Heaven Stoops to Virtue

In: English and Literature

Submitted By rbaker
Words 1868
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Heaven Stoops to Virtue

Many scholars have viewed the disputations in Milton's Comus as insertions which interrupt the flow of dramatic action and musical spectacle. However, since "each episode of Comus reenacts the central themes and illuminates the poetic process in a fashion characteristic of masques and allegorical poetry" (Swaim 187), we can ask whether or not the "central themes" are enunciated explicitly. They are stated quite clearly, I believe, in the disputations. Far from being digressions, the two disputations provide meaning to the action of the masque, and a proper understanding of their relation to the whole work will provide a greater appreciation of Comus. The second debate, between the Lady and Comus, generally receives the most attention, so I will look at it first. A.E. Dyson emphasizes the importance of this debate in understanding the rest of the masque: "The fact that in dramatic terms Comus's view, though plausible, is shown to be false, and the Lady's view, though austere, to be true, is central to the poem's meaning, and what it is 'really about' ... The interpretation of Comus centres upon what we make of the case between Comus and the Lady" (89-90). The subject of their debate is what Marjorie Nicolson calls "the Appeal to Nature for Standards" (78). Comus argues that nature's bounties urge us to revel in their pleasures, and that our refusal to do so displeases the creator who provided Nature for this very purpose, and additionally creates the risk that Nature's fertileness will cause it to outgrow and overrun the Earth, wreaking havoc and disorder. The Lady responds by telling Comus that Nature proffers her delights only to those "That live according to her sober laws" (766) and respect Nature by enjoying her fruits in moderation so that all may reap a portion of her bounty. The Lady's argument recalls Genesis…...

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