them: to their thking they are already damned, they suffer the pain of hell, and more than can poss be expr, they smell brimstone, talk familiarly with devils, hear and see chimeras, prodigious, uncouth shapes, bears, owls, anticks, black dogs, fiends, hideous out-cries, fearful noises, shrieks, lamentable complaints, they are possessed, and through impatience they roar & howl,curse, blaspheme, deny god, call his power in question, abjure rel, and are still ready to offer violence to themselves." => the loathed mel is that arising out of rel superstition. M's choice : that of the humanist who chooses solitude and contemplation; solitude being considered in M's time with spiritual respect. cf PL IX,249; but M. is a humanist and not a hermit, that is why he can enjoy the pleasures and the beauty of the rural world.
Companion pieces. cf the renaissance tradition of companion pieces : two contrasting motives juxtaposed to illuminate a common theme. Parallelism obviously one of the structural keys of A and P. ex: seen/unseen; the lark and the nightingale; matin/even-song; cheerful bells/curfew; comedy/tragedy; sleep/ philosophy or meditation. lydian airs/religious music etc. Apparently both poems are built on the same pattern even if the second is somewhat longer. We have first a dismissal of mirth and melancholy (A 1-10; P 1-10). Then an address to the personalized state of mind : "But come, thou goddess fair and free" (A 11) and "But hail, thou Goddess sage and holy" (P 11), followed by an imaginary and fanciful genealogy (A 11-24; P 11-30). To P are added physical details so as to make Mel more present and more awe-inspiring (P 12-16 and 31-44). In this passage the balance is broken and P is certainly more impressive, Milton's religious bent being here obvious. Then in both poem we have an address to the companions of mirth and melancholy (A 25-40; P 45-54/5, line 55 being a transition to the "philomel" passage). Both passages end with two important attendants : liberty in A and contemplation in P. What remains of the poems is devoted to the particular pleasures of both mirth and melancholy. the "unreproved pleasures free" of A and the retired leisure of P. Let us follow these pleasures in their polyphonic arrangement. A begins with dawn : the song of the lark, the cock's lively din draw the allegro first from his bed to the window and second to the world outside (41-52). P begins at night with Milton's favourite bird, the nightingale; and the passage presents a subtle interweaving of themes between philomel and Cynthia (P 55-72). This subtle polyphony is not apparent in A where the waking up of dawn is followed by an outdoor scene (53-68). Both poems begin with auditory sensations; the allegro is in his room or his bower and the view is blocked by creeping plants, the sweet-briar or eglantine (a mistake? did Milton know that both were the same plant?) and the vine. This is a homely, rutic, and chaucerian indoor-scene with semi-comic overtones in the military image of Chauntecleer strutting before his dames. The homeliness of it all is to some extent belied by the (still military) image of the rout of night, driven from "his watchtower in the sky" by the piercing song of the arrested lark - a flancking attack corresponding to the cock's "scattering of the rear of darkness thin" (if this is the right interpretation, for the watchtower may as well be that of the dark). These are stereotypes and the tone of mock-heroism is consistent with such poetry. Things are different with the Philomel/cynthia passage of P. There movements are checked, just as Cynthia "checks her dragon yoke Gently o'et th'accustom'd oak" = slowing down to a near standstill, the moon being "near her highest noon". But the moon is also "the wandering moon", and the impression of distance and space is emphasized and extended to the limits of the "heavens wide pathless way", Cynthia herself becoming like "one who has been led astray". Both poems here are to be read within the dialectic of proximity and distance, homeliness and a form of holiness : the bower of l'allegro and the boundless space of il Penseroso, mirth being limited to what in Comus we called the horizontal world and melancholy to indefinite and undetermined expanses. The Cynthia theme is coupled to the myth of Philomel; the movements occasioned by her song are also subdued : she smoothes "the rugged brow of night" which she attunes to her saddest plight, and this perhaps explains the company of Diana/Cynthia, the goddess of Chastity. The poet-narrator becomes thus the wooer of the bird's song, drinking in musical and sweet melancholy of the "chauntress", and like her very self "unseen" from others. The corresponding outdoor scene in l'Allegro (53-68) is by contrast flamboyant, full of the shrill sounds of seemingly far-off hunters (the counterpart ofr Diana), the still shriller sound of the scythe being whetted and the soprano song of the milkmaid blithe; all these echoes stress the complementarity between proximity and distance, the shrill echo of the high wood being taken within the close-at-hand sounds of busy rustic life, thus emphasizing the homeliness of the scene. To this a superd counterpoint is brought by the sun, although it is not here named Apollo whereas the moon is called Cynthia. The martial opening of the rout of night is echoed in the regal appearance of the sun, "where the great sun begins his state", followed by his retinue of liveried retainers, "the clouds in thousand liveries dight". The awful appearance of the sun standing in contrast with the "eastern gate"(with the play on the word gate), the "furrowed land", the "hawthorn in the dale", all such elements anticipating the nature poetry of the eighteenth century (cf Thompson : The Seasons). All this leading to story-telling, that of the shepherds - unless they are simply counting their sheep in the morning, as one meaning of the expression suggests - as a distant echo of the other and sad story, that of Philomel telling of her sad plight. This time the poet narrator walks over "the hillocks green" "not unseen", that is to say in full view of the rural community whose "seely" joys he shares for a whole day. Not unseen, yet not taking any active part in the round of country duties; the narrator is a spectator who is not involved in what he sees and his pleasure is that of a temporary visitor (cf Keats's "to one who has long been in city pent" which itself was derived from Paradise Lost IX, 445).
In L'Allegro this is followed by a reference to sight, and the description of a "landscape" (A 69-76) whereas in P we pass on from the wide sky to a "rising ground" and then to quiet indoor amusements before contemplation begins its night long watch (P 73-76 and 77-84). Here the dominant sense is again hearing. In these passages Milton is decidedly a nature poet and his diction is strongly reminiscent of Elizabethan nature poetry, and especially that of William Browne in his Britannia's Pastorals or that of Sylvester's Du Bartas and the spenserians. But it also contains (as the rest of the poem does) numerous references to Shakespeare and especially to A Midsummer Night's Dream and to The Tempest. If we consider A, the glorious sunrise colours are now subdued or toned down, and the lawns and fallows are "russet" and "gray"; what is here described is the common field left for some time free of any husbandry and over which the "nibbling sheep" stray freely (note the parallel with Cynthia being led astray in the pathless tract of heaven); we pass thus on from the farm-yard to the garden gate and the cultivated "strips" to the common fallow and common meadows beyond which is to be found the waste-land. A complex series of contrasts is introduced in this passage : the labouring clouds are opposed to the barren mountains; shallow brooks to rivers wide, and later, in the next section, towers and battlements contrast with humble cottages; thanks to this device the landscape is no longer "this" landscape, but a universal landscape bringing within it all the various elements of country life. In P the corresponding passage = sounds : within again the proximity/distance dialectic : from the far-off curfew to the near at hand bellman blessing the doors towards the middle of the night. Note progression of time : the moon being near her noon and curfew-time. From the "sullen roar" of the bells we pass on to "the cricket on the hearth" (same progr for light : from moonlight to embers "counterfeiting a gloom"). But themes are now more widely distributed, and to the roaring bells over the wide water corresponds in A the "merry bells" ringing round, the clear and shrill sounds of popular recreations and mirth rejected by the solitary and pondering penseroso in his removed place "far from all resort of mirth".
Then follows the tower passages in A and P : the tower / cottage opposition of A 77-90 and the lonely tower of learning in P 85-96. The first tower with its medieval and romantic attributes : battlements, half-concealed in the woods, its beauteous lady "the cynosure of neighbouring eyes" leads us almost in the shakespearian and spenserian fairy-land; this is the far-off high wood mentioned earlier and the narrator has no wish to turn his steps towards that place, content as he is to toy with his medieval and chivalric and fairy-tale conjectures. This is the spirit of the first tower and it stands in sharp relief with the other "high and lonely tower". This time we are in the tower, at midnight, and the poet-narrator is discovering new worlds, not those of musing fancy, but those, of a more exacting and demanding nature, of platonic philosophy. Again the distance/proximity dialectic is at work, the "midnight lamp" unfolds worlds and vast regions, a breath-takingly virtiginous construct which is that of neo-platonic philosophy. The platonic verticality, the degrees of knowledge and existence and being suggest a steep ascending scale leading the contemplative man to the ecstatic theoria or contemplation of ideas. The poet/philosopher is in his own watch-tower and more watchful than the great watcher of the sky, the ursa minor constellation which never sets but constantly revolves round the cynosure, that is to say the polar star (it is also to be remembered that the bear was for Hermes the symbol of perfection); we thus pass on from the merely earthly beauty of the first cynosure encased in her fairy-land tower to the ethereal beauty of supernatural reality. This is a purely platonic translation and is reminiscent of the Symposium. Note here the complex ascending/descending movement : the narrator first unspheres "the spirit of Plato", that is to say brings him down from his "stellified" condition to the earth (remember that all stars and celestial bodies are spirits, as Plato and the greek mythology have taught us), thereby allowing us to start upwards again to the regions of ether, that of "the immortal mind that hath forsook Her mansion in this fleshly nook", a passage which by the way reminds us of the ascending and descending theme of the Nativity Ode. It is perhaps strange that this part of the poem should end with the mention of the daemons or (as Chaucer calls them) "airish beasts" whose realm is that of the elements, that is to say in the immediate vicinity of the earth, between our planet and the moon. (nb cf Comus' reference to the "creatures of the element" at his first meeting with the lady). The daemons of the middle-air bring us back to sublunary and natural experience, to time, change, mutability or duration; we thus shift from the clear realm of pure philosophy to that of astrology and hermeticism (already contained in the reference to Hermes Trismegistus) which reminds us that, as CS Lewis tells us, the Renaissance was "the high noon of magic". Yet, there is a structural reason for the introduction at this point of the Corpus hermeticum and the corrupt platonism of Renaissance occultism : the daemons or sprites of the elements stand in relief with the goblins and fairies of the folklore world of A 101-114. The mention of hermetic philosophy is thus not to be taken too seriously and the point ought not to be over-laboured : the Queen Mab / airish beasts contrast is aesthetically satisfactory and answers the point made in the two poems. Let us then turn to the stories told over the "nut-brown ale" : these are stories of mischievous nocturnal spirits such as they appear for instance in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and taken up by Milton not only in A and P but also in Comus where we are told of the "swart fairy of the mine" and also of "dire chimeras and enchanted isles, And rifted rocks whose entrance leads to Hell" (517-18). This too is the enchanted world of Spenser's Fairy Queene yet in A without the allegorical and mystical or neo-platonic overtones implicitly present in P : the stories told in A are popular stories told at wakes and washed down with deep potations; this is the popular and credulous side of "influence", of the comings and goings between the regions this side of the moon and the earth, the realm of those daemons "whose power hath a true consent With planet or with element". Note also the horizontal / vertical opposition or contrast between folklore led "by friar's lantern" in the pathless ways of popular story-telling and the verticality of the exchanges between daemons and earth; this again is an aesthetic motif and ought to be considered as such. (note : comparer le fairy Mab passage avec Fern Hill de Dylan Thomas). nb: note the contrast between the cock ringing his matin and the sullen roar of the curfew bell.
The next aesthetic contrast is between comedy, masques, entertainments or pageants and tragedy (A 117-130 for pageants and 131-4 for comedy; P 97-102 and 103-120 for the poet-priest theme); but as we shall see in P the interest soon shifts from the stage to the page and to reading : the story of Orpheus, that of the Knight's Tale and lastly that of the Fairy Queene "where more is meant than meets the ear" (P 103-120). Note the descent from Musaeus and Orpheus to actual story-telling : this passage is dominated by the image (dear to Milton) of the poet-priest and the orphic ideal permeates it. Let us come back to A and comedy. We have now reached the end of the rural day and the scene changes from rural minstrelsy to the "busy hum of men"; whether this change actually occurs in the poem or is only imaginatively evoked by the "youthful poet" dreaming "On summer eves by haunted stream" has been much discussed. Whatever the answer, the interesting thing in the first half of the passage is the atmosphere, that of the revival or survival of medieval traditions of tourneys, barriers, and witty indoor amusements involving poetic feats "of wit or arms"; this is the world of the court of love, a continuation corrupt and ritualized of courtly love now dead and gone; and Milton is here sweetly dreaming of this ideal world whose cynosure was the Lady so to speak stellified (as Chaucer would put it) and "whose bright eyes Rain influence". The cosmic metaphor magnificently conveys the artificial aspect of such "high triumphs", the narrator being no enemy to such entertainements (at least for the time being). The second part of the scene also revolves round feminity and love, with the image of Hymen in the forefront, draped in his saffron robes, i.e. marriage festivities; this reminds us of the mildly erotic atmosphere of As you like it and of A midsummer Night's Dream in which such masques occur and in which Hymen hails wedded love. And it is only natural that such images bring in the learned and witty Ben Jonson and the "natural" genius of Shakespeare (cf On Shakespeare) : their comedies (Milton seemed, just as Keats, to prefer Sh's romantic comedies to his tragedies) round up the day in a celebration of harmony, the main ingredient of comedy - and this explains the transition to the higher harmony of music, the soft Lydian airs of A 134-150. Yet, the harmony of comedy is transcended in P with the "prophetic strain" of the poet-priest theme : typologically, the harmony brought forth or restored by comedy is the type or shadow of the higher harmony of greek tragedy which itself gives way to the spenserian allegory, Spenser completing the work "left half-told" of Chaucer just as Musaeus completes and echoes the works of his father and master. As far as the detail of these stories is concerned, the reference is here to Chaucer's unfinished "squire's tale" completed in 1615 by his father's friend John Lane; but the story was also completed by Spenser in FQ 4.2.30-3.52 where the author dwells at some length on Triamond and Canacee and also the "virtuous" or magic ring; but in Spenser as Woodhouse suggests the tale is turned to allegorical purpose, a genre congenial to the tastes of Il Penseroso.
We then reach the last aesthetic motif of both pieces, and naturally enough they end up with music, two sorts of musics which are not contradictory but complementary. And first the lydian airs of A 134-50. This is a reference to the over-sweet and mellifluous music which Plato rules out of his ideal Republic in favour of the more sober and solemn dorian mode; it is also to be remembered that the greek lydian was a descending scale whereas the dorian mode was an ascending one, and again we find the usual dialectic of A and P between ascent and descent. Note the use of "sweet" and "melting" in reference to lydian air together with the "wanton heed and giddy cunning". Yet there is no reproach in the use of these terms and the "meeting soul" (cf Keats again) takes part in the "untwisting" of the chains "that tie The hidden soul of harmony"; hidden because no longer heard in this sin-worn mould, and the descending movement of the scale also suggests the descending movement of Orpheus going down the depths of hell so as to rescue his lost Euridice. Just as Orpheus half-regains his Euridice, the meeting soul half-regains the music of the spheres, the angelic harmony of which it is said in the Nativity ode : "For if such holy song Enwrap our fancy long, Time will run back and fetch the age of gold"... "And hell itself will pass away And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day". But this perhaps is illusory and the insistance on half-done things brings in the half-finished tales of P and other and superior degrees of harmony. The glorious night of reading is now over and "civil-suited morning" appears not in the resplendant colours of A but amidst comely clouds and fragrant showers which nonethess draw the narrator out into nature. At this moment is taken up a theme or a thread barely alluded to in A : the poet dreaming by haunted streams; these find their way back in P with the image of Sylvanus, and the nymphs and dryads of classical literature; this is the "hallow'd haunt" of Virgil's Eglogues, the numinous world ending in dream or vision, and certainly fusion with "the unseen genius of the wood" (cf Arcades). A first level of music is reached in the sleepy woods : "sweet music breathe Above, about or underneath", a notion taken up later by Wordsworth in several of his poems and mainly in Tintern Abbey. The dissolution of space is here a first echo of the untying of the knots that chain up harmony in A and announcing the more religious ecstasies of the "anthems clear"; typologically again this stresses the passage from the virtues of the pagan world to the severer but no less delightful demands of the Christian world. The all-encompassing spirit of nature is also divine inspiration, the uneen daimon sending good men good dreams which themselves are shadows of things to come. And dissolved space finds back its architectonic principle in the concluding lines of the poem, with the ascending scales of the anthems, but also with the other and mystical forest, that of the cloister with its "high-embowed roof" and its "antique pillars' massy proof"; the "above" and "below" dialectic finds now its christian solution with the image of the corpus mysticum : it is no longer "lively portraiture" that is brought before the eyes of the poet, but "all Heaven", and with heaven the lost harmony together with (and better still) all possible stories : from tale to tale, from story to story, we are now at last led to the archetypal world of stories : "the storied windows richly dight Casting a dim religious light"; the high and low dialectic is here suggested by the chiaroscuro effect of the windows through which is told the story of another Orpheus. And this allows Milton to reach the last story of all, his own story, his own writing, learning and experience bringing in "something like prophetic strain".Retour
L. the last pastoral poem. The great names of this tradition : Theocritus
(The Idylls), Bion (Idyll 1 : The Lament for Adonis), Moschus (The Lament
for Bion), and later Virgil's Eclogues. But let us first discuss the pastoral
elegy. The word elegy is rather vague and applies to diverse kinds of lyrical
poetry. The pastoral elegy was a song (or dirge, or threnody) sung by a shepherd
for a dead friend, and it was built on a recognizable pattern the constituents
of which were the product of what Woodhouse calls "a cumulative tradition"
(cf The Heavenly Muse). nb: cf Bush/Woodhouse 549 : "The term elegy is not
altogether fortunate, in view of its other meanings for Milton and his age.
His own term is monody (the heading of Lycidas in 1645). Perhaps threnody
is the best name for the genre, but "elegy" has become established and must
- Theocritus' device in his first Idyll (The Afflictions of Daphnis) : the shepherds is requested to sing his lament. The poem starts with common life and returns to it. In the poems are to be found elements or constituents that will become part and parcel of the tradition : the prize, the procession of mourners, the questioning of the nymphs, nature sharing the poet's grief, and lastly allusion to myths such as that of Orpheus or Hyacinthus. There is also, as EK Chambers said, a keen sense of natural beauty expressed in the subtle music of the Doric speech, and this reminds us that Theocritus was the founder of the pastoral tradition of which the pastoral elegy is a particular division. (cf E.K. Chambers : English Pastorals, London, 1895).
- The same devices are used in Moschus' Lament for Bion in which the five pastoral "conventions" clearly appear : the mourning of nature, the reproach to the nymphs, the procession of mourners, the catalogue of flowers, and the consolation brought about by the idea of immortality. According to Leishmann, this poem is the only one that can unambiguously be called a pastoral elegy. The Lament for Bion also introduces a new feature which was to inaugurate a long tradition : the lament not for a mythical character, but for a particular person, in this case a shepherd and singer. cf Bush/Woodhouse 552 : the mourner regards himself as "the poetical successor of the dead shepherd", just as Milton does in his two pastoral monodies.
- The pastoral elegy (and especially those of Bion and Moschus) has also a mythical aspect in that it embodies the archetypal myth of death and rebirth explicitly present in the references to Daphnis or Adonis, symbols of renewal and destruction. It was on that myth that the lament over the death of youthful genius came to be grafted.
- The other important sources are Virgil's 5th and 10th Eclogues. The 5th Eclogue,dealing with the deification of Daphnis and sung by Menelcus is interesting in that it provides a precedent for the transition from lamentation to consolation, and idea which was to be taken up by Christian poets, especially in the Renaissance pastoral elegies. Virgil's 10th Eclogue is apparently an adaptation of Theocritus' Idylls, but its tone is more arcadian and it dwells on various aspects of pastoral life and pastoral ideals. Virgil also drifted away from the idyllic sicilian shepherds and pastoralism becomes a pretext allowing him to speak either of himself or of the contemporary political situation (in E5 Daphnis is identified with Julius Caesar), thereby transforming his elegy into something like an allegory. This trend is also obvious in Petrach and Mantuan; and it was that allegorical strain which influenced the English Eclogues and Elegies, and mainly those of Spenser and other Renaissance poets. We may then perhaps say with Woodhouse that Lycidas looks beyond the tradition of the pastoral monody to the Eclogue.
- Also to be mentionned are Ovid's Metamorphoses and especially the laments for the satyr Marsyas and for Orpheus torn to pieces by the Maenads.
- The genre, naturally enough, influenced Christian poetry, especially when the transition from despair and lament to consolation and Christian assurance of ressurection and deification were made possible. Instead of a static dirge what the Christian poets produced was a movement, an ascent from mortality to immortality and everlasting consolation. This feature is obvious in Milton's Lycidas.
- This change over from pagan lamentation to Christian hope is characteristic of English Renaissance poetry, and especially in Spenser's works such as the November Eclogue of the Shepherd's Calendar or Astrophel.
- nb: voir l'étude de cette tradition dans S. Dorangeon : L'Eglogue anglaise de Spenser à Milton dont je vais résumer quelques passages. Pour S.Dorangeon il y a avec L. résurgence du mode spensérien et mort de l'Eglogue; le pont est jeté entre Spenser et Milton, aussi L. est-il le point d'aboutissement de la tradition pastorale anglaise créée par Spenser en 1579. Par son contenu tragique l'Eglogue est ici élégie dans la mesure où elle revêt la forme qui fut celle de Théocrite, de Bion et de Moschos. La muse de Milton est sicilienne et dorique et il emprunte à Bion et Moschos les éléments de base du genre : la convocation des nymphes et les reproches qui leur sont adressés, la procession des "mourners", ou le catalogue de fleurs. Milton est ici très proche des grecs qu'il répudiera en P.R. IV, 341-2. Milton doit donc peu de choses à ses prédécesseurs immédiats et, de même que pour P.L. ou Samson, il se tourne (comme le fait Spenser lui-même, mais avec une note plus médiévale comme le fait remarquer Leishman) vers les origines grecques. Mais cela étant dit, et la fidélité de Milton à la tradition étant affirmée, il n'en demeure pas moins que son poème n'est superposable à aucune autre élégie. En fait, poursuit S. Dorangeon, la monodie miltonienne mêle plusieurs styles pastoraux : le mode sicilien (dorique) se mêle au mode satirique (cf St Pierre) qui est celui de toutes les Eglogues allégoriques qui de Pétrarque à Spenser dénoncent allégoriquement la corruption du clergé. Mais cet éclectisme vient peut-être de l'influence dominante de Spenser, et notamment du Shepherd's Calendar qui marqua profondément le jeune Milton. (cf notamment l'élégie de Nov sur Didon). Ce qui constitue l'essentiel de la pensée spensérienne et acquit force de dogme chez les pastoralistes spensériens des années 1613-15 reparaît dans Lycidas. Mais la transmission est directe de Spenser à Milton, sans la médiation de Browne, Wither et les autres membres du groupe. Tous deux étaient convaincus de la nature sacrée de leur art pour révéler au monde la Beauté et l'Amour divins (Spenser) et la volonté du créateur et la force de la grâce rédemptrice (Milton). Telle est la leçon non seulement du Shepherd's Calendar, mais aussi de son Astrophel et de sa Daphnaïda, tous textes qui affirment fortement la foi de Spenser en une réalité transcendante. Et S. Dorangeon de conclure : malgré l'oubli de ce genre de 1616 à Lycidas, le noyau éthique est maintenu dans son intégrité depuis le moment où Spenser utilisa la forme virgilienne pour créer la pastorale anglaise jusqu'à celui où Milton écrivit la dernière Eglogue susceptible de faire naître l'admiration.
- What is immediately striking in L. is that it is made up of long paragraphs
with short lines occasionally thrown in and irregularly placed rhymes, and
ten lines do not rhyme at all. Besides, although the meter is basically
that of iambic pentameters, we find 14 trimeters rhyming with a corresponding
pentameter. The only familiar rhyme-scheme is that of the Ottava Rima of
- The structure of L. corresponds to no recognizable stanzaic pattern and it may be wondered if it consists of verse paragraphs or stanzas.
- The poem may be said to consist of three movements in the following order :
a) First Movement :
1-14 : Prelude to the monody: introduction to the "sad occasion dear" of the shepherd's "rude" and untimely song.
15-24 : traditional address to the Muses, yet with a strong egotistic flavour, corrected perhaps by the "for we were nursed upon the self-same hill".
25-36 : Reminiscences of life together at Cambridge translated to a pastoral and highly conventional setting, the passage describing a day in the life of the poets/shepherds/students.
37-49 : the mourning of nature for the dead shepherd. Again the tone is pastoral and the theme conventional.
50-57 : the typical pastoral questions put to the muses followed by a repudiation.
58-63 : the story of Orpheus' death and translation to Lesbos on the river Hebrus, Milton insisting on Calliope's inability to save him.
64-69 : a repudiation of the "homely slighted shepherd's trade" and of the "thankless muse"; other amusements evoked of a more sensual nature.
70-84 : On Fame and Praise : Phoebus' reply and a first interruption of the pastoral tone.
b) Second Movement :
85-88 : opening lines of the second movement of the poem : restoration of the pastoral tone after the "higher mood" of Phoebus' reply.
89-131 : Milton's own adaptation of the traditional procession of mourners : the witnesses : Neptune, Camus, the Pilot of the Galilean lake.
c) Third Movement :
132-33 : opening lines of the third movement; return to the pastoral strain after saint Peter's "dread voice".
134-51 : Fond imagination : nature is urged to pour out her flowers on Lycidas' bier (the narrator fancying that the corpse has been found back); the passage is followed by a traditional catalogue of funeral flowers.
152-64 : Back to the harsh reality : the body of the dead shepherd tossed about in the sea. Its "voyage" from the Hebrides down to the "guarded mount". (152-53 : the false surmise; 154-58 : the "bottom of the monstrous world"; 159-62 : towards land's end; 162-64 : the address to the angel).
165-85 : conclusion of the third movement and of the poem proper : the apotheosis of the departed in tones reminiscent of the Book of Revelation.
186-93 : the Ottava Rima which furnishes the narrative epilogue.
Other divisions have been suggested by many critics, and these vary with
their own understanding of the logic of Lycidas. Quelques exemples :
According to Tillyard, l.1-24 correspond to an egotistic beginning, the narrator lamenting premature death and the risks of premature poetry; the theme is taken up in 25-84 dealing with the risk of death before completion of the great work, earthly fame depending on deeds and not on their effects. The theme is repeated again in l.85-131 in the Eligiac tradition; lines 132-64 provide a quieter interlude, and the rest of the poem is devoted to the theme of Resurrection and "good fame in heaven". nb: pour Tillyard le sujet du poème est Milton lui-même, la mort de King n'étant que le prétexte de ce "bilan".
Woodhouse (The Heavenly Muse) : trois mouvements, les deux premiers étant
marqués par la rupture du ton pastoral et le 3è le transcende. La structure
du poème est commandée par le contraste entre l'irréalité du monde pastoral
et arcadien et la réalité qui vient s'immiscer dans cette vision. La base
du poème est la notion de vocation et de devoir : le ministère pour King
et la poésie pour Milton, d'où le jeu sur les deux sens du mot "shepherd".
1st Mvt (23-84): Proche de l'allégorie, il présente Cambridge sous des traits
arcadiens. 2d Mvt (85-131) : "the mourners" et la condition de l'Eglise où
se profile l'autre problème qui est celui de la situation politique du pays
et les conséquences qu'elle peut avoir sur la pratique poétique. (nb: Woodhouse
lie cette problématique au désir qu'avait Milton d'écrire "a national epic").
3è Mvt (132-85) : Mouvement vers la vérité chrétienne, l'espoir et la consolation.
Leishman (Milton's Minor Poems) insiste sur la cohérence très personnelle du poème : "Milton transformed the past elegies almost as completely as in Comus he has transformed the masque". = démonstration du "génie architectonique" de Milton qui, à partir des éléments de la tradition produit qqchose d'unique. L'originalité de Milton est sa faculté d'adapter, de transformer, de combiner un grand nombre de "détails" que lui fournissent ses lectures, "but for the plot and design and structure, the only source was Milton himself".
M.H. Nicolson (A Reader's Guide to Milton) voit trois parties de taille inégale, respectivement : 61, 46 et 53 vers ("an extraordinary non-stanzaic stanza form"). L. est ainsi le point d'aboutissement, le couronnement d'une série d'exercices de jeunesse, "Milton experimenting with stanzaic patterns and setting himself metrical exercises" (cf On Time, At a Solemn Music). Nicolson trouve même dans L. une tentative de création d'une variante de l'Ode pindarique; cf 3è partie de L. : a) strophe (catalogue de fleurs) b) antistrophe (sounding seas) c) épode (apotheosis). Elle compare également L. avec le genre "méditation" des poèmes en prose de Donne (Devotions) dont la structure tripartite rappelle L. : meditation, expostulation, prayer. La souplesse du mouvement et son développement dialectique invite également à une lecture musicale de l'oeuvre, les trois parties se déroulant comme autant de moments musicaux dont l'unité est conférée par le style récitatif (qui lui-même rappelle la dette de Milton à l'égard de la poésie italienne; cf Prince The Italian Element in Lycidas).
S. Dorangeon (L'Eglogue anglaise de Spenser à Milton) refuse le découpage arbitraire en strophes distinctes; elle ne trouve pas non plus de modèle ou de norme qui permette de situer L.; il s'agit en fait d'une forme nouvelle s'inspirant librement de la canzone italienne (stances égales avec une stance plus courte, le commiato, ici l'ottava rima de la chute); le modèle est assoupli par Milton avec l'introduction de stances inégales reliées, comme dans le modèle italien, par un vers clé ou chiave. La rime irrégulière est empruntée au Stace et à Guarini; Milton emprune d'autre part à Dante le distique rimé qui termine un développement. Milton joue enfin (de même que Sanazzaro) sur des longueurs de vers différentes, insérant à intervalles irréguliers dans les pentamètres des vers courts de six syllabes. La chiave devient ainsi une articulation subtile en survenant après un groupe de vers rimés et reliée par la rime au dernier de ces vers, le vers suivant étant obligatoirement de dix syllabes (ex: l.50-58). "Milton qui n'aimait pas la facilité parvient à concilier l'ampleur rhétorique et l'observance de règles dont certaines furent inventées par lui".
Pour S. Dorangeon le sujet central de L. (ou l'émotion centrale) est que le poète/prêtre puisse mourir sans avoir achevé son oeuvre; il s'agit là de "l'aventure de la préparation ascétique vers les hautes régions de l'imaginaire". On distingue deux vastes mouvements d'interrogation ou deux vagues émotionnelles; la première qui monte vers le point culminant des vers 50-84 (qui ne sont pas une digression) et qui correspond à une interrogation anxieuse sur le destin du poète qui jamais n'est récompensé, et qui subit les attaques non seulement des furies et des parques, mais également de la foule hideuse (ménades) qui ne le comprend pas; c'est ce que dit le mythe d'Orphée qui illustre la destruction des forces de la civilisation symbolisées par la musique et la danse; la mort d'Orphée est la scandale suprême. L'indignation tombe avec l'intervention de Phoebus qui dit que la gloire n'est pas chose terrestre mais céleste. Ainsi se brise la première vague d'émotions. Le second mouvement est la tirade du prêtre-berger, le discours de saint Pierre n'étant pas non plus une digression. Le poète s'indigne de la famine spirituelle à laquelle est condamné le peuple anglais, cette partie culminant avec l'image de "the two-handed engine". La tension est enfin relâchée, la fureur étant privée de son objet. Le dernier mouvement est celui de l'apothéose de Lycidas et sa métamorphose en Génie du lieu.
En résumé, toujours selon S. Dorangeon, le poème est parcouru par de vastes mouvements d'émotion; les interrogations naissent, s'exacerbent puis retombent. Le ton change très rapidement et les modulations sont soignées qui font passer le poème d'un ton bucolique à un ton métaphysique, puis au ton rocailleux de la satire et de la rhétorique du mépris, etc.
R.P. Adams ("The archetypal pattern of Death and Rebirth in Milton's Lycidas") voit deux mouvements, l'un centré sur la mort et l'autre sur la résurrection, notamment par les allusions aux arbres à feuilles persistantes, au mythe d'Adonis, à Apollon et Dionysos; signalons aussi l'allusion à Aréthuse qui acquit l'immortalité en devenant fontaine; cf également l'image du soleil qui renaît après son séjour dans les flots.
J.S. Lawry ("Eager thought : Dialectic in Lycidas") propose une lecture dialectique de l'oeuvre fondée sur l'opposition entre la poésie pastorale et contemplative et de la réalité sordide et hostile; nous avons donc une montée vers une synthèse qui réconcilie poésie et réalité par la médiation de la grâce du Christ illustrée par le thème de l'action purificatrice de l'eau. Cette idée d'une résolution dialectique s'exprimant par des "schèmes d'images" se trouve chez de nombreux critiques; cf par exemple l'analyse des fleurs que propose W. Schumacher in "Flowerets and sounding seas : a study of the affective structure of Lycidas". cf également Lois Potter (A Preface to Milton) qui trouve l'unité de L. dans le thème de l'eau : depuis l'image du corps desséché (parching) par le vent jusqu'aux eaux mythiques ou salvifiques des "other streams" de l'Apocalypse en passant par les fontaines, les rivières de la littérature pastorale ou des mythes (Hebrus), le lac de Galilée et les eaux périlleuses de la vie symbolisée par la traversée de la mer.
Une tendance constante de la critique a été de voir dans L. un passage progressif de la nature au monde pastoral et païen jusqu'au monde de la révélation chrétienne (cf Abrams). Cette lecture peut être raffinée par une vision typologique de l'oeuvre, et c'est ce que fait Madsen dans From Shadowy Types to Truth.Retour